Five NASCAR drivers to watch at ISM Raceway

Here are five NASCAR drivers to watch as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to ISM Raceway for the TicketGuardian 500.

The NASCAR Cup Series is headed to ISM for the fourth race in the 2019 NASCAR season.

The trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend was the first race under the new rules package since the pre-season testing held in January.

The jury is still out for has on whether or not the on-track racing product was better. After all, it was only one race.

Now we head to ISM Raceway where the cars will not have the tapered spacer or the aero ducts. This is the same package that will be used later this season at Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond, Dover, Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

Will Team Penske win three in a row? Will a Hendrick Motorsports driver be a factor? Does a Stewart-Haas Racing driver find victory lane for the first time this season?

Here are five drivers to keep any eye on this weekend to see how they perform at ISM Raceway.

Kyle Busch

Busch leads the way in average finish, 3.2, in the last four races at ISM Raceway. During that span he has led a series high 359 laps, has one win and three top-5 finishes.

In fact, Busch has led at least 114 laps in three of the past four races at ISM Raceway. With essentially the same package as in year’s past, Busch should be in the conversation for a victory in the desert.

Kevin Harvick looks to give Stewart-Haas Racing their first win of 2019. (World Copyright: Nigel Kinrade, NKP)

Kevin Harvick

The new rules package a week ago didn’t seem to bother driver Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers. That means the dynamic duo should pick up just where they left off a season ago in the spring at ISM Raceway.

Harvick is the defending race winner and has an average finish of 4.2 in his last four races at ISM Raceway. He’s one of only two drivers to finish inside the top-10 in the last four races and has led 111 laps.

“When we go to Phoenix, we are always going for the win,” said Harvick in his pre-race advance.

“That’s been a great racetrack for me, personally, and since I’ve been at SHR, it’s become statistically one of our best racetracks as far as win counts go. It’s definitely a racetrack that we circle every year where we think we should have an opportunity to win.”

Harvick should be a factor for the race win this weekend at ISM Raceway.

Will Brad Keselowski win his second race of 2019? (World Copyright: Rusty Jarrett, NKP)

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski and his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano have won the last two races in the Cup Series.

Keselowski and his teammates combined to lead 96 laps at Atlanta, with Keselowski picking up the win. At Las Vegas Logano and Keselowski combined to led 103 laps en route to a 1-2 finish, this time with Logano in victory lane.

Keselowski has run well at ISM Raceway in the past with the fifth best average finish, 9.5, in the last four races. He’s led 44 laps and has two top-5 finishes.

Aric Almirola heads to ISM Raceway looking for a win. (World Copyright: Russell LaBounty, NKP)

Aric Almirola

At Atlanta Motor Speedway, Almirola in clean air out in front resulted in 36 laps led. He was unable to regain that track position for the rest of the race and finished eighth on the day.

All four Stewart-Haas Racing Fords finished inside the top-10 at Atlanta. At ISM Raceway the new rules package won’t be in effect, favoring the likes of the cars from SHR.

In the last four races at ISM Raceway Almriola has an average finish of 9.2, which is fourth best among all drivers.

“You have to have everything at Phoenix,” said Almriola in his pre-race advance. “You have to have downforce, grip in your car and good brakes. You’ve got to have a car that’s versatile and is a good compromise for both corners.”

“I think for Phoenix it’s going to be very similar to the short-track racing we’ve seen in the past. I think there’s going to be tight, side-by-side racing and the bump-and-run is going to come into play where we’re moving ourselves into position.”

Martin Truex Jr. is looking for a his first win with Joe Gibbs Racing. (World Copyright: Nigel Kinrade, NKP)

Martin Truex Jr.

Despite only leading 11 laps in the last four races at ISM Raceway, Truex Jr. is a strong contender for the win. Truex Jr. has an average finish of 8.2 in his last four races at ISM Raceway and his worst finish in those races is 14th.

Truex Jr. has finishes of second and eighth in the last two races this season. He is one of the favorites, along with teammate Kyle Busch, to score the second win for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.