Instacart 500 (Cup Series) Predictions & Picks
- Can Kevin Harvick right his ship—and that of Stewart-Haas—at one of his best tracks?
- You can expect the traditional powerhouse drivers to show up at Phoenix.
- Recent history says Phoenix Raceway is a great place to start at the front of the field.
Instacart 500 Odds
|Martin Truex Jr||+1200|
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The Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway will be a research project for NASCAR Cup Series drivers and teams, particularly for those who already have won races in the 2021 season. Competitors will try to learn all they can from Sunday’s event for one simple reason: the Cup Series will return to the one-mile track in November, with the title on the line for the four drivers still alive in the elimination format.
Sunday’s race will be contested over 312 laps (312 miles), with stage breaks scheduled after 75 and 190 laps. Joey Logano won this event last year—the final race before the coronavirus pandemic brought the 2020 season to a halt for 10 weeks. In November, Chase Elliott won the season finale and the series championship at Phoenix.
How to Watch Instacart 500
|Instacart 500 Information|
|What||Instacart 500 NASCAR Cup Series race|
|When||Sunday, Mar. 14, 3:30 p.m. ET|
|How to Watch||FOX|
Can Kevin Harvick Steer His Way Out of the Doldrums at Phoenix?
It’s not as if Kevin Harvick has had a horrible 2021 season so far. He finished fourth in the Daytona 500, sixth at the Daytona Road Course and fifth at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Even after a 20th-place result last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Harvick is seventh in the NASCAR Cup Series standings heading to Phoenix, one of his best tracks.
But it was the Vegas result that raised questions about the performance of Harvick and the Stewart-Haas Racing organization. None of the four Stewart-Haas cars finished on the lead lap. Aric Almirola crashed out in the last place. And despite his record nine career victories at Phoenix, Harvick hasn’t won there since the track was reconfigured in October 2018.
When Harvick was asked whether he was still a threat to win at Phoenix, he bristled. “That’s a silly question,” he said. “I think you should go back and look at the first race from last year that we led the most laps and had the fastest car.
We wound up finishing second. I would consider us a challenger at just about any racetrack that you go to, but you’re not going to be that way all the time, so, I think as we go to Phoenix, you expect to go there and perform well.
Oddsmakers expect the exact same thing. Harvick (+600) is installed as the second favorite behind Chase Elliott (+550). Bet against Harvick at your peril.
Powerhouse Drivers Should Rise to the Top in Sunday’s Instacart 500
There are seven drivers in Sunday’s Instacart 500 who have victories at Phoenix Raceway on their resumes: Kevin Harvick (+600), Kurt Busch (+2800), Kyle Busch (+750), Ryan Newman (+8000), Joey Logano (+900), Denny Hamlin (+650) and Chase Elliott (+550). All but Kurt Busch and Elliott have multiple victories at the track.
Logano won last year’s spring race and figures to be strong again on Sunday. Kyle Busch is the only driver to win consecutive races at Phoenix since Harvick took four in a row from 2013-2015. Kurt Busch hasn’t won at the one-mile track since his lone victory in 2005, and Newman’s victory in the 2017 spring race is his most recent in the Cup Series.
Based on recent performance, Sunday’s winner likely will come from the group of Harvick, Elliott, Logano, Hamlin, and Kyle Busch. In other words, the stars of the sport are likely to come to the fore at this challenging track. If any driver should happen to get a breakthrough victory, Brad Keselowski (+700) is the best choice to do so. Kez finished second to Elliott in last year’s Championship 4 race.
It Pays to Start at the Front of the Field at Phoenix Raceway
There are plenty of NASCAR tracks where the pole position is all but irrelevant. Phoenix is not one of them. Six of the last 28 races in the Sonoran Desert have been won from the pole, the most recent by Chase Elliott in last November’s season finale.
Six of the last seven NASCAR Cup Series events at Phoenix have been won by drivers starting within the top 10—the exception being Joey Logano’s victory from 13th on the grid last March. Over the past seven years in particular, a good starting spot is a decent predictor of a strong finish.
Brad Keselowski and last Sunday’s Las Vegas winner Kyle Larson are the front-row starters for Sunday’s race. But don’t count Kevin Harvick out just because he’ll take the green flag from the 18th position. Harvick won at Phoenix in 2016 from precisely that starting spot.
More NASCAR Predictions & Odds
Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association.
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