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Ryan Blaney waves to fans as he walks onstage during driver intros prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 27, 2022 in Fontana, California Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The NASCAR Cup Series’ season continues this weekend with race No. 4 and the conclusion of the yearly “West Coast Swing” at Phoenix Raceway.

The 1-mile oval in Avondale, Arizona has been conquered in recent years by Kyle Larson (fall 2021), Martin Truex Jr. (spring 2021), Chase Elliott (fall 2020), Joey Logano (spring 2019), and Denny Hamlin (spring 2019).

Hamlin is the only driver to win at Phoenix since 2017 who isn’t a Cup champion.

Here are a few other drivers you should keep a lookout for during the Ruoff Mortgage 500 (Sunday, March 13 at 3:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

3 NASCAR Drivers to Watch at the Phoenix Cup Race

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick during qualifying for the Daytona 500 on February 16, 2022 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fl.
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the 2010s, Phoenix Raceway was Kevin Harvick‘s playground.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver amassed seven of his track record nine wins at Phoenix.

While he hasn?t returned to Victory Lane since the track was reconfigured in 2018, he’s still good.

He hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in a NASCAR race in Phoenix his last 17 starts. The last time was the spring 2013 race he finished 13th.

“The restarts are the biggest difference since they moved the start-finish line (in 2018),” Harvick said in a media release.

“This configuration of racetrack is much different than what we had in the late ’90s, early 2000s. That track used to be very low on grip, and this one’s become lower on grip and now, with the resin that they add on the racetrack, you have to kind of adapt just because of the fact that you never know what the grip level is going to be. The resin and the start-finish line have added a couple of different elements to it that we didn’t have in the past.”

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Aric Almirola

Aric Almirola sits in his car during practice for NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 05, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After announcing he’ll no longer race full-time after the 2022 season, Almirola is so far putting together an impressive farewell campaign.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is the only driver remaining who has finished in the top 10 in all three NASCAR Cup Series races so far this season. He was fifth in the Daytona 500, sixth at Auto Club Speedway, and sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It’s impressive, given how poorly Almirola has performed during qualifying — his average starting position is 29.7, ranked 34th in the series.

Phoenix is a ripe opportunity for Almirola to continue his streak. In his last nine starts there, he has six top-10s. He finished sixth in the fall race last year.

“You have to have everything at Phoenix,” Almirola said during media day.

“You have to have downforce, grip in your car and good brakes. You have to make sure your car turns well through the center of turns one and two, which is a sharp, banked corner. And then you have turns three and four, which are really fast and sweeping and flat. You’ve got to have a car that’s versatile and is a good compromise for both corners. We had that at Loudon, where we won, and we had it at Martinsville last fall.”

Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney looks on during the National Anthem before qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida
Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

The Team Penske driver isn’t an obvious choice to win at Phoenix. None of his seven NASCAR Cup wins have occurred on an oval track shorter than 1.5 miles.

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But Blaney recent history on the 1-mile track is consistent.

In his last six starts there, he has finished outside the top 10 just once (37th after a crash in 2020). He has three top-fives in that span, including a fourth-place finish in the season finale last year, making him the highest-placing driver who wasn’t in contention for the championship that day.

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