Good, Bad and Ugly: Checkers Auto Parts 500


Mark Garrow provides drivers' trends for Sunday's Checkers Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Speedway in Avondale, Ariz.

* Driver needs to qualify for the race based on time.
# Driver is eligible for the champion's provisional.

*AJ Allmendinger

• Allmendinger is attempting his first Cup start at Phoenix this weekend.

• OK, I got on the AJ bandwagon last week and got burned just a bit, although he did get as high as sixth in the race. I don't think he'll be my top budget pick this week, but at a Stock Car Challenge (SCC) value of 14.7, I'll seriously think about keeping him on my team based on 15th-place on the flat Martinsville Speedway, and he still needs a ride for next season. That will be worth a tenth or two. Road-racing experience should help him here, too, because you charge Turn 1 especially like you would a road course: drive deep, hard on the brakes.

*Marcos Ambrose

• Ambrose is attempting his first Cup start here this weekend.

• At 11.6 in SCC and a great road racer, Ambrose will need to get some consideration this weekend if you want to go with four studs at Phoenix. Some guys think the oddly shaped one-mile track is like a road course with only left hand turns, and that should put Ambrose in pretty good shape. Let's just hope Michael Waltrip Racing has brought him a car with brakes that can stand Ambrose standing on them hard going into Turn 1.

Greg Biffle

• Biffle has nine starts here with three top-10s, two top-5s and an average finish of 16.4. He was the runner-up in this race last year and finished ninth here in the spring. He's driving the same car he won with at Dover earlier this season.

• I've got Biffle ranked 11th because I can easily see him running top-10, but don't see a top-5 coming. Then again, I didn't expect much of anything at Loudon and Biffle won. I think Biffle has also lost a little bit of momentum. My suspicion is that he'll be good, not great, on Sunday afternoon.

Dave Blaney

• Blaney has made 11 Cup starts here. He has finished as high as seventh (2002) with two top-10s. The veteran driver has qualified outside the top 20 on only three occasions. The car he's driving this weekend was tested recently at Caraway Speedway.

• He's been 30th or worse three straight Phoenix races. Just as he's been all season long, he's a low value you can never pull the trigger on.

Clint Bowyer

• In six Cup starts at Phoenix, he has two top-5s and led 21 laps. He has a 15.8 average finish. He is driving the same car he drove to victories at Loudon last year and Richmond earlier this year.

• Bowyer believes he can run top-5 again. I think you should lock him in for a top-10 and then hope for the best. At 22.2, Bowyer would be a nice pick if you decided to drop Johnson or Edwards and go with a balanced team, perhaps to make up some ground as we get down to the end of the season.

Jeff Burton

• In 18 starts, Burton has two wins, five top-5s and 10 top-10s. In addition, Burton has finished on the lead lap in 14 straight starts here and has led a total of 215 laps. The car he's driving this weekend finished third at Martinsville and 10th at Darlington.

• I've got Burton fifth for this race. I can see him easily finishing top-10 and maybe squeaking by with a top-5. He's a very safe pick with an 11.1 average finish.

Kurt Busch

• In 11 starts here, Busch has five top-10s, two top-5s, a win and an average finish of 14.3. He finished 12th in this race last year and is driving the same car he drove to a sixth-place finish at Loudon.

• I've got Busch penciled in 14th because he's a lock for a top-15 and is perhaps top-10 material. My problem with Busch is inconsistency in his past four races. And when I look at his SCC value, I feel safer bumping up a little to take Casey Mears or dropping down to a David Reutimann.

Kyle Busch

• Busch has seven starts here and has five top-10s, including three in a row. He also scored his second-ever Cup victory at PIR. He finished seventh in this race last year.

• I've ranked Busch 13th, just ahead of his brother. This team is climbing back to the powerhouse it was earlier this year, but hasn't gotten there yet. Plus, at the same SCC value as Jeff Burton, Busch is not the safer of those two picks, not at Phoenix anyway. Mark him down as potential top-10, but I don't see him getting a second career Phoenix victory.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

• In 12 Cup starts at Phoenix, Junior has scored two wins, four top-5s and six top-10s. He has led 397 laps at the track, including 87 and 118 in his two wins. He's driving the same car he drove to a fourth-place finish at Richmond in September.

• He hasn't been that spectacular in the Chase but is coming around a little bit lately. But there are two reasons I ranked Junior seventh: He was seventh here in the spring, and he was fifth on the flat one-mile in Loudon. He might be useful if you head another direction and are not using two top guns.

Carl Edwards

• In his previous eight Phoenix starts, Edwards has accumulated three top-5s and five top-10s. Edwards' average finish at Phoenix is 14.5. He's racing the same car he drove to a third at Loudon.

• I've got Edwards ranked second for this race not based on stats but based on the fact that he's got to do everything it takes to potentially win. Forget his past record at this place -- which is good, but not great -- sheer determination will make up for that Sunday. He'll score big again Sunday and he'll be a favorite to win at Homestead.

#Bill Elliott

• Elliott has 19 starts here with four top-5s, a win and an average finish of 22.2. He finished 34th in this race last year.

David Gilliland

• Gilliland has an average finish of 23.5 at Phoenix and has led one lap.

• With a 15th in the spring and an SCC value of 14.5, Gilliland is going to get some votes as the budget pick of the week. There are two things to remember about Gilliland. One, he raced a bunch here at Phoenix before getting to NASCAR's top two series. Secondly, as he was growing up in California, about all he did was race on flat tracks. Plus, he needs to make up for blowing his cool and wrecking Juan Pablo Montoya last week.

Jeff Gordon

• During his rookie season, Gordon led 48 laps at Phoenix, but finished 35th. Since then, he has one victory (2007), eight top-5s and 15 top-10s in 18 starts. His average finish is 8.5 and he finished 10th in this race last year.

• Expect Gordon to be really aggressive this weekend because this is the last realistic shot he has at keeping his streak of winning each season intact. It now stands at 14 and counting. That's why I've got him ranked third. Hendrick's flat-track program is also pretty good. Plus, Gordon is a whole lot more comfortable in the Car of Tomorrow on a track like this than at Texas. With An SCC value of 22, you can use him only if you're willing to part with one or both of the top-two guys.

Robby Gordon

• Gordon has 12 starts here with two top-10s and an average finish of 28.2. He finished 24th in this race last year.

• He should run really well here. This track suits his style and he's been a winner on the similar Loudon track. His lack of patience usually kills him at this place.

Denny Hamlin

• Hamlin has five starts here with three top-5s and an average finish of 12.0. He finished 16th in this race last year and is driving the same car that he drove to top-10s in both races at Loudon this year.

• Hamlin has finished third in three of the past four Phoenix races and I like him a lot this weekend. I can feel another top-5 coming, and his SCC value of 21.5 might be a good fit for just about any salary-cap problems you might have.

Kevin Harvick

• In 11 starts at Phoenix, Harvick has two wins to go along with three top-5s and five top-10s. He has a 13.7 finishing average. He has led 316 laps of competition. He's driving the same car he finished seventh with at Martinsville.

• I don't see Harvick winning here again, but I do see a "solid as a rock" top-10. At 21.6 in SCC, if you set out to pick a balanced team, you need to give him some love.

*Sam Hornish Jr.

• Hornish will make his second start at Phoenix. He finished 20th here earlier this season.

• If he could duplicate his spring Phoenix run, his 14.1 SCC value might not be a bad bargain, but I don't see him doing that.

Jimmie Johnson

• Johnson has two wins, five top-5s and eight top-10s. He has led 288 laps and has an average finish of 6.0.

• I've ranked him No. 1 because I can see him winning this time by force and not by fuel mileage like earlier this year at Phoenix. After the disappointment of last week, Johnson rebounds to all but put the title away.

Kasey Kahne

• In eight starts at Phoenix, Kahne has one top-5 and three top-10s. Kahne has an average finish of 21st.

• Kahne has been doing nothing lately and can't seem to catch a break. Since being a runner-up at Charlotte, his finishes are 33rd, 33rd and 24th. At 18.8 in SCC, he's hopelessly overpriced for the risk you have to take.

Matt Kenseth

• In 12 starts at Phoenix Kenseth has one win, five top-5s and six top-10s. He's driving the same car that he raced to a runner-up finish at Dover.

• I ranked Kenseth 16th because he'll be decent. His SCC value is too high for the risk you take.

Travis Kvapil

• Kvapil has a decent average finish of 24.6 at Phoenix.

• I don't care if his SCC value is 15.8, he's not worth the gamble.

Bobby Labonte

• In 19 starts here, Labonte has nine top-10s, three top-5s and an average finish of 16.0. He finished 18th in this race last year and 12th in the spring.

• I haven't given Bobby a lot of love lately, but I will this week. I've ranked him 15th and he has a friendly SCC value of 17.1. When it comes to the bigger tracks, Petty Enterprises just can't hang with the top teams. A track where horsepower is not the be-all, end-all, a track where a driver can hustle a car -- that's when they have a chance to do a little damage.

*Sterling Marlin

• Marlin has 22 starts here with four top-10s, two top-5s and an average finish of 21.1. He finished 25th in this race last year.

Mark Martin

• Martin has 23 starts here with 15 top-10s, nine top-5s, a win and an average finish of 9.2. He finished fifth here in the spring.

• One of my favorite picks this week; this will also be his last race of the season. His SCC value of 19.7 is pretty cap-friendly, too. Lock and load Martin, he's going to pull the trigger and pull out all the stops to win his last race with DEI.

Jamie McMurray

• Phoenix is the only track where McMurray has yet to post a top-10. He finished 23rd in this race last year.

• His stats here are pretty much junk, but I still ranked him 19th for this race because he's been running well lately, and it should carry over. I don't believe, however, he's a very safe pick this week.

Casey Mears

• In nine Phoenix starts, Mears has an average finish of 27.1. He finished 13th in this race last year and 11th here in the spring.

• I like Mears a lot for the consistency he's shown the past two months. In the past seven races, he's been top-15 six times. His 17.9 SCC value is still cap-friendly and should earn a place on a lot of teams. He'll also be pushing a little harder in his final two races for Rick Hendrick.

Paul Menard

• In three starts here, Menard has a best finish of 21st. He's driving the same car he finished 27th with at Martinsville earlier this year.

• If you want a top-25 at a 15.4 price, then go for it.

Juan Pablo Montoya

• Montoya has three starts here with an average finish of 22nd.

• I love the way Montoya has been racing lately, but hate the way he's been finishing. The past four races he's finished 34th, 14th, 40th and 43rd. He did finish 14th at Martinsville and started the Chase with a 17th at Loudon, both of which are flat tracks. Couple those facts with a 15.6 SCC value, and Montoya might need to be on your "buy" list this week.

*Joe Nemechek

• Nemechek has 18 starts here with a top-10 and an average finish of 24.4. He finished 38th in this race last year.

Ryan Newman

• Newman has three top-5s and three top-10s in 12 starts on the one-mile oval. He's driving the same car he drove to a fifth here last year.

• He didn't have good runs at Loudon or Martinsville and has been basically a top-25 car as of late. Obviously, he could pop off a good run, but the risk-reward ratio is too high.

*Kyle Petty

• Petty has 22 starts here with four top-10s, a top-5 and an average finish of 25.0. He finished 29th here last spring, his most recent race.

• In what could be his last race driving for Petty Enterprises, Kyle Petty is going to be more determined than ever. So if you really want to go crazy and roll the dice, lock him in at 11.7 and put four studs with him and see what happens.

David Ragan

• Ragan has three starts here, with his best finish a 27th. He's driving the same car he drove to a 10th in Charlotte.

• This may be his worst track and there's no way he's worth risking 20.5 on this weekend. If you have him now, sell. Then, buy him back at a lower price for the season finale at Homestead.

David Reutimann

• Reutimann has two starts here. He missed this race last year but finished 18th here in the spring.

• At 16.3 in SCC and with the way he's been running lately, Reutimann should get some love as a potential bottom budget pick. I can see him sneaking perhaps into the top-15, especially with the way he's been running lately.

Scott Riggs

• Riggs has seven starts here with an average finish of 28.3. He did not make this race last year but finished 26th earlier this season.

• Riggs has a great price at 14.5, but still too risky.

Elliott Sadler

• In 13 previous starts, Sadler has recorded one top-10. He started from the outside pole earlier this season but finished 41st with a blown engine.

• He's running pretty badly since back-to-back top-10 runs at Kansas and Talladega. I'd rather take a flier on his teammate Allmendinger at a cheaper price.

*Johnny Sauter

• Sauter has six starts here, with two top-10s and an average finish of 24.7. He finished 15th in this race last year.

• Do you really want to go crazy? Do you really want to bungee jump into the belly of the beast? Then add Sauter at 11.5, put in four studs and try to draw a royal flush if he finishes 15th again.

*Ken Schrader

• In 22 starts here, Schrader has four top-10s, two top-5s and an average finish of 21.0.

Regan Smith

• Smith has one previous Cup start here, finishing 35th this spring.

• In the past three races, he's finished 30th or worse. Enough said.

Reed Sorenson

• Sorenson will be making his sixth start at Phoenix.

• He's too inconsistent and at too high a price. He's just too big a risk.

Scott Speed

• Speed is making his first start at Phoenix.

• With a yellow rookie stripe on his bumper, I'll bet he's used for a yellow flag at some point during the race.

Tony Stewart

• Stewart has 13 starts here with eight top-10s, six top-5s, a win and an average finish of 9.8. He finished fourth here last year.

• This is absolutely one of Stewart's best tracks, but I've got him ranked 10th because of the way things have been going lately. He could finish 15th just as easily as he could finish fifth.

Martin Truex Jr.

• Truex has five starts here with two top-10s and an average finish of 13.8. He finished eighth here last year.

• I like Truex quite a bit this weekend and ranked him 12th. No reason he won't make a bid for top-10.

Brian Vickers

• In eight starts here, Vickers has one top-5 and an average finish of 16.5. He finished 21st here last year.

• Vickers has been basically a top-20 car for the past four races, and you can't really tell what you'll get out of that team week to week. Not to mention, short tracks and flat tracks have not been a strength of Team Red Bull.

Michael Waltrip

• During his career at Phoenix, Waltrip has earned two top-5s, four top-10s and 11 top-25s. His average finish is 24th.

Mark Garrow covers fantasy racing for ESPN.com.