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Pennzoil 400

Incredible. Amazing. The best finish ever? However, you wish to describe Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, it was certainly one of the most thrilling endings to a NASCAR Cup Series race in recent memory.


If you haven’t seen the ending of the race – face it, if you’re reading this article, you saw it – I strongly suggest you go back and check it out.


Daniel Suarez earned his second career Cup Series victory and punched his ticket into the 2024 playoffs by defeating Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch by the narrowest of margins.


It was somewhat of a wreck-fest Sunday, as nearly every car was involved in at least one incident, Suarez included. He spun and sustained minor damage on lap 2, but was able to rebound over the course of the race to put himself in position to take home the victory.


As mentioned above, Suarez will now have 24 races to prepare himself and put himself in the best position as possible for the 2024 playoffs. Suarez certainly checks the box as a surprise playoff driver. He did not crack either my or Devyn’s top-16 that we talked about before the season started on the WKF NASCAR Podcast. It will be interesting to see as the season progresses whose playoff spot he may have taken, or if the #99 team has really turned a corner and is a serious contender for a championship this season.


Moving forward, we head to Las Vegas, where we finally get to see some real racing. No offense to superspeedway racing, but 1.5-mile ovals like Las Vegas tend to produce winners that are serious title contenders. Recent winners here include Kyle Larson, William Byron, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin. Both Larson and Logano went on to win the championship in the respective seasons that they have won at Las Vegas.


There are so many unanswered questions heading into this week. Top on the list is what to expect from the new Ford and Toyota body styles. Will they have more downforce for better handling, less drag for more speed, or some combination of both? How will they both stack up to the Chevrolet teams that know what to expect from their current cars? Team Hendrick dominated Las Vegas last season. Can anyone step up and stop them?


I for one am excited to watch Cup Series practice to help make my betting card. Cup cars take to the track at 2 p.m. Saturday to give us an idea of what to potentially expect for Sunday. I doubt I’m firing off any bets before this practice session takes place. There are just too many variables.


When I do decide to place my bets for the weekend, make sure to give me a follow on X @WKFCody for my full betting card. While you’re there, sign up for our NASCAR One & Done. Pick a driver to win every week and accumulate points all season long. Even if you missed the first race or two, it won’t be impossible to catch up!


Here’s what I’m watching for this upcoming weekend…

 

Track Facts

The Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube is a 400-mile (267-lap) race around the 1.5-mile tri-oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada. Las Vegas Motor Speedway opened in 1998 with Mark Martin winning the inaugural event. Las Vegas hosted one Cup Series events from 1998 through 2017 and has hosted two races per season since then. This track will be the first true test of what to expect, and who to expect to be a championship contender in the 2024 season. Typically, a championship contender wins this race, with winners over the past few seasons such as William Byron, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin. The new body styles will be a big storyline this week. Do the new and improved body styles of the Ford and Toyota make it hard for Chevrolet to compete? Or is newer not always better? With so many changes, its hard to lean on what we saw last year, but it was a true Team Hendrick domination. William Byron and Kyle Larson combined to lead 239 of 271 laps in the spring race with Byron leading the lion’s share of the laps (176) and coming home with the victory. Larson would get revenge in the fall playoff race however, as he led 133 laps and earned the win in that event.

 

Who’s Hot?

Joey Logano remains hot this week following another fast qualifying performance. Coming off his pole-winning performance in Daytona 500 qualifying, Logano backed it up with a second-place qualifying effort in Atlanta. Despite a pre-race penalty on Sunday, Logano rebounded from starting at the back of the field and serving a pass-through penalty to lead 27 laps before being crashed out after getting caught in someone’s mess for the second week in a row. It may be a slight stretch to say Logano is “hot” with finishes of 32nd and 28th, but he’s had great speed and has run up front quite a bit, leading 72 laps over the past two races. If Logano brings speed again to Las Vegas, he’ll be a serious threat at a track that he has won at twice in his career.



Kyle Busch is off to a hot start this season, as he currently leads the Cup Series point standings following the back-to-back superspeedway stint to start the season. This is somewhat surprising after Busch said over his team radio at Atlanta that he wished he didn’t have to superspeedway race for the rest of the season, but I digress. Busch at his Richard Childress Racing team got off to a fast start last season as well when they won the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway following having one of the fastest cars in the 2023 Daytona 500. RCR often gets off to a good start before fading as the season rolls along. We’ll see how long KFB can stay hot to start this season. Busch leads all active drivers in average finish at his home track of Las Vegas over the past six races with an average finish of 5.0, which includes five finishes of either 3rd or 4th. Busch has just one career win at Las Vegas, coming all the way back in 2009. He just might be due.

 

Drivers I Like

Kyle Larson tops the list here for me this week. He is the most recent winner at Las Vegas and finished runner-up last spring. Larson boasts an average finish of 8.5 at Las Vegas over the last six races, including a pair of wins and a pair of runner-up finishes. Larson has led the most laps at Las Vegas over the last six races by far with 421 laps led (Denny Hamlin is next closest with 253). Larson has always been solid at Las Vegas. In 15 career attempts, Larson boasts the best average finish of all active drivers over that span at 9.9. I’ll be interested in seeing Larson’s practice and qualifying speeds to see if the Chevy camp can hang with the Fords and Toyotas. I’m thinking they will, and Larson will have a solid run once again.


I mentioned Denny Hamlin above with an impressive number of laps led over the last six races. Hamlin has won here recently, having taken home the trophy in the 2021 playoff race at Las Vegas. Hamlin has finished top-10 in four of the last six Las Vegas races with three of those four resulting in top-five finishes. Last season Hamlin was a consistent contender at 1.5-mile tracks. I’d imagine he can carry over that performance over to 2024, but it will remain to be seen until we see how the new Toyota body performs in practice. If they’re fast, Denny has the best shot out of everyone to earn the victory. 



Martin Truex Jr. is another driver that stands out to me this week. Truex hasn’t won here recently, but he did win here in the 2019 playoffs. Truex is the only driver in the field that has finished in the top-10 in all of the least six Las Vegas races, which gives him the second best average finish over the last six races behind only Kyle Busch. He has led 20 laps in the last six races combined, but has a best finish of fourth over that span. Similar to Hamlin, if the Toyotas are fast this weekend, I’d expect Truex to run up front.

 

Drivers to Avoid

I hate to keep picking on Chase Briscoe, as I’ve had him in this section every week, but so far in 2024, Briscoe has carded finishes of 10th in the Daytona 500 and 31st last week at Atlanta. Last season, Briscoe finished two laps down in 28th at Las Vegas in the spring and four laps down in 33rd in the fall. Until I see a little more out of Stewart-Haas Racing this season, I’m going to continue fading Briscoe whenever I can.


Last season Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had his best season since 2017. He won the Daytona 500 and tied his career high with nine top-10 finishes. Despite this uptick in production from Stenhouse, his Las Vegas finishes left much to be desired. Stenhouse came home 24th in the spring and 25th in the fall. Stenhouse has just one top-10 finish at Las Vegas since joining JTG Dougherty Racing in 2020. I don’t see him being a threat this weekend.


Chris Buescher has had his struggles at Las Vegas recently. Buescher finished 21st in this race last spring and 11th this past fall while racing to advance in the the playoffs (worst finishing position of all playoff drivers in the race). Buescher had a lot of strong runs in 2023, but this wasn’t one of those tracks. He could surprise me and have a good run (once again, keep an eye on practice speeds) but I’m out on him for now. 

 

Keep an eye on…




Alex Bowman is currently on a long winless streak. He didn’t win any races last season, and as a matter of fact, his most recent win came here at Las Vegas in the spring race of 2022. Bowman ran runner-up in the Daytona 500 but crashed out in Atlanta. If he proves to be fully healthy from the back injury that forced him to miss time last season, he should be a threat this weekend. Bowman finished third here last spring behind his Hendrick teammates of Byron and Larson.


Bubba Wallace doesn’t jump off the page as a serious contender this week, but recently his Las Vegas performance has been a lot better. In the last six races at Las Vegas, Wallace has carded an unimpressive average finish of 20.3. However, last spring Wallace had a strong run all day long and finished fourth. He also had a very strong car in the fall of 2022, but was taken out fairly early in the race in a tangle with Kyle Larson. A few weeks ago on the Door, Bumper, Clear Podcast on Dirty Mo Media, Wallace named Las Vegas as one of the tracks he thinks 23XI will be fast at this season. I could see Wallace and 23XI teammate Tyler Reddick both having solid runs.


Daniel Suarez won in dramatic fashion last week and is staying on my list of drivers to keep an eye on this week. Suarez earned a top-10 finish here last spring and Trackhouse Racing is off to a fast start in 2023. Don’t be surprised to see Suarez sneak out another great finish this weekend.

 

Current Bets

This week is a good week to hold off on placing bets until we see some practice results. The new Toyota and Ford bodies throw a bit or a wrench into what to expect. I’m holding off completely until Saturday.

 

Be sure to follow Cody (@WKFCody) on X for his most up-to-date NASCAR bets and weekly NASCAR betting card posted on Sunday mornings. Also, listen to the WKF NASCAR Podcast anywhere you get your podcasts. The WKF NASCAR Podcast comes out at 7 a.m. every Friday morning over the course of the season.


Don’t forget to join our WKF Fantasy NASCAR One & Done! For more information, DM @WKFCody or @WKFNate on X.

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