2021 NASCAR Cup Series preview: Phoenix 1

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Phoenix Raceway for the first time since the 2020 championship race back on Nov. 8. In that race, Chase Elliott took control after starting from the rear to capture his first Cup Series championship. With the new low-downforce aero package, the spring race in 2020 provided a chaotic and thrilling race that saw Joey Logano hold off Kevin Harvick to pick up his second win in the 2020 season. The first of two Phoenix races will take place on Mar. 14 for the Instacart 500 while the championship race will take place on Nov. 7.

Brad Keselowski will start on the pole after finishing as the runner-up in the Championship 4 last season. So far in 2021, he is second in the points standings with two top-five finishes and a stage win (won stage 1 last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway).

Kyle Larson will start second, however, he will have to drop to the rear at the start of the race. Last week, Larson dominated the final stage to pick up a victory in his fourth race for Hendrick Motorsports, marking the second win in four races for Team Hendrick to start the season. This was his seventh-career win that vaulted him to third in the point standings.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. will start third, fourth and fifth. Hamlin sits at the top of the points standings with three top-five finishes and three stage wins. Bell has ran himself into the top five after winning the Daytona Road Course. Truex has started out 2021 with two top-five finishes and three top-10 finishes.

Elliott will start seventh, looking to win his first race of 2021 while following up his win last November at Phoenix. He has one top-five finish (finished second in the Daytona 500) and one stage win (stage one at the Daytona Road Course) to start 2021.

Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney will start seventh and eighth. Both these drivers picked up their best finishes to start the season last week at Las Vegas as Busch and Blaney finished third and fifth, picking up their first top-five finishes of the season after starting their respective seasons by crashing out of the Daytona 500.

Logano and William Byron round out the top 10. Logano has been inconsistent starting 2021, finishing second at the Daytona Road Course, but finished 25th at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Byron won that race at Homestead and followed that up with an eighth-place finish at Las Vegas last weekend.

Kevin Harvick, who has been dominant at Phoenix during his career with an average finish of 8.9 along with eight wins and 18 top-five finishes, will start 18th. Harvick started the season with three consecutive top-five finishes before finishing 20th at Las Vegas despite starting on the pole.

Coverage for the Instacart 500 will begin at 3:30 p.m. EST. The stages run through laps 75, 190 and 312. You can catch the race on FOX and the Motor Racing Network.

Starting lineup:

Note: Garrett Smithley will drive the No. 53 instead of JJ Yeley. Larson, Byron, Ware also dropping to rear of field after failing inspection.

Pit stall assignments:

Goodyear tire notes: https://www.jayski.com/2021/03/09/goodyear-fast-facts-phoenix-5/

Race info:

Broadcast: FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 312 laps / 312 miles
Stages: 75 – 190 – 312
Average time of race: 3:06:03

Fuel window: 81 laps 
Pit road speed:  45 mph
Caution car speed: 50 mph 

Competition Caution: Lap 30

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