The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season continues this weekend with a trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 will be the fourth race of the year, and more importantly, from a Fantasy NASCAR perspective, it will also be the second race in a row at a mile-and-a-half oval.
As I mentioned last week in my Homestead rankings, these 1.5-mile ovals tend to be the best predictor of which drivers and teams will have the best raw speed going forward. Last Sunday’s race gave us the first glimpse at what could be the pecking order in 2021, and after the trip to Vegas, we can start to identify trends that we can try to take advantage of moving forward.
In addition to last weekend’s results, I also focused my attention on how drivers had performed at Las Vegas in the past, especially over the last two seasons when the reduced-horsepower package was in use. I also took a look back at overall driver performance from 2020 at the mile-and-a-half ovals.
When assembling fantasy lineups this weekend, I’ll be taking a bit of a conservative approach. I won’t be shy about rostering big names that performed well in all the areas I mentioned, especially those who are starting near the front and should have an inside track to stage points. Indeed, it is never too soon to start thinking about how you will allocate your starts, but I’d rather have a bigger sample size of data before trying to target sleeper picks.
- Martin Truex Jr.: Truex had a strong run at Homestead last weekend, and he has been one of the best at Vegas with the current rules package. He has three top-10s in the last four races, winning in the fall of 2019 and finishing fourth here last fall.
- Joey Logano: In four races at Las Vegas with the current package, Logano has a 6.2 average finish and has led a series-best 246 laps. He has three top-5s in those starts, winning both spring races and leading 50+ laps three times. Starting 15th, he should be a staple of cash lineups at the DFS sites.
- Denny Hamlin: It has been a mixed bag at Vegas for Hamlin, but he delivered an impressive performance here last time out. He led 121 laps in a third-place effort last September, notching 19 stage points in the process. Don’t be surprised if he has one of the dominant cars Sunday.
- Chase Elliott: He didn’t have the speed I expected last weekend at Homestead, but Elliott should bounce back this weekend at Vegas. He finished ninth and fourth in the two races here in 2019, and he led at least 70 laps in both races last season, winning three of the four stages. I have no issues building around him in any fantasy format.
- Kevin Harvick: Harvick didn’t have elite speed last weekend at Homestead, but we are three races into 2021, and he hasn’t finished worse than sixth. He should be one of the safer plays again this weekend at Las Vegas, where he has cracked the top 10 in each of the last four races, posting a 6.0 average finish and leading 40+ laps three times.
- Brad Keselowski: He has a 6.2 average finish in the four Vegas races with this aero package, and Keselowski has been one of the best in the business at this track for a while. Since 2013, he has finished seventh or better in 10 of the 11 races here, picking up three wins.
- William Byron: Coming off a statement win at Homestead, you have to wonder if Byron is headed for a breakout 2021 campaign. He only has one top-15 in six starts at Las Vegas, but he had top-10 runs going in both races last year before some late cautions. I am expecting a strong showing out of him this weekend from the front row.
- Ryan Blaney: It has been a terrible start to the year for Blaney, but there is no denying his upside this weekend. He has finished 11th or better in the last three races at Las Vegas, and he was out front here last spring until a late caution flag jumbled the running order. Blaney earned points in all four stages between the two Vegas races last season, earning a total of 26 stage points. Starting back in 27th, he should be a popular pick for DFS contests and Slingshot Fantasy Auto.
- Kyle Busch: Busch has posted respectable numbers at Las Vegas with the current rules, recording a 10.8 average finish and finishing sixth or better twice. On the flip side, he has led just 19 total laps in that span, and after his showing at Homestead last weekend, it appears that elite speed is still eluding him at the bigger ovals. Busch will battle his way into the top 10, but I don’t think you can count on a dominating performance.
- Kyle Larson: He lived up to expectations at Homestead last Sunday, notching a fourth-place finish and running in the top 10 all afternoon. Larson has finishes of 12th, eighth and ninth in three starts at Vegas with this rules package, and those results came before he had Hendrick Motorsports equipment. He has top-5 upside.
- Alex Bowman: We have seen Bowman do some of his best work at the 1.5-mile tracks the last couple of years, and the trend should continue Sunday. Bowman has cracked the top 15 in each of the last four races at Vegas, posting an 8.8 average finish and finishing sixth or better twice. I’ll be eyeing him in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
- Kurt Busch: Busch has been a boom-or-bust option at Las Vegas the last two seasons. He has two Top 5s, including a win last fall and two finishes outside the Top 20 in the four races. Based on his solid showing at Homestead, rolling the dice on Busch this weekend could work out. I really like him as a GPP option at the DFS sites.
- Austin Dillon: He had a solid season at the mile-and-a-half ovals in 2020, which included a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas in the spring. Dillon is coming off a 12th-place effort at Homestead, and another top-15 is certainly in play Sunday. He is a viable Group B alternative for the Driver Group Game.
- Chris Buescher: On the heels of a shocking display of speed at Homestead, Buescher has legitimate sleeper potential this weekend. He led 57 laps and won Stage 1 last Sunday, and he has finished 18th or better in his last four starts at Las Vegas, finishing 14th and ninth in the two races last year.
- Ryan Newman: Newman didn’t have much success at the 1.5-mile ovals last year, but Las Vegas was one of the exceptions. He finished 10th and 15th, respectively, in the two races, gaining a combined 19 spots. After a seventh-place run last Sunday at Homestead, a third straight top-15 at Vegas seems well within reach.
- Matt DiBenedetto: He had a forgettable run at Homestead last weekend, but DiBenedetto used a combination of solid speed and excellent pit strategy to log a pair of runner-up efforts at Las Vegas in 2020. I’m not predicting a top-5 this weekend, but I do think he challenges for a top-15. Rolling off 30th, DiBenedetto is begging to be used in cash contests at the DFS sites and for Slingshot.
- Tyler Reddick: After nearly coming away with a win at Homestead, arguably his best track on the schedule, we will see what Reddick can do at a more typical 1.5-mile oval this weekend. He finished 18th in the spring race at Vegas a year ago, but in general, he was a top-15 performer at the mile-and-a-half tracks as a rookie. I expect him to land in that range Sunday.
- Aric Almirola: Almirola is off to a miserable start in 2021, and I’m not sure a breakout performance is coming this weekend. He finished 21st and 17th in the two Vegas races a year ago, and while he will have plenty of place differential upside on Sunday, Almirola is more of a safe-floor option than a fantasy difference-maker.
- Christopher Bell: He was unable to follow up his win at the Daytona Roval with a strong showing at Homestead, making it a little tough to know what to expect out of Bell this weekend. He struggled in both his Vegas starts as a rookie, but now that he is in a Joe Gibbs Racing car, he should have more speed at his disposal on Sunday. There is upside Bell, but I recommend a wait-and-see approach with him at the 1.5-mile tracks.
- Michael McDowell: I can’t believe I have McDowell ranked this high at a mile-and-a-half oval, but after his sixth-place run at Homestead, I can’t dismiss his hot start as just a product of superspeedway and road course racing. He has now opened 2021 with three straight top-10s, and while I’m skeptical that he can even come close to continuing this pace, I don’t blame anyone for trying to ride the hot hand. At the very least, he deserves a long look as a Group C option in the DGG.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse managed a respectable top-15 finish at Homestead, and he has shown some surprising upside at Las Vegas in recent years. He led five laps and finished sixth in the spring race in 2019, and he led 30 laps and finished third in the spring of 2020. Don’t forget about him as a potential Group C play for the Driver Group Game.
- Cole Custer: He had an up-and-down day at Homestead, spending time battling in the top 10 before ending up 23rd. Last year, the 1.5-mile ovals proved to be his strong suit, and Custer finished 19th and 16th in the two races at Las Vegas. He should at least be able to challenge for a top-20 finish on Sunday.
- Ross Chastain: Chastain’s Homestead performance didn’t wow anyone, but he did gain 15 spots and finish 17th in his first start at a mile-and-a-half track with Chip Ganassi Racing. I’m probably going to wait and see how he performs the next few weeks before using him in any season-long contests, but Chastain could emerge as one of the better middle-tier fantasy options.
- Chase Briscoe: The rookie held his own in his first Cup start at a 1.5-mile oval, gaining 12 spots and finishing 18th. I’m not expecting Briscoe to show a ton of upside as a rookie, especially early in the year, but I think he has the talent and equipment to run in and around the top 20 on a routine basis.
- Bubba Wallace: I was hoping to see a little more muscle out of Wallace at Homestead, but he ran around the middle of the pack most of the afternoon and ended up 22nd. It is important to keep in mind that he is driving for a rookie race team, so better days could certainly be ahead. For now, I’m capping his ceiling at a top-20 finish.
- Erik Jones: Life at Richard Petty Motorsports is not going to be easy for Jones, but before an unscheduled stop, he was in the mix for a top-20 at Homestead. Mid-pack finishes will probably be the norm for him in 2021, but since he starts back in 29th, he has some fantasy appeal in formats that include place differential in their scoring.
- Ryan Preece: Preece cooled off a bit after his hot start, but a 21st-place finish a Homestead is solid by his standards for a 1.5-mile track. Another top-20 is probably the best-case scenario this weekend, and since he is set to start 19th, his fantasy value is minimal at best.
- Daniel Suarez: Among the drivers from smaller teams, Suarez has stood out in the early weeks. Since crashing in the Daytona 500, he has logged a 16th-place finish at the Daytona Roval and a 15th-place finish at Homestead. I don’t think he can continue to click off top-15s, but he has to be on your shortlist of low-priced options at the DFS sites.
- Anthony Alfredo: Despite a lack of experience in any national series, Alfredo has been respectable thus far. The rookie cracked the top 25 at the Daytona Roval and Homestead. His upside will remain limited, but Alfredo is at least proving to be a potential DFS punt play.
- Justin Haley: Haley will be back in the No. 77 machine this weekend, and in two starts this year, he has finishes of 24th and 26th. Expect him to land in that range again Sunday, making him no more than a DFS lottery ticket.