The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend for the first time since March, and the 1.5-mile oval will host Sunday’s South Point 400, the first race of the 2018 playoffs.
In years past, the start of the playoffs hasn’t changed much for fantasy owners. Yes, the playoff drivers tend to see a bit more of an edge over the competition, but for the most part, the playoff drivers were already the guys you were leaning on in your fantasy leagues.
However, this year is a little different because the NASCAR.com Fantasy Live game is offering a separate game for the playoffs. The scoring system is essentially the same, but instead of rostering five starters and a garage driver each week, you will roster four drivers and a garage option. You will also pick the eventual champion before Sunday’s race for a shot at 60 bonus points at the end of the playoffs.
The catch is that two of the drivers have to be in the playoffs, and two have to be non-playoff drivers. The garage driver can be either, but you can only swap in a playoff driver for another playoff drivers and vice versa. The pool of non-playoff drivers will grow as elimination occur, and there is no limit to the number of times you can use a driver.
It’s an interesting twist on the regular season format, especially for the first round when you don’t have many great options to chose from among the non-playoff games. As for my strategy for Sunday’s race, I’m not trying to get too cute right out of the gate. We are at a 1.5-mile track, and the Big 3 have consistently been the best at this type of track all year. I will have all three at my disposal this weekend, and at the very least, I should open with a very strong showing.
Check out all my season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks for Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas, and good luck as we begin the final 10 races of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Kyle Busch (Playoff)
Only one driver has finished in the Top 10 in all seven races at mile-and-a-half tracks this year, and that is Kyle Busch. His 3.7 average finish in those races is by far the best in the series, and his three wins are tied for the most. Busch was the runner-up at Las Vegas in March, earning points in both stages. He will start fourth this weekend, he is positioned to eclipse the 50-point mark.
Kevin Harvick (Playoff)
Harvick has won two of the last four races at Las Vegas, including the March race this year when he swept both stages and led 214 of the 267 laps. He’s also tied for the series lead with three wins and six Top 5s in the seven races at mile-and-a-half tracks this year. Starting up in the Top 5, he could easily finish as the top scorer in this format and potentially score maximum points again.
He’s starting deeper in the field than I would like, but Newman finished 11th at Las Vegas back in March, and he has four Top 15s in his last five starts here. More importantly, he showed Top 5 speed in both practice sessions. With the practice charts and history in his side, I’ll take a chance on Newman as one of my non-playoff drivers.
I’m not really expecting stage points from Menard, but I don’t expect to see many stage points from the non-playoff drivers in this format until after the eliminations begin. In the meantime, I’m looking for solid finishes, and I think Menard can give me one this weekend. He has a 14.3 average finish in the seven races at 1.5-mile tracks this year, and he finished ninth at Las Vegas in March. Menard has also cracked the Top 20 in the last nine races at Vegas, and he has six finishes of 12th or better in that span.
Garage Driver – Martin Truex Jr. (Playoff)
As a said in the introduction, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel in the playoff opener, and I want all the heavy hitters at my disposal. Maybe Brad Keselowski and others have caught up to the Big 3, but I’ll take my chances. Truex won at Vegas last year, and he has six Top 5s in the seven races at 1.5-mile tracks this season, including a fourth-place run in the March race here. Starting in the Top 10, I’m expecting plenty of stage points.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
I have a combined nine starts left from the Big 3 with 10 races remaining, and I still have a wild-card race at Talladega where I can use pretty much anyone to save that final start. I’ll start the postseason by using Harvick, who clobbered the field at Las Vegas in March and has been the most dominant driver at the mile-and-a-half tracks all year. After qualifying in the Top 5, I expect him to be one of the frontrunners for the win.
Erik Jones (B)
Jones was already on my radar coming into the weekend, and after he grabbed the pole for Sunday’s race, it was an easy decision to use one of his remaining starts. He has finished 11th or better in six of the seven races at 1.5-mile ovals this year, and he logged a Top 10 at Vegas. Jones has also been one of the best in the business in recent weeks, notching nine Top 10s in the last 11 races and four Top 5s in the last six.
Ryan Blaney (B)
He has one of the highest ceilings of any Group B option, so I try to only use Blaney when I have a strong chance of grabbing a Top 5. The odds are in my favor this weekend at Las Vegas where he has finished seventh or better in three of his four starts, including his Top 5 run here in March. Blaney qualified sixth and was arguably the best between two of Saturday’s practices, so he should be right back in the mix for another Top 5 Sunday.
Regan Smith (C)
It’s unfortunate that Kasey Kahne’s final full season in the Cup Series is being spent with Leavine Family Racing, and the fact that he also has to miss time with a medical issue is salt in the wound. That being said, I will take advantage of Smith being in the car to try to steal a mid-pack finish out of Group C driver not named Alex Bowman or William Byron. Kahne was able to finish right around the Top 20 in his starts at the 1.5-mile tracks in the No. 95, and I expect Smith to take care of his car and do the same.