Ones to Watch: NASCAR Cup Series Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series is about to commence, and on March 13, the likes of Chase Elliot and Martin Truex Jr. steer West for a highly anticipated race on the desert jewel. Arizona’s Phoenix Raceway will host the Ruoff Mortgage 500, where burning rubber becomes ignited with the desert heat turning temperatures up.  

Phoenix Raceway will host the fourth NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2022 season following the season-opener, which took place this past Sunday. Cup Series expectations have already been squashed as the rookie driver Austin Cindric clinched the Daytona 500 in a photo finish with Bubba Wallace. 

This victory puts drivers on notice, as the 23-year-old driving the next generation of NASCAR debuted in success after narrowly failing to defend his 2020 second-tier Xfinity Series title in Phoenix last year. Could the youngster seek his Phoenix revenge in the NASCAR Cup Series during his rookie season? 

Great people surround me; that’s all there is to it,” Cindric commented.  

I know there’s going to be highs and lows; being a rookie, I’m just grateful for the opportunity and excited to climb the mountain ahead of us on the #2 team.

We’re in the playoffs – that’s one box checked. My gosh, what an awesome group of fans; what an awesome race car. I’m just really thankful.” He continued. 

The Obvious Choice: Kyle Larson 

After claiming his 2021 Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway last November, Kyle Larson became the bookmakers favorite to complete a successful and consecutive championship-winning season this year. However, Caesars, who is now available in Arizona could be tempted to think twice about the odds they offer on Larson’s return to Phoenix Raceway on March 13. 

Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliot, and William Byron race under the Hendrick Motorsports banner as the most feared teams in all of NASCAR. The crew smashed through the Daytona 500 qualifying with Larson in pole, Bowman on the front row with Elliot and Byron landing eleventh and twenty-third positions, respectively. 

  Despite their impressive qualification places for Daytona 500, none of the Hendricks Motorsports team could finish in the top-5 this past Sunday, as Chase Elliot barely snagged a 10th place finish. More shockingly, the defending champion Larson who began the race in pole position finished the race in 32nd place.   

Despite the public belief and his impressive NASCAR statistics, it’s doubtful that Larson will top the 10 races he won last term. Winning twice as many races as any other driver unquestionably imposes a threat for this season, but we have multiple variables added to the 2022 Cup Series. 

The NASCAR Dynamics Have Changed 

As the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition and the Daytona 500 season-opener is now behind us, teams and drivers don’t seem to have completely adapted to the introductory changes. 

The retooled cars that now receive parts from a central manufacturer means that teams aren’t building them anymore. The five-speed transmission, independent rear suspension, and a central wheel lug nut make for a completely new outlook. This was seen at the Daytona 500 when loose wheels came to fruition because of the newly instated central lug nuts. 

Understanding how the cars perform and how a team will handle them is imperative in making predictions for the races ahead. But when focussing on the Phoenix Raceway and the potential for a championship winner in general, I believe Denny Hamlin could be a strong contender. 

Denny Hamlin 

Should Denny Hamlin continue delivering the performances of last season, we cannot deny his strong contention for race wins and championships. 

At the Ruoff Mortgage 500 in 2021, Hamlin flew around the Phoenix Raceway to finish in third. He managed to cap off a season with 19 top-5 finishes. Despite only winning two races, he’s etching closer and closer to greatness with the statistics behind his 2021 season. Hamlin finished in the top-10 on 25 occasions, extended his average running position by 3.4 positions throughout 2020 and spent an impressive 89% of his laps whilst sitting in the top-15. 

With championship future betting odds of 7/1, I wouldn’t count out Hamlin as the overlooked driver to take it all. And I include this prediction for the Phoenix Raceway, where only Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano finished above him in 2021.  

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