Fantasy NASCAR Article – Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas

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This is the third week in a row that we hit reset. It is isn’t a hard reset, but Las Vegas is not Atlanta. They’re both intermediate tracks, but the track surfaces create different races. Atlanta is about managing your tires, finding a rhythm on the bottom line, and the proper mechanical downforce.

Tires won’t matter nearly as much at Las Vegas, so we’ll see cars gamble by taking no tires or two tires at times. With the new pit rules, a two tire pit stop will lead to major position changes on pit road. A better racing surface will lead to an increase in speeds in the corners, aerodynamic downforce will he a huge factor.

Last week, moving through the field or maintaining position was a matter of attrition. This week aero will play a major role. The top tier cars will be on an even playing field. Aerodynamics will be the difference between elite, a top 10, and a top 20. It took Toyota a little while to adjust to the new Camry body last year. The SHR Fords didn’t find speed after their manufacture shift until late in the season in 2017. This race doesn’t bode well for the new Chevy ZL1 Camaro.

Larson’s Chevy was the fastest in the Las Vegas test in January, but the cream of the crop didn’t take part in the test. Also, it’s Larson. Every other Chevy driver is clearly a step behind him.

My initial thought is that Ford’s dominance at Atlanta lended itself to mechanical downforce setups. That will not help as much this week. The Toyotas looked fine at Atlanta, and they should be the cars to watch this week. God help the Chevys.

Martin Truex, Jr. – He didn’t lead laps last week, but it was Atlanta. That’s Harvick’s track. It would be interesting to see what Truex could have done starting up front, or if the #78 crew’s air gun didn’t malfunction. Truex won at Vegas last year and crushed at EVERY intermediate track last season. This is a no brainer.

Kevin Harvick – Last year at Las Vegas, Harvick raced from 19th to 5th, then his tire blew in the tri-oval. Goodyear makes a batch of tires, a couple are going to be faulty. Harvick closed out 2017 with a fast race car at 1.5 miles tracks, so he’s a hog contender. What I really like about Harvick is that his win guarantees him a spot in the playoffs. In the past, we would see teams that had wins use the rest of the season to experiment in order to get ready for the playoffs. This year, Las Vegas is a playoff race, but the experimentation idea is overblown. Truex, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, etc all know they are making the playoffs, too. They can experiment if they want, but it’s not going to happen. Teams have taken note of what Truex did last year. He banked a ridiculous amount of stage win points and qualified for the Championship before the playoffs began. Harvick is racing for stage wins for the rest of the season. That means he’s running up front where the hog points are.

Kyle Larson – He didn’t run the high groove last year, but it was still early in the season before he had his breakout. If he runs the high grove near the wall in practice, then I will be very excited. Not only will he be able to turn fast laps, but running a separate racing line will allow Larson to overcome dirty air and pass the leaders.

Brad Keselowski – This is a BK track. He almost won last year. He did win in 2016 and 2014. He earned top 10s in 2015 and 2013. Yes, the Penske Fords struggled at 1.5 mile tracks last year, but Brad knows something about Las Vegas. He cheated last year at Vegas by caving in the left side panel for an aero advantage. He may have cheated the years before. He’ll probably cheat again, but there is no place for morality in DFS NASCAR (cough cough lineup sharing cough cough).

Kyle Busch – The JGR Toyotas got off to a slow start in the first handful of races last season. It didn’t matter how fast Busch’s car was when he earned a green flag penalty in the middle of a 65 lap green flag run. That was a death sentence at Las Vegas. Busch needed cautions to be bailed out, and he didn’t get them. He won at his hometrack in 2009. That feels like a lifetime ago. This is the first Las Vegas race since the shooting in October. I would expect emotions and motivation to be high for both of the Busch brothers.

Kurt Busch – Top 10 car, not a hog.

Clint Bowyer – Top 10 car, not a hog.

Denny Hamlin – There’s the top cars, then there’s Denny. He has to cheat to be elite (New Hampshire and Darlington last season).The other option is to get cute on pit road. Fantasy points all count the same in the end, but DFS players prefer speed over cuteness. The forecast is calling for a heavy dose of cute this weekend. With long pit stops due to less pit crew members, short pitting could be a gamechanger (hate using that phrase). DFS players have a tough choice – spend on the elite hogs or be cute themselves. We can save money with a fast car in the low 9K range that score points being cute. Stage racing, slow pit stops, mandated air guns made by NASCAR that randomly stop working for teams; the DFS NASCAR season is about to get hairy.

Joey Logano – He had a 10th to 15th place car last week. With experience and an unconventional strategy, Logano earned a 6th place finish. Good for him, but craftiness may not help him this week. The aero-dependent intermediate tracks chewed up the #22 car last season. Logano had the 11th best average running position at intermediate tracks and his teammate Keselowski ranked 12th. Even if they have improved in the offseason, one would assume that the Toyotas have improved, as well. Of course, Logano can play games on pit road and vault into the top 5.

Aric Almirola – The Door Bumper Clear podcast (big name NASCAR spotters podcast) believe that Almirola has had plenty of time to prove himself, and he has not. They conceded that this is the best equipment that he’s ever had, but they’re not impressed with the driver. Last week Almirola finished 13th. That’s better than Danica, but the SHR Fords have the cheat code at Atlanta. If he’s a good driver, then he likely should have walked a way with a top 10 at Atlanta.

Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – They all have enough speed. After practice we will know who has the most speed, but that might be a distraction. That will definitely sway ownership but the reality is that all of these teams are just fast enough. If they play the pit strategy game correctly, then they can squeak out a top 10 regardless of their 10 lap averages or starting positions.

Chase Elliott – The practice speeds for the new Hendrick Chevy Camaro ZL1 will decide whether I am willing to pay for a high price Hendrick driver.

Ryan Blaney – He’s a top 10 car give or take a few spots. He leads, if he starts out front. He’s preferred, if he’s in the low 8Ks, and dismissed in the high 8Ks. It’s a high 8K week.

Paul Menard – His average running position in the last 6 Las Vegas races: 19th, 14th, 16th, 10th, 12th, and 13th (17th ave arg). He’s in the best equipment that he’s ever had, so we should give him a boost, but that equipment wasn’t a huge factor last week. Menard was the third fastest on 10 lap runs last week, but he couldn’t carry that speed into the race. Menard is a 15th place driver.

Alex Bowman – Let’s see the practice times, but at 7,900 this is not a fun pick. Maybe, he goes overlooked, but the 88 car might still carry ownership with casual DFS NASCAR players.

Jamie McMurray – Five years writing about Jamie McMurray and it has never changed. You know who he is.

Kasey Kahne – Historically, Atlanta has been a good track for Kahne. It was believe that he could still compete in weaker equipment. Wrong. He was average in Hendrick equipment, what is he going to do in an RCR afterthought car. He’s not dead in the water, but he may be completely off the board in a couple weeks.

William Byron – He battled last week, and that’s the way it’s going to be for most of the season. NASCAR is tough on rookies. Byron is Suarez/Jones in a weaker car.

Jimmie Johnson – Remember rostering Jeff Gordon in 2015? Tony Stewart in 2016? Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2017? Life comes at you fast.

Chris Buescher – At the intermediate tracks, Buescher is a 20th to 25th place car. He was able to squeak out nine top 20s last year at intermediate tracks. He has not earned a top 20 at Las Vegas in his first two seasons, but he’s improved and his equipment has improved each season.

Ty Dillon – He wasn’t in THE optimal lineup last week, but he was in a lineup that scored 383 fantasy points. His 22 fantasy points may disappoint some DFS players, but it shouldn’t. Dillon is a safe, high floor, cash play. The next sentence is always the same. He works in GPPs too. If Ty Dillon finishes 21st instead of 26th at Atlanta, that’s not the craziest stretch, then Dillon is in the optimal lineup.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. – Even before he failed to pull the Days of Thunder move and avoid the wreck by driving blindly through a cloud of smoke, Bubba was struggling. That was expected for a Cup rookie at Atlanta, especially one driving for RPM. I wrote a novella about RPM last week. It’s going to be a long season for Bubba. Actually, it could be short, if they run out of money. That being said, Bubba’s top 15 finishes will be strategy gambles. Do not rule Wallace out this week. I’ve got a gut feeling, Bubba flirts with a top 15 finish. Last year in the Xfinity Las Vegas race, Bubba had the second best finish for a Xfinity regular.

Trevor Bayne – For some reason, Bayne runs well at Las Vegas. He’s not great, but slightly better than normal Bayne. His average position in the last 6 Las Vegas races: 15th, 19th,     30th, 22nd, 22nd, and 19th. He’s going to hang on to the lead lap. A good late race restart or a smart pit call and you have a value pick finishing inside the top 15. Which means he’s likely in the the optimal lineup. Bayne has been in the optimal lineup in each of the last two Las Vegas races.

Michael McDowell – He’s a David Ragan that qualifies better. Mr. Fantasy NASCAR irrelevant. He finished 18th at Las Vegas last year, but his average running position was 23rd.

A.J. Allmendinger – Last year, he had the 25th fastest long run speed at Las Vegas. His average running position was 26th. In 2015 and 2016, he finished a lot better than he raced. He can luck his way to the top 15, but I wouldn’t want to count on that.

David Ragan There will be an ownership bump following last week. Casual DFS players do not like to punt, and if they do, it’s with a familiar name with recent results or track history to support the pick. Ragan’s average running position is 27th at intermediate tracks. Atlanta (less aero and his hometrack) is one of his best tracks. At the other 1.5 mile tracks, he’s closer to a 30th place car.

Cole Whitt – Note to self, play Kevin Harvick and Cole Whitt at Atlanta. Whitt’s slow and steady approach beats the other punts, and when cars wreck out he gains a handful of points through attrition. Last year at Las Vegas, 5 top tier cars wreck out, and Whitt advanced 5 spots from 33rd to 28th.

Matt DiBenedetto – Go Fas Racing fired their crew chief. We could see the new crew chief bump. Maybe, we see nothing. Maybe, this is just Cole Whitt with a funny name.

Ross Chastain – He wasn’t bad last week in the #15 car, but as aero becomes more of a factor, these small teams will become less playable. Chastain can finish better than Earnhardt, Gaulding, Custer, and Gase, but we need him to start dead last to score points.

Jeffrey Earnhardt – The #00 StarCom racing car is out turning laps just to be there. With only 36 cars showing up each week, anyone can roll a car up to the track and get a spot in the field. I will not be surprised to see some real clunkers start to round out the field. That’s basically what this #00 car is. It will take an apocalyptic wreck at the front early in the race for Earnhardt to be an actual pick.

Gray Gaulding – Parking the car at some point.

Cole Custer – This is a Haas sponsor, not a Haas car. This is the Rick Ware #51 from Thomasville, North Carolina. Harrison Rhodes ran 310 of the 322 laps in the #51 car last week. I worry about the #51 Rick Ware car. Apparently, Ray Black had a deal with the team to race for Ware, and Black was going to bring money to the table. The rumor is that Black backed out at the last minute. That money the team was counting on is not there. Underfunded teams heading west is scary. It was announced that Cole Custer would be in this car just a week or so ago. The sponsor is Haas. That’s not even a real sponsor. Gene Haas has to sponsor his own cars because he can’t land solid sponsorship (Busch, Bowyer).

Joey Gase – Can’t imagine this car will run all of the laps. Ross Chatain ran 319 of 325 laps last week in the #15 car (Premium Motorsports). Gase will give the #55 car its first run of the season. It’s worse than the #15. At intermediate tracks in 2017, the #55 car’s average finish was 35th.