Mike Forbes examines the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway!!
The Cup series heads into the desert this week for the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and for the second week in a row, we will be racing on a mile-and-a-half track. While the length of the track may be the same, the two tracks are quite different from each other.
William Byron was able to shock everyone and take home the checkered flag last week. What made his win unlikely was his history at the track. I touched on it last week in the preview article, but it was clear that what he and new crew chief Rudy Fugle worked on in the offseason paid off with his victory.
Another team that surprised a lot of people around NASCAR was the 17-car driven by Chris Buescher. Chris led a ton of laps and looked like he was the car to beat before giving up the lead and falling back in traffic.
While both of these drivers were not expected to perform the way they did, it opens our eyes to some teams that we weren’t looking at in the past. This opens up a ton of value plays moving forward if any of these teams can continue their success. Now, I don’t believe in making huge sweeping statements based on one race, but you do have to pay attention to what these teams are doing to start the season.
When NASCAR announced the next generation car that was supposed to debut this year, they froze new parts for the current car. With Covid pushing back the debut of the next gen car, a lot of teams are catching up to some of the giants in terms of R&D on the current car. Whether the big powerhouse teams are able to pull away again will not be known for a few weeks, but we have to be paying attention because some of these teams can provide huge value for our DFS lineups.
Now, William Byron’s team is not the same as Michael McDowell’s in terms of prestige and budget. As a matter of fact, Hendrick and Front Row Motorsports are almost complete opposites, so William’s victory is not as shocking as McDowell’s. What Michael McDowell has done in these first three races is the surprise of the season so far. Winning the Daytona 500 is amazing on its own, but we have seen a lot of drivers come out of nowhere to win on a plate track. But to see him back that up on a road course and then on a mile and a half has to have some guys’ attention in the garage.
Where we need to be careful is making sure we are not paying for past performances in these upcoming races. If a driver does not perform well on one of these next couple tracks, we shouldn’t just throw caution to the wind and insert them in our lineup just because they got a top ten last week. The fact is each track is unique, and there are different tire compounds ext. I still believe that we will see some of these drivers who have struggled eventually right the ship and get back to where we expect them to be.
In the meantime, the start of the season has been really exciting, and seeing more drivers with a chance to win should be a welcome surprise for many NASCAR fans who have gotten used to seeing the same few drivers win.
So, who are the drivers who seem to always be at the front in Las Vegas? The driver with the best average finishing position is the 22 of Joey Logano. In 15 career races in the desert, Joey’s average finish is 8.4 with two victories, including last spring. In ten of those races, Joey finished in the top ten. Joey will be starting from the 15th spot this week, so there is some value to be had by using him in your lineup. Last week’s run in Miami was not great for his team, but I think they rebound this week.
Behind Joey in terms of average finishing position is his teammate Ryan Blaney. Ryan has run nine races in Las Vegas and finished in the top five three times while adding three more top tens. He looked good here last spring, but his start to the 2021 season has been rough. Ryan will be starting even further back from the 26th starting position. If you have read my articles here before, you know I love drivers who typically have strong runs start in the back half of the field. I am not going to let Ryan’s struggles deter me from using Blaney this weekend.
The 3rd, 4th, and 5th ranked drivers in average finishing position in Vegas are Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., and Brad Keselowski. I like all three of these drivers Sunday. Also, I like what I saw from Larson in Miami, where he didn’t run the wall like he usually does and still put together a strong race. I do not love him starting third, which hurts his value a little bit, but I think he could be a factor late in the race.
Martin Truex Jr. will be lining up right beside Kyle in the 4th spot. If you are going to use a driver who is starting in the top five, you need them to run a few fastest laps and finish no lower than 5th. When they are going to be as expensive as Truex, it makes things even worse. There is a huge difference in DFS when it comes to guys who can win and guys who can help you win. If Martin wins the race, he provides a ton of value for you. If he has an issue or finishes outside the top five to ten, you will need to hit on most of your other drivers to still win.
Which contests you play also determines what drivers you should play. If you are playing 50/50’s, you can go a little conservative and use some drivers who you can expect a certain amount of points from week in and week out. These guys will usually have high owned percentages, but if they stay out of trouble, you can double up. Now, I love the double-ups. I usually will enter two different lineups each week. One for the 50/50’s and one for the tournaments. My tournament lineup will be a little riskier. This is where I am taking chances because I don’t want to min cash here. I am going for the upper level of the payouts. I also usually spend far less on tournaments than I do in the 50/50’s. Most of that is because I find the double-ups a lot easier to win.
Brad Keselowski starting 5th has three career victories in Vegas and an average finish of 11.4. What is interesting about the five best statistical drivers in Vegas is that none of them have ever had a DNF at the track. If the Penske Ford’s are to bounce back and show the strength they had last year, this looks like a track where they can get it going in the right direction again. Brad has not been the dominant car in the field in Vegas since 2018, but he is pretty consistent, and he starts tenth, so there is a little room for improvement.
Moving down the line, the 6th, 7th, and 8th best statistical drivers here are Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick.
I did not like what I saw from Kyle last week. It seems the lack of practice really hurts the 18-team. The thing about Kyle is he may have the most talent in the garage when it comes to driving in any one of the NASCAR premier series, so even if the car unloads bad, he is usually able to wheel it back to the front by the end of the race. His starting position of 14th is very intriguing to me. The further he starts in the back, the more value he brings, in my opinion. He does have two DNF’s, but those were years ago. He only has one top ten here in the last three races, but Kyle is a guy I am always open to having in my lineup.
Denny Hamlin starting 6th has yet to win in the desert. Denny was a guy I had winning last week, but he had a few penalties that brought him to the rear of the field numerous times. He was able to finish in the top ten, but I do not think we ever saw what that car was capable of doing.
The 4-team of Kevin Harvick is starting on the pole this week. Kevin has had three straight top ten’s to open the season, but I have not felt he was ever the car to win the race. It would not surprise me to see him in victory lane Sunday, but he does not excite me for fantasy purposes this week.
The Roush Fenway drivers of Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher both have respectable statistics in Vegas. If Chris Buescher can back up what he did in the first two stages of the race last year, this is the track for him to do it. I love his 18th place starting position, but as I said earlier, I am not going to overpay to get him in my lineup. I think if you can fit him in around the 4th spot, you will see some value. If you have him much higher than that, you may be overpaying for him.
The same cannot be said for his teammate. Although his career numbers are good, he has not had a top-five finish since 2015. His 13th starting position does not move the needle much for me. If I am using one of the Roush cars, I will be going with Buescher this week.
We have gone far down the line of drivers without mentioning many of the Hendrick drivers. We mentioned us liking Kyle Larson this week, and there is another driver I love, as well. Alex Bowman was an incredibly strong car here last spring. His stats are not great, but he has won on mile-and-a-half tracks in the past, and it looks like the Hendrick Chevy’s are strong this year. Starting 9th, I think he should lead some laps, and a finish in the top five is a good bet this week.
Chase Elliott and William Byron are the other two HMS drivers we have not mentioned. Obviously, with William Byron winning last week, he will be a driver many will run to this week. Like his stats at Homestead Miami last week, he has not done great on this mile-and-a-half track. His average finish position is over 20, but there has been obvious improvement from his performances in the past. I hate his 2nd starting position with a passion. If William can back up what he did last week with a top-five this week, he will get a lot more love from me in the future. But I need to see it again before I jump on the bandwagon. I think there are plenty of other drivers to look at who can provide better value, in my opinion.
Chase Elliott is a guy who I think has made huge steps forward in the past 12 months. I don’t look at his past performance as much as I do some others. His average finish here will not justify his salary. This is a case of a driver who could very well win the race but does not provide me with enough value to use in my starting lineup unless I can fit him in a flex spot at the end.
There are a few drivers I love starting at the back of the field. Aric Almirola and Ryan Blaney, who we talked about earlier, are both starting below the 25th spot. Blaney, we discussed earlier, but Almirola has an average finishing position of 12.33 in his last six races. Both of these drivers are great values starting where they are.
Matt DiBenedetto, starting 30th, is a guy I can get on board with this week. We discussed how all the Penske drivers have had success in Vegas, and the 21 Wood Brothers team is basically a 4th Penske car. If you believe that this is the week that the Penske Ford’s turn it around, then Matt DiBenedetto should be a driver you use in your lineup.
Now, let’s get to the full field rankings for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400!
- Joey Logano ($10,000)
- Kyle Larson ($9,400)
- Kevin Harvick ($9,700)
- Martin Truex Jr. ($11,100)
- Brad Keselowski ($10,300)
- Kyle Busch ($11,400)
- Denny Hamlin ($9,200)
- Alex Bowman ($8,800)
- Ryan Blaney ($10,800)
- Chase Elliott ($10,600)
- Kurt Busch ($8,100)
- Chris Buescher ($6,400)
- Austin Dillon ($7,600)
- Aric Almirola ($8,600)
- William Byron ($8,300)
- Christopher Bell ($7,700)
- Tyler Reddick ($7,900)
- Ryan Newman ($6,700)
- Michael McDowell ($6,000)
- Ross Chastain ($7,300)
- Matt DiBenedetto ($9,000)
- Bubba Wallace ($7,000)
- Chase Briscoe ($7,400)
- Cole Custer ($6,500)
- Daniel Suarez ($6,100)
- Anthony Alfredo ($5,600)
- Erik Jones ($7,100)
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($6,800)
- Ryan Preece ($5,800)
- Justin Haley ($5,400)
- Corey LaJoie ($6,300)
- Josh Bilicki ($4,800)
- Quin Houff ($5,300)
- Cody Ware ($4,500)
- Garrett Smithley ($4,700)
- BJ McLeod ($5,100)
- Timmy Hill ($5,000)
- Joey Gase ($4,600)
When we look at lineup builds this Sunday, I love Joey Logano at his $10,000 price range. At the top, I am leaning on going with a combination of Joey Logano and Kyle Larson. I do not think you can go wrong with any of the Gibbs drivers up here either, but I really like the value we get if we use two guys whose salaries would equal less than $20,000. This may even let us slide in a guy like Ryan Blaney towards the end if we build out correctly.
In the middle of our lineup, I am looking at Alex Bowman and Christopher Bell. Bell was not great last week, but he has some serious potential this weekend. Looking for value, a guy like Ryan Newman at $6,700 is a driver I am inclined to look at this weekend. Michael McDowell could be a trap, but his $6,000 price is begging for us to use him. Both Newman and McDowell are candidates for the bottom of your lineup as well, but if we use them here, we could add a high-priced driver in at the end. Austin Dillon has impressed this year, as well. His $7,600 salary is very intriguing this week.
Other drivers who are solid bottom of your lineup choices include Daniel Suarez, Anthony Alfredo, Ryan Preece, and Chris Buescher.
My lineup will look something like this.
- Joey Logano
- Kyle Larson
- Alex Bowman
- Christopher Bell
- Austin Dillon
- Chris Buescher
My drivers to bet this weekend are a little murkier than they recently have been. The surprising results so far this year have made us a ton of money, but it has also muddied the waters a little when it comes to who stands out as a favorite and who doesn’t.
This week, I like Martin Truex Jr. as my favorite. His current odds are 6.5/1.
As my mid-pack driver, I like Alex Bowman at 18/1.
Finally, my longshot driver(s) are guys who I am going to take a flyer on based on their performances last week. Chris Buescher, who you can get as high as 80/1, is worth a shot based on last week. Michael McDowell is the other guy I could see betting on at 125/1, but I am really pessimistic about his chances of actually winning in Vegas.
You can follow me @mikejforbes on Twitter for race analysis all weekend long. You can also check out my Camping World Truck Series breakdowns on the site for other chances to win playing Daily Fantasy NASCAR.