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FANTASY HOT TIP: Phoenix

After a second straight disaster for yours truly at Barber Motorsports Park, my Firestone Fantasy Challenge team sees another revamp.

With the Verizon IndyCar Series heading to Phoenix International Raceway for Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Grand Prix, it is time to start a rally. As scenery changing from road course to high-speed oval, new players come into the mix. Unfortunately, for small operations like Dale Coyne Racing, the scenarios which aided their rise in the first three races, may turn against them.

Although DCR does have an oval track win on their resume (Justin Wilson, Texas 2012), the oval tracks have been dominated by better-funded outfits. Last year, however, did provide an exception. Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi won the Indianapolis 500, while Graham Rahal’s family-run squad edged out another small fry in Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe at Texas. The question now is focused on two trending factors.

One, will the smaller squads continue to threaten the tophalf of the field on ovals in 2017? Secondly, will Honda continue to thrive on its perceived horsepower advantage? Going by my four fantasy selections for Phoenix, my answers to those questions are NO. While Honda held serve on the fastest ovals last year, Chevrolet ruled on the short, tighter bull rings, such as Phoenix. The deck was stacked for GM in qualifying at least, as every Chevy-powered car outran the fastest Honda entrant. The Japanese manufacturer did bounce back some in the race itself, but not enough to challenge for victory.

Even if Chevrolet does not rule in terms of pace, Team Penske enters Arizona with momentum. The Captain’s quartet swept position one through three on the grid at Barber, and Josef Newgarden moved from seventh to victory lane. Each of the four pilots has had their moments on leftturn-only circuit; however. the salary cap prevents me from filling out my roster with all of them.

Despite that roadblock, I still have two good drivers from those four. Newgarden’s selection was a no-brainer as not only does he carry positive energy, he also won last year at Iowa Speedway. His teammate Helio Castroneves is known more for his success in the Indianapolis 500; however, he certainly is capable of a high placing likewise.

As for the other two spots, I went with oval track success as my focus. While Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan does not have many victories in his record book and lacks a Chevrolet engine, the eye-test recalls seeing the Brazilian in contention many times on ovals, making his inclusion worth it. The same gamble comes into play when assessing the potential of owner-driver Ed Carpenter, who makes his season debut at Phoenix. Like TK, the Indianapolis-native is a regular near the front at these types of tracks and with a surprisingly low fantasy value this week (15 dollars against a 100 cap), the risk does not exceed the reward.

For my sake, let’s hope the opening sentence for the next edition of Fantasy Hot Tip is a more positive one.

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By Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad.

A major follower of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Matt has attended six previous Indianapolis 500s and rates Tony Kanaan's long awaited victory in the 2013 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as his favorite memory.

Outside of following auto racing, Matt is an avid fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish athletics program and can often be seen at home games throughout the season or running the audio controls on several ND-related radio programs. A native of Springboro, Ohio, Matt now resides in Mishawaka, Indiana.