NASCAR heads to Arizona for the fourth race of the 2023 season with Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
Chase Briscoe is the defending champion, but that doesn’t automatically put him among this year’s pre-race favorites. In addition to having no top-20s so far this year, Briscoe will be driving a race car that features a significantly different competition package from his 2022 victory.
Rules changes designed to enhance racing on tracks of 1.058 miles or shorter and on road courses — exceptions being high-banked concrete Bristol and Dover — means this year’s cars at Phoenix Raceway will produce roughly 30 percent less downforce.
The height of the rear spoiler has been halved from 4 inches to 2 inches, and the number of downforce-producing devices underneath the car (diffuser strakes, engine panel strakes and the diffuser’s outer fencing) has been reduced significantly.
To allow teams to adjust to these changes, NASCAR added a 50-minute practice session on Friday afternoon.
“I think any time you can have less downforce, it’s going to bring the cars closer together and create a better race,” Briscoe said. “The tires wear out, and you start slipping and sliding around. It just makes it more competitive. There’s good and bad to that.
“It means, as a team, we have to be on it if we want to have a chance at a win, but if you can hit your setup right and keep track position, then it just adds that much more excitement. I don’t know that we can take much from last year because of the changes that have been made, so we’ll have to see what happens when we get on track for practice.”
Chevrolet drivers have won the first three races of the current season, but it remains to be seen how they’ll fare with the new competition package on Sunday. In addition to Briscoe, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Ross Chastain each posted a pair of top-10 finishes in Phoenix last year.
UNITED RENTALS WORK UNITED 500
The Place: Phoenix Raceway
The Date: Sunday, March 12, 3:30 p.m. ET
Defending Champion: Chase Briscoe
Radio: SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 500 miles
Joey Logano (+800 at BetMGM)
Logano won the 2022 Cup Series championship in the season finale at Phoenix, his third trip to Victory Lane at the track. He also ran in the top five for 342 combined laps at Phoenix in 2022. After finishing second at Daytona, Logano has scuffled the past two weeks, including a 36th in Vegas last weekend. His odds have held steady this week, with the public backing Logano with 7.5 percent of the total bets and 11.6 percent of the money — second-most at the sportsbook.
Ryan Blaney (+800)
Blaney has yet to win in Phoenix, but he led all drivers last year with 546 laps run in the top five across the two races, finishing fourth and second. He has five consecutive top-10 finishes at the track, and seven in his past eight starts. Blaney has drawn modest support with 3.9 and 6.8 percent of the action, respectively.
Kyle Larson (+900)
Coming off a runner-up finish in Vegas, Larson also has three top-5 finishes in his past six starts in Phoenix. However, it’s not one of Larson’s best tracks historically, as he has a lone win in 17 attempts — his run to the Cup title two years ago. Larson is BetMGM’s second-biggest liability this week, leading the field with 14.4 percent of the total bets to win as of Friday, and he is third with 7.7 percent of the total money backing him.
Ross Chastain (+1000)
The Cup Series points leader has a pair of top-10s through the first three races this year. He has never won in Phoenix, but did finish second in the spring race last year and third in the fall. Chastain is fourth with 5.4 percent of the total bets supporting him to win this week.
Kyle Busch (+1000)
A winner at Fontana two weeks ago, Busch has drawn the most total tickets at BetMGM with 8.5 percent and is third with 10.8 percent of the total money backing him.
Kevin Harvick (+1000)
Hamlin, dubbed the “King of the Desert,” has a streak of 19 consecutive top-10 finishes at Phoenix Raceway. That is the longest in NASCAR history at any track, leading to 8.2 percent of the total bets backing him. Harvick also has nine career victories in the desert — seven since 2012 — and is seeking to become just the sixth driver with double-digit wins at a single track. However, he has not won in eight starts since the track was reconfigured.
Denny Hamlin (+1000)
Hamlin leads the Cup series with 526 laps run in the top 10 through the first three races this year, and has 11 top-10s in his past 14 starts at Phoenix. He also recorded five top-three finishes in seven races on short, flat tracks in 2022. Harvick is second at BetMGM with 8.2 percent of the total bets backing him.