Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Best Bets - ISM Raceway

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Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.

The MENCS heads west to ISM Raceway for the TicketGuardian 500 from Phoenix on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick (5/2) heads to Arizona with nine career victories at ISM Raceway, easily the best among all active drivers. He has posted 16 top-5 finishes, 21 top-10 results and an Average-Finish Position (AFP) of 9.3 across 32 MENCS starts while leading 1,595 laps. In his past five starts at the track he has a very impressive 109.7 Driver Rating, according to NASCAR's Loop Data, running 90.6 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. His 4.2 AFP during the five-race span is second among all drivers. Happy posted a 139.411 mph top speed in qualifying, so he'll go off eighth on Sunday.

Penske Racing's Ryan Blaney (33/1) could be a sneaky play racing out of the pole position. He posted a top speed of 141.287 mph in qualifying, more than one whole mile per hour before than his nearest challenge for the pole, Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott (10/1). Blaney has always qualified fairly well, but when it comes to race day he has fallen apart in his past Cup races in Phoenix. He has posted a 6.5 Average-Start Position, and this is his second pole. However, he has managed a very poor 18.0 AFP with zero top-5 results, and just two top-10 showings.

Elliott might be the better bet, as he has six career starts at the track and he has never finished worse than 23rd. In addition, he has two top-5s, four top-10s and a 9.5 AFP, which is second among all drivers only behind Harvick's 9.3. NASCAR's Loop Data shows him with a 110.2 Driver Rating across the past five starts at ISM, running 95.9 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 while leading 156 laps. His teammate, seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson (50/1), has picked up four victories at the track. He has slipped at the Arizona one-mile flat, as he doesn't register in the Top 10 among all current drivers in terms of Driver Rating. However, he is still third among all drivers with a 10.3 AFP, posting 15 top-5 finishes across his 31 starts. He will go off 15th on Sunday after a 138.803 mph qualifying speed.

Hendrick driver William Byron (80/1) doesn't have a very long history in a Cup car at ISM, making just two starts last season. However, he was a solid ninth and 12th in his two races, good for an AFP of 10.5. Crew chief Chad Knaus, who sat atop Jimmie Johnson's pit box for seven championships, could be the key to push Byron over the top at ISM. As such, he is an intriguing wager and DFS option. He did a good job in qualifying, posting a 139.567 mph speed, so he'll go off seventh in Sunday's race.

Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch (7/2) won the Can-Am 500 (k) at ISM last fall out of the sixth position in a race which featured 15 lead changes, tied for most since Nov. 2013. It was his second victory at ISM, and his first since the Checker Auto Parts 500 back in Nov. 2007. Busch has posted an impressive 119.4 Driver Rating with 359 laps led over the past five stops at the track, running an impressive 98.2 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. His AFP of 3.0 over the past five starts easily leads all drivers. Busch will go off third on Sunday. His teammate, Denny Hamlin (9/2) will start right next to the 18 on the outside of Row 2. Hamlin has 27 career starts at ISM, posting one win, 11 top-5 finishes and 15 top-10 showings with an AFP of 11.6.

JGR's Erik Jones (25/1)  has five-career Cup starts under his belt at the one-mile flat track. He has never finished lower than 19th, posting three Top 10s while leading 11 laps. He also has a solid 11.4 AFP, so he is one to watch. He'll start on Row 5 alongside teammate , who has never posted a victory in 26 career starts. He also has just three top-5 finishes, three DNFs and a marginal 16.4 AFP across his 26 career starts. While he was part of an alliance with JGR while running for the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing team, this will be his first try as a member of JGR. They seem to have the proper setup and program to do well at this track, at least lately. While MTJ's overall numbers at the track aren't terribly impressive, he is worth a look.

Penske's Brad Keselowski (7/1) will be short a crew member, as he had an engineer from his 12-member race team suspended after his car failed inspection twice during pre-qualifying. It didn't seem to affect Kes in the least, as he went out and posted a speed of 139.849 mph to check in fifth for Sunday's starting grid. He has managed six Top 5s, nine Top 10s and 163 laps led over 19 career starts with a 13.5 AFP, but he has never won in the desert. Teammate Joey Logano (8/1)  is the only current Penske driver with a checkered flag at ISM, posting a victory in the Can-Am 500 in Nov. 2016. He has 20 career starts with nine top-10 finishes, 296 laps led and a decent 15.5 AFP. However, he also has four DNFs.

Chip Ganassi Racing's 
Kurt Busch (28/1) had a promising run in Vegas last week, and he'll look to carry the momentum over into Sunday's race. He hasn't won in Phoenix since the Subway Fresh 500 back in April 2005, but he has a solid 14.2 AFP with 18 of his 32 career starts resulting in a top-10 showing at the track. He also has just two DNFs during the span. His teammate, Kyle Larson (20/1), has 10 career starts with a 14.2 AFP, three top-5 finishes and 69 laps led. He struggled in qualifying, as he'll go off 31st , but perhaps he'll rack up plenty of Place-Differential points for fantasy owners moving up through the pack.

Among drivers to avoid, David Ragan (1000/1) Alex Bowman (50/1)  and  Paul Menard (100/1) have each posted ugly numbers over the years at this track. Ragan has a 27.3 AFP in 12 career starts, and his best finish is 20th. Bowman has stumbled with a 27.1 AFP in seven starts, although he has been sixth here before while leading 194 laps. Menard has never finished better than ninth in 24 career starts, posting a 23.0 AFP. The highest starting rookie will be , who starts from the 11th position after a qualifying speed of 138.846 mph.

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