2011 Subway Fresh Fit 500 Preview – Favorites to Win and Drivers to Watch

After the Daytona 500 delivered one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history courtesy of 20-year-old Trevor Bayne, things should get a bit more predictable this weekend when the series travels to Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). Passing is a chore at this flat, 1.0-mile oval, and there is no substitute for track position. Finding a comfortable setup is a rarity for drivers thanks to the track’s two unique sets of corners that make a car that handles well through the first two turns struggle a bit in the final two. In the end, it takes a team effort to win at PIR, and the crew chief and pit crew play as big of role in deciding the outcome as the driver does.

Both races at the track in 2010 were textbook Phoenix. Ryan Newman won the April event at the track after his crew chief opted for just two tires on the final stop, putting him out front in clear air. With his newfound track position, Newman was able to drive away from cars that had been faster than him all night. In the fall, Carl Edwards got the win after Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the finish. The crew chiefs for Hamlin and Busch elected not to pit under caution, and the decision not to stop backfired.

Before placing any bets Sunday, it’s a good idea to take a look at the qualifying results. In the last 20 races at Phoenix, the eventual race winner has started in the top-15 on 19 occasions, including 14 straight. The trend has been even more pronounced in recent years with eight of the last nine winners starting seventh or better. In other words, there is no reason to waste your money on a driver that isn’t starting near the front. It’s not where you start but where you finish, but sometimes the former determines the latter.

The Favorites

The smart money is on Jimmie Johnson(+550 odds to win at BoDog Sportsbook) this weekend. His 4.9 average finish at Phoenix is by far the best in the series, and more importantly, he has won four of the last six races. Johnson is riding a streak of nine straight top-five finishes, and no one is consistently running at the front of the field more often than Johnson.

He was already one of the best at Phoenix, but Mark Martin(+2000 odds to win) has taken his performance at the track to another level since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2009. He has a 4.3 average finish in his four starts at PIR with the organization, including a win. Martin is the only driver that can come close to matching Johnson’s consistency.

He enters this weekend’s race as the point leader, and Carl Edwards(+600 odds to win) also trying to win his second race in a row at Phoenix. He sat on the pole and led 93 laps on his way to the win at PIR last November, and it’s hard to argue that Edwards isn’t the hottest driver in the series right now. He has finished first, first and second in his last three starts.

The Dark Horses

He has yet to win at Phoenix, but Denny Hamlin(+550 odds) has had plenty of close calls. He has finished as high as third on four occasions and has finished sixth or better in six of his last nine starts at the track. Hamlin led a race-high 190 laps at PIR last November before his gas tank ran dry in the closing laps. It’s only a matter of time before he gets to Victory Lane.

It’s hard to overlook Ryan Newman(+2000 odds) this weekend considering he is the defending winner of the event. Not to mention the fact that he finished second in the fall event last season. It’s rare to see Newman finish in the top-five, let alone win, but his performance at Phoenix last season speaks for itself.

Sleepers Specials

He is still looking for his first oval track win, but there is a good chance Juan Pablo Montoya(+2500 odds) could end that drought this Sunday. He led 104 laps at the track last April on his way to a career-best fifth-place finish. He has a legitimate chance to take the next step this weekend and pull off the surprise win.

He emerged as a surprisingly productive flat track driver in 2010, and Joey Logano(+2500 odds) will try to pick up where he left off this weekend. After finishing 10th at Phoenix in April, he finished a strong third in the fall event. The constantly improving youngster is going to start winning a bunch of races sooner rather than later.

Big Names to Avoid

Tony Stewart(+1200 odds) is a former winner at Phoenix, but he has struggled to find the handling at the track recently. He has finished 17th or worse in his last three starts, including two finishes outside the top-20. You can take it to the bank that Stewart will win at least one race this season, but don’t bet on it coming this weekend.

After his breakout 2010 season when he won a career-high three races, expectations for Jamie McMurray(+2000 odds) have never been higher. Unfortunately, he just isn’t all that great at Phoenix. McMurray has just two top-10 finishes in 15 career starts at the track, and I’m not putting money on his 20.2 average finish.

If you are planning on betting on this weekend’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, February 27th, than be sure to read our 2011 Subway Fresh Fit 500 Odds and Predictions article for NSAwins.com’s expert handicapper predictions as well as check out NSAwins.com’s odds on NASCAR racing page for the latest and most up to date Subway Fresh Fit 500 betting odds.

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