In past years, I've always looked at the Las Vegas race as a chance to post a big point total in my season-long Fantasy NASCAR leagues. The mile-and-a-half tracks tend to be predictable, and without the heavy tire wear of Atlanta, you could typically count on the top drivers and top teams to deliver.
Well, I don't think you can count on anything in this Sunday's Pennzoil 400. NASCAR's new rules package was designed to manufacture closer racing, and if final practice was any indication, it may do just that. Drivers were drafting and holding the throttle wide open more than ever before at a track like Vegas, and while I still think many of the big names are going to run well, I think the unpredictability factor just jumped up a few notches.
In particular, I expect restarts to be complete chaos with blocking and side drafting resembling a restrictor-plate race. Unfortunately, the wrecks and attrition we see could also resemble a plate race, albeit with multiple smaller incidents replacing a couple of massive pileups.
Since I'm expecting some chaos and no one is exactly sure how easy it will be for drivers to hold the lead, I'm going to lean heavily on the place differential category for Slingshot Fantasy Auto this weekend. It could burn me a bit if guys like Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch end up dominating all afternoon, but I think it’s the safest strategy in the Slingshot scoring system.
Of course, place differential doesn't come into play for Fantasy Live or the Driver Group Game, so I will be going with a more typical lineups of heavy hitters in an attempt to pile up stage points. We are all taking an educated guess of what is going to happen Sunday, and I'd rather make my stand with the best in the business.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
It's tough to tell if winning the pole means much of anything based on how wacky qualifying was, but I definitely don't think it hurts Harvick's chance of running well. He won both stages and the race at Las Vegas last March and has two wins in the last five races here. Heading into a race with plenty of unknowns, Harvick seems like one of the safest bets to deliver a big point total.
While he hasn't led a ton of laps at Las Vegas the last couple of years, Busch was the runner-up in the March race in 2018, posting 43 driver points. He also qualified third, and there is a certain comfort level rostering one of the best drivers from one of the best teams heading into this race. If anyone is ready to handle this new package, it's Busch and the No 18 bunch.
He's been the model of consistency at Las Vegas, posting a 6.1 average finish here in seven starts with Team Penske. He has also led at least 25 laps in five of those six races, leading 40-plus laps five times. After qualifying in the Top 10, I expect him to be lurking near the front of the pack all afternoon, piling up some stage points in the process.
I went back and forth between Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, but in the end, I went with Keselowski. During Happy Hour, he said his car felt a lot like it did at Atlanta last weekend, and that worked out pretty well for him. He also has a series-best 3.4 average finish and three wins at Las Vegas in the last seven races, so history is on his side. Hamlin may grab more points in Stage 1, but I think Keselowski wins out in the long run.
Larson has been knocking on the door of a win at Las Vegas, finishing second, third and second in his last three starts. He was also one of just two drivers to earn at least 50 points in the March race last year. Starting in the Top 10, I like his chances of earning some stage points and contending for another Top 5.
Garage Driver – Martin Truex Jr.
Qualifying didn't work out in his favor, and since he's starting back in 23rd, points in Stage 1 aren't a given. On the flip side, he been excellent at Las Vegas, logging four Top 5s in the last five races here. He has also finished in the Top 10 in the last nine races at 1.5-mile tracks overall. I want him available in case he storms to the front and delivers another vintage Vegas performance.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Brad Keselowski (A)
I know the new rules package could change the pecking order, but since nobody is exactly sure what to expect, I am going to go ahead and stick with the guy who has always seems to run well at Las Vegas. Keselowski has seven straight finishes of seventh or better here, winning three times and posting a 3.4 average finish in that stretch. Even after his 19th-place qualifying run, I’ll take my chances.
Ryan Blaney (B)
His arrow has been pointing up at the mile-and-a-half tracks, and the trend continued last weekend at Atlanta when he led 41 laps before a tire issue knocked him out of contention late. Blaney has finished seventh or better in his last four starts at Vegas, and he cracked the Top 5 in both races here a year ago. He starts just outside the Top 10, but he started 26th last weekend and got to the front with ease. I'm not too concerned.
Paul Menard (B)
Just in case the new rules do cause complete chaos, I’m going to pair my high-end Group B driver (Blaney) with more of a middle-tier option in Menard. Of course, there’s been nothing middle tier about Menard at Las Vegas recently. He has eight Top 15s in his last 10 starts here, and he finished in the Top 10 in both races last year in his first two starts at the track for the Wood Brothers. After a Top 15 qualifying effort, I think I can squeeze a solid run out of Menard and save a start from one of the Group B studs in the process.
Daniel Hemric (C)
I was tempted to use Chris Buescher after he logged a pair of Top 15s a year ago at Las Vegas and picked up a Top 10 last weekend at Atlanta. However, Hemric had a Top 5 run going at Atlanta until he had a tire issue, and he has shown tons of speed this weekend. Hemric qualified in the Top 5 and ranked second in final practice. I'm going to see if the rookie can back it up in the race Sunday.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Brad Keselowski ($12,000)
He's probably going to be a popular play, but Keselowski had been the steadiest performer at Las Vegas the last several years, and he has the place differential upside I'm looking for after qualifying 19th.
Aric Almirola ($10,900)
Almirola missed it in qualifying Friday, but starting 25th, he's got tons of differential points available. He finished in the Top 10 in both races at Las Vegas last year, and he has six straight Top 10s at 1.5-mile tracks dating back to last year. I expect him to move forward.
Kurt Busch ($10,000)
He's had a lot of bad results at Las Vegas, but bad luck can take most of the blame. At the end of the day, Busch is a weekly Top 10 threat who is starting way back in 28th. I just can't pass on all those place differential points, especially with this race looking like it could be a wild one.
Ryan Newman ($9,000)
I haven't made a habit of rostering Newman in any format in recent years, but he's actually been solid at Las Vegas. He has five Top 15s in the last six races here, including finishes of 11th and ninth last year. More importantly, he starts way back in 29th, so he has differential points working in his favor.
Chris Buescher ($7,500)
Buescher came up big for me last year, gaining 21 spots and finishing ninth at Atlanta. Last year at Vegas, he gained 13 spots and finished 15th in both the March race and the fall race. After qualifying 27th Friday, he could deliver a sneaky point total once again.