NASCAR heads west starting this weekend for a triple-header in Sin City at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We saw a soft debut of the sport’s new rules package last weekend at Atlanta, but the version that will be rolled out this weekend is the real modification the sport has made at it’s highest level of competition. It’s the first of sixteen races this season that will feature the 550 horsepower engines and the aero duct configuration. Translation? Closer pack racing on mile-and-a-halves with more drafting, three-and-four wide in the corners and more entertainment and excitement. The restarts will be bonkers too.
So before I dive head in with my Vegas preview, it’s time to look back at Atlanta. Brad Keselowski battled the flu all weekend and worked his way from 19th at the start to win the race narrowly holding off Martin Truex Jr., which you all know by now. My pick, Kevin Harvick led 45 laps and won the second stage over Kyle Larson, but wore down the splitter and didn’t have the car or track position at the end to get back up front and win his first race of the season. Meanwhile my dark horses Jimmie Johnson & Austin Dillon were both duds having qualified fast, but from the jump fell back and didn’t have the cars to run up on the lead lap, much less up front. Logano & Blaney carried the same speed as their Penske teammate and were running up front as great plays for everyone that took them in fantasy before late issues with vibrations caused them to pit off-sequence and finish outside the top 20 after running in the top 5. My sleepers in Daniel Hemric & Ryan Preece were both running great inside the top 10, but the rookies each had their mistakes that cost them. Preece slammed into a car multiple laps down on pit road that ended his day and Hemric had a flat tire when he was running inside the top five.
This weekend in Las Vegas one thing is for sure, we will all witness some great racing. Multiple lines, drafting on an intermediate track and we could even see a surprise winner enter the playoffs with an early season victory. You’ll still want to look back in recent memory at Vegas and narrow down a short-list of favorites, as reflected by the betting odds. First up the conversation at Vegas begins with last week’s winner Brad Keselowski looking for back-to-back wins this season and at the track after winning the fall playoff race. Keselowski has also won 3 of the last 6 races at the track. Next up is Kevin Harvick who has won 2 of the last 5 in Las Vegas including last Spring in this very race where he led 214 of 267 laps and stomped the field. I don’t think we’ll see quite a dominating performance from any of these cars this year with the new rules modifications, but the 4 car with Rodney Childers and that Ford Mustang speed will be one to circle this weekend.
Two other drivers to watch: Kyle Larson & Martin Truex Jr. Both drivers were in the hunt for the race win last week in Atlanta and should contend this week in Vegas too. Larson has been a runner-up in two of the last three races and finished 3rd sandwiched in-between. Like we saw in Atlanta, Larson runs up near the top better than anyone and that will be a factor on Sunday with multiple grooves coming into play during the race. Truex meanwhile has a 2.67 average finish in his last three races at the track and won the race back in ’17. A motivated MTJ after finishing second last week could be the perfect storm this weekend at Vegas to get that first win with JGR in the 19 car.
If you watched qualifying on Friday night then you saw just how crazy it was with group qualifying and nearly a dozen cars single file getting the draft off one another. We saw guys that should’ve been really fast and up front knocked out in the first round and get bumped at the last second in round two. In the end, it was Kevin Harvick who got the pole and admitted it was more about where he was on the track than necessarily having the fastest car.
Six drivers have opened this weekend’s race in Vegas with better than 10-1 odds (listed below). You can also find some value in the middle tiers as we could see a surprise winner with the new down-force and lower horsepower package.
Kevin Harvick: 5-1
Kyle Busch 11-2
Brad Keselowski 7-1
Martin Truex Jr. 7-1
Kyle Larson 8-1
Joey Logano 8-1
Other odds: Ryan Blaney 14-1, Clint Bowyer 16-1, Chase Elliott 18-1, Aric Almirola 20-1, Kurt Busch 20-1, Denny Hamlin 20-1, Erik Jones 20-1, Jimmie Johnson 25-1, Ricky Stenhouse 40-1, Austin Dillon 50-1, Paul Menard 66-1.
Fantasy Advice (DraftKings):
Brad Keselowski ($11,400): Brad won last weekend as well as last fall in Vegas during his run of three straight. He seems to have a good grip on this new package and starting 19th makes for a good place differential afternoon. Brad is in my lineup on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,100): You know the history with MTJ in Las Vegas and new rules package or not, I trust the 19 with Cole Pearn on a mile-and-a-half. He’s a steal here starting 23rd too.
Kyle Larson ($9,800): While you’re not going to be able to afford these big 3 on DraftKings, you will want to load up with 2 out of 3, because I feel they are ultimately the ones to back on Sunday for the win. The way the 42 runs the high-line mixed it with some crazy restarts and I could see him leading a lot of laps and churning fastest times. He should get you a top 5 finish.
Aric Almirola ($8,600): Want to talk about value? It’s all about the 10 car this week. He’s starting 25th after getting bumped in round one with that crazy group qualifying session, but should get to the front and contend for the win. The pole winner at Atlanta is must own on Sunday.
Kurt Busch ($8,200): Another huge value play after Busch finished 3rd last week in Atlanta and rolls off 28th on Sunday. He may not have the car to win on Sunday, but he’s great in the draft and should work his way up front in no time.
Value Plays: Chris Buescher ($6,500), Ryan Preece ($6,100), Paul Menard ($6,900): Buescher ran top 15 all day last week in Atlanta and finished in the top 10, he starts 27th on Sunday. Preece meanwhile had a solid run before a pit road accident, he should rebound to a top 15 finish starting 24th. Lastly there’s Paul Menard. The Penske contingent should be strong in Vegas and starting 15th is Menard but at the salary he’s a good play to land in the top ten.
My pick: Brad Keselowski
Brad was strong late in Atlanta last week and ended up in victory lane. That team is surging right now and with Paul Wolfe on the pit box I like them to make the right call late and put the 2 car back in front. Truex & Larson should be there at the end too.
Aric Almirola & Paul Menard
Want some good value bets to win? Almirola in the 10 is 25-1 and could equal a big payday. With that Ford Mustang and SHR teammate Harvick on the pole, he’ll have the speed. Why not take a shot? Menard is in the same camp with that Penske alliance and pays 60-1 in some spots. Might be worth it if you’re a gambler looking for that pot of gold at the end of the checkered flag.