Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Well, we didn’t have a first-time winner last week to stretch the streak to three-straight races, but we did get another, somewhat surprise winner, when William Byron ran away with the final stage of Sunday’s race to win his second career race in his short stint in the Cup Series. Byron earned his first career victory last season at the Daytona oval in the last race of the regular season to clinch a spot in the 2020 playoffs.
This week it’s finally time to leave the great state of Florida as NASCAR heads west for a few weeks, starting at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Vegas is similar, but different to last week’s race at Homestead. Both tracks feature a 1.5-mile layout, but the Vegas track is much newer and managing tire wear will not be quite as prevalent as last week.
Just like last week, the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube will be a 400-mile race around a 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway. One change from Homestead to Las Vegas is that Vegas is run twice per season. Once, early in the regular season and again in the playoffs. This gives us a solid chunk of track history to pour over to see who shines and who struggles out west.
In the six races that have taken place at the track over the last three seasons, Joey Logano has won twice, while Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick have also picked up one victory apiece.
One notable name missing from the list above is hometown racer Kyle Busch, who has just one career victory at his home track. Can he pick one up this weekend, or will his struggles continue? Only time will tell.
Drivers I Like
Joey Logano tops my list this weekend as he is the lone driver to win twice at this track over the last three seasons. In fact, both of Logano’s victories have come in the spring races at Las Vegas, as he won both the 2019 and 2020 spring races. He’ll be going for three straight spring race victories this weekend. Logano also leads all active drivers in career average finish at Las Vegas. In 15 career races at the track, Logano sports an average finish of 8.4, having finished in the top-10 in ten of those 15 races. Logano trails just Kevin Harvick in laps led by active drivers at the track with 488 laps in 15 races. Three-hundred-and-seventeen of those 488 have come in the last six races at the track. After being passed for the lead late in the first two races of the season, Logano struggled at Homestead last week, coming home with a 25th place finish after a late-race strategy didn’t pan out in his favor. I’m a little wary of the Penske drivers right now as they have not performed well to start the season, but this is a good Penske track, so I’ll trust Logano this week at a track where he’s shown recent success.
Speaking of the Penske boys, Brad Keselowski has also found career success at Las Vegas. Keselowski leads all active drivers with three career wins at Vegas, trailing just Jimmie Johnson in all-time victories at the track (four.) Keselowski has brought home victories in 2014, 2016 and 2018 at Vegas and leads all active drivers in average finish at the track over the last six races (5.33.) Keselowski joins Logano with ten top-ten finishes in 15 career races at the track and has led 282 laps over that span. Keselowski also leads all active drivers in top-five finishes at the track, having seven career top-fivess in 15 races. Keselowski rarely dominates at the track but has found ways to stick around at the end and pick up wins. Once again, I’m wary of team Penske, but this is a solid track for them. You can do worse than rolling the dice with Brad.
Kevin Harvick enters Las Vegas on a bit of a hot streak. Harvick is one of two drivers to have carded a top-ten finish in each of the first three races this season. Speaking of top-tens, Harvick has recorded 12 of them in 23 career races at Las Vegas. Harvick is also the active leader in laps led at the track, having led a whopping 679 laps in 23 races. Even more impressive perhaps is that 455 of those 679 have come in the last six races. Harvick has won races at Vegas in 2015 and 2018 and has been strong to start the season. Chances are I’ll be putting some money down on Harvick to pick up the win this week.
Martin Truex Jr. is worth keeping an eye on this weekend as a recent winner. Truex isn’t the kind of driver that has dominated at Vegas, but he has stuck around and produced very solid finishes lately. Over the past six races, Truex sports an average finish of 6.67 and has led 135 laps. Truex has multiple wins at the track, having won races in 2017 and 2019. Truex has a top-ten finish in exactly half of his career races at Las Vegas (9 of 18) with five of those coming in his last six races. He leads all active drivers in top-20 finishes, having done so in 17-of-18 career races at the track. Truex is also off to a good start this season. Despite wrecking on lap 13 in the Daytona 500, Truex got his car fixed and finished 25th. He then bounced back from a late spin to finish 12th at the road course and had a solid third-place run at Homestead. Truex’s consistency makes him a nice pick at Vegas this weekend.
Kyle Larson is my “dark horse” this week if you can even call him that. Larson has had a good showing in every race this season, and despite never winning at Las Vegas, has had good runs there in the past. Larson sports an average finish of 6.8 over his last five races at Las Vegas and is now in strong Hendrick equipment that picked up a win at Homestead last week. In nine career races at Las Vegas, Larson has six top-tens and three top-fives including a second-place finish. Larson’s strong start to the season looks like it could roll over to Las Vegas.
Drivers I’m Avoiding
Chase Elliott worries me a bit headed into Las Vegas. Last year’s champ has not had luck on his side this season. He started off hot with a runner-up finish in the Daytona 500, but a late spin at the road course and a sub-par run at Homestead has me a bit concerned. Elliott was able to piece together a 14th-place finish last weekend, but that was not indicative of how he ran all day. On multiple occasions, Chase found himself outside the top-20 and struggling mightily with the handling of his car. As the 14th-place finisher, Chase was the lowest finishing Hendrick driver in the race. Elliott has a career-high finish of third at Las Vegas, but a career average finish of 21.5 in eight races. It could come back to bite me, but with the way he looked last week and entering a track he has struggled at, I am staying away from Elliott this week.
Denny Hamlin could also burn me this week, as I am concerned about him for the same reasons as Chase. A pre-race penalty forced Hamlin to drop to the back at the start of last week’s race and he struggled to recover. Eventually Hamlin rallied for an 11th-place finish, but that isn’t great for a driver that has won three times recently at that particular track. Hamlin has had struggles at Las Vegas as well. He has never won in 18 tries at Las Vegas. He has eight top-tens and three top-fives in that span and has led just 139 laps. His career average finish at the track is 13.39, but that number falls even farther over just the last six races, down to 15.67. I’m staying away from Hamlin this week, but he should bounce back fast.
Kurt Busch makes this list despite being the track’s most recent winner, having won there last fall. However, this win is Kurt’s only victory in 22 tries at the track. In those 22 races, Busch has led only 137 laps and has come home with just six finishes inside the top-ten. Even with a victory, his average finish over the past six races is 21.00. We’ll find out this weekend if last year’s victory was legit, or just a fluke. I’m leaning toward the latter.
William Byron picked up a win last week and the Hendrick cars look to be much improved early this season, but I still have some concerns about Byron this week. Byron has one top-ten in the last six races at Las Vegas and an average finish over the last six races of 22.33. In six career races at Las Vegas Byron has just two top-20 finishes and a career high finish of seventh place. As I stated above, the Hendrick cars look good early this season, so we’ll see this weekend if Byron can use that to his advantage.
Erik Jones is off to a rough start this season and things may not get much better soon. Jones took a significant step back equipment-wise when he signed with Richard Petty Motorsports and has finishes this season of 39th, 14th and 27th and now heads to Las Vegas where he has a career average finish of 20.43 in seven career starts with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones has never led a lap at Las Vegas and has a career-best finish of eighth. In worse equipment than before, look for Jones to really struggle this week.
($50,000 budget, 6 driver lineup)
The DraftKings lineups continue to improve as I once again placed in my contest in a nearly 300-point performance. A few small tweaks (Truex or Byron instead of Hamlin) and we would have hit a big winner, but we finished in the money and that’s all that matters.
Tyler Reddick led the DK team in points with 75.45 followed by Kyle Larson (62.35), Ryan Newman (54.35), Ross Chastain (41.00), Chase Briscoe (37.45) and Denny Hamlin (23.35). I haven’t learned my lesson about picking the pole winner yet, as I’m rolling out Kevin Harvick this week because I believe he can lead a few laps at the start of the race and have a solid run all day.
Blaney, DiBenedetto and Almirola all have to come from outside the top-25 in order to have good runs, but their average finishes over the past six races at the track are 9.17, 15.33 and 12.33 respectively. Custer also has a low starting position (20th) that I hope he can improve on, and I’m taking Timmy Hill because of his last place starting spot. He literally has nowhere to go but forward. Let’s see if we can hit three weeks in a row.
Last week: 293.95 pts.
1. Ryan Blaney ($10,800)
2. Kevin Harvick ($9,700)
3. Matt DiBenedetto ($9,000)
4. Aric Almirola ($8,600)
5. Cole Custer ($6,500)
6. Timmy Hill ($5,000)
Remaining Budget: $400
A few bad beats really cost us last week. William Byron winning the race gave us an "L" in both Reddick as the top Chevy and Reddick to win Group C despite a second-place finish in the race. Luckily, we hit in a few other places with Kyle Busch beating Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon beating Bubba Wallace and Kevin Harvick finishing as the top Ford. In all, we lost 1.2 units on the week, but are still 9.8 units to the good on the entire season. Quite a few longer shots have hit early this season, so let’s sprinkle a little money on a few of those this week just in case.
Martin Truex Jr. Top-5 (+115, 1 unit)
Kyle Larson over Denny Hamlin (-106, 1.5 units)
Chris Buescher over Bubba Wallace (-115, 1.5 units)
Ford to win (+135, 1 unit)
Martin Truex Jr. Top Toyota (+125, 1 unit)
Kyle Larson Top Chevrolet (+350, 0.5 unit)
Kevin Harvick to win (+600, 2 units)
Kyle Larson to win (+1000, 1 unit)
Aric Almirola to win (+4000, 0.3 unit)
Matt DiBenedetto to win (+6600, 0.2 unit)
One and Done
*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!
Tyler Reddick needed roughly 5-10 more laps at the end of the race to pull through for us, but alas, came up just short in a second-place finish. Reddick started the day in the back of the field and found it tough to move forward. Finally, with seven laps left in the second stage, Corey Lajoie blew an engine and Reddick and his Richard Childress Racing team capitalized and got him track position which he would not lose for the rest of the race. Reddick ran around tenth for the rest of the race before tire wear caused other cars to fall off and Reddick to shoot forward. Reddick moved from tenth to second in the final 25 laps as one of the fastest cars on the track to secure a second place finish for us in the one-and-done.
Typically, I play a bit conservatively early in the season and try to pick up wins in the middle of the season once I know what drivers are going to be the top contenders for a championship. However, my strong start to the season has inspired me to use strong drivers while they are hot. Enter Harvick, who is one of two drivers besides Michael McDowell to record top-ten finishes in all three races to start the season. Pair that with the fact Harvick has top-tens in over half of his career races at Las Vegas and he looks like an intriguing pick for this weekend. If we’re lucky, we might just sneak away with a win and get a chance to use him again later in the year.
Race Driver Finish
Daytona 500 Jamie McMurray 8th
Daytona RC A.J. Allmendinger 7th
Homestead Tyler Reddick 2nd