The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolls on with a trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 is the third race of 2018 and the first of a three-race West Coast swing.
In both the Driver Group Game and Fantasy Live, this will be another week where I won’t be shy about targeting some of the top options. Like Atlanta, Las Vegas is a 1.5-mile track, and on average, the mile-and-a-half tracks are the most predictable and fantasy friendly. In fact, Sunday’s race may end up being the best indicator yet of which drivers are set for success in the early weeks of the season
I do like to have at least one sleeper-type driver in my B Group rotation for the Driver Group Game, and if it looks like I nailed the pick, I’ll consider saving a start from one of the heavy hitters. However, I also won’t hesitate to run out a bunch of big names, especially in Fantasy Live where stage points have become much more important.
Speaking of Fantasy Live, one aspect of the new format that I’m not a fan of is the importance of picking the winners of the stages and the race. The old format emphasized identifying the dominant drivers, and you could gain a lot of added points each race with the dominator categories.
Now, you can build a lineup of strong finishers and even grab a lot of stage points but still post a mediocre score if you don’t hit the stage and race winners. Let’s face it, the fastest car doesn’t always win the race, and it certainly doesn’t win all the stages, depending on when cautions fly. It’s too much importance on somewhat fluky categories for my liking, but nonetheless, make sure you put some effort in picking those winners to try to hit the bonus points.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Martin Truex Jr.
His dominant 2017 campaign really began at Las Vegas when he led 150 laps and went to victory lane. Truex ended up winning seven of the 11 races at the 1.5-mile tracks and the championship, and after qualifying in the Top 5 and showing some muscle in practice, I don’t think he has slipped much, if at all. Expect plenty of stage points as Truex contends for another Vegas win.
He’s coming off a runner-up finish at Atlanta, and his numbers at Vegas are second to none. Keselowski has finished in the Top 10 in each of the last five races here, winning twice and compiling a series-best 3.4 average finish. He starts in the Top 10 with a car that looked fast in race trim, and Keselowski looks primed for a bunch of stage points and a strong finish.
It’s too soon to declare Logano back in championship form, but he’s coming off a Top 10 run at Atlanta, and his record at Vegas speaks for itself. Since joining Team Penske, he has a 6.4 average finish at the track in five starts and has finished fourth or better three times. He starts in the Top 10, and Logano should be running near the front and earning some stage points throughout this one.
He’s been fast all weekend, and after securing a Top 5 starting spot, he ranked second in Happy Hour while also posting the best 10-lap average speed. Larson was the runner-up at Las Vegas last year, and he looks to have a car capable of a similar run this weekend. Stage points, stage points and more stage points.
He was already on my radar because of his past success at Las Vegas, and now that he’s on the pole, Blaney is an easy choice. He has shown that he can lead laps and win stages when he qualifies up front, and at the very least, I see him contending for a Top 5 and finishing as one of the highest scorers. After pacing final practice, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him win.
Garage Driver – Erik Jones
Since I’m going all in with a lot of big names this weekend, I want to have more of a midrange option as my garage driver. Jones has shown Top 10 speed all weekend, so he offers plenty of upside in his own right. If it looks like he is going to back up his speed on race day and grab stage points early, I may switch him in and save one of the high-end options that I currently have starting for another week.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Group A – Martin Truex Jr.
He has been so good at the 1.5-mile tracks the last couple of years that his fifth-place run at Atlanta was almost a disappointment. It’s worth noting that he actually finished eighth at AMS last year but turned around and won at Las Vegas in dominating fashion, and his overall record at the mile-and-half tracks last year was unparalleled. He’s been fast all weekend, and I have no problem using him at any 1.5-mile oval until he gives me a reason to switch up my strategy.
Group B – Ryan Blaney
Las Vegas and Kansas share very similar layouts among the 1.5-mile tracks, and Blaney has been fast at both. He has finishes of sixth and seventh in his last two starts at Vegas, and he has a 6.6 average finish over his last five starts at Kansas. Winning the pole made this an even easier decision for me, and I’m thinking Top 5 from Blaney at this point.
Group B – Clint Bowyer
It was hard not to be impressed by Bowyer’s performance last weekend at Atlanta. It’s been a while since he was able to hang in the Top 5 at a 1.5-mile oval, and he looks fast again this weekend. It looks like the Ford teams may have some speed early in the year, and I want to strike while the iron is hot.
Group C – Cole Custer
I need to find nine starts out of Group C drivers not named William Byron, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Alex Bowman. The four plate races and the three road courses can account for seven of those, and Custer’s Cup debut is a golden opportunity to fill one of the remaining two races. He’s shown plenty of speed at the XFINITY level, particularly at 1.5-mile ovals, and I’m sure Stewart-Haas Racing is making sure he at least has a decent ride to showcase his talent. Custer appears to have Top 20 potential after practice.