NASCAR Rankings: Pennzoil 400

NASCAR Expert Brian Polking ranked the top drivers for the Pennzoil 400.

Coming off a rainy weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to start a three-stretch of races on the West Coast.

Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 will be the second race in a row at a 1.5-mile oval, and while Atlanta gave us the first glimpse of what we can expect in the early months of the season, Vegas should paint an even clearer picture.

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Atlanta’s weathered surface and aggressive tire wear make it a bit unique compared to the other mile-and-a-half ovals, but Las Vegas’ newer surface falls in line with most of the other “cookie-cutter” tracks. I still expect many of the same drivers who ran well at Atlanta to run well this Sunday, but there will also be some differences.

Last year for example, Martin Truex Jr. finished eighth and didn’t lead a lap at Atlanta. He went on to win seven of the final 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks and lead at least 49 laps in every one of them.

After Sunday’s race, I’ll feel a lot more confident in my ability to slot the top options and the midrange drivers. In the meantime, I’ll continue to lead on the drivers that show a high floor year in and year out. I had plenty of shares of Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch at Atlanta, and it worked out. I’ll deploy a similar strategy across most fantasy NASCAR formats for Sunday’s race.

1. Martin Truex, Jr., #78 Furniture Row, Furniture Row Racing

A Top 5 finish after starting dead last isn’t a bad result for the defending champ, and he also happens to be the defending winner of this weekend’s race. Truex led 150 of the 267 laps at Vegas last year and went on to win seven of the 11 races at 1.5-mile ovals and post a 2.5 average finish. I’m expecting a show of force from the No. 78 bunch Sunday.

2. Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite/Discount Tires, Team Penske

Keselowski is coming off a strong second-place run at Atlanta, and he has been by far the most consistent performer at Vegas. He is the only driver who has cracked the Top 10 in each of the last five races at the track, and during that span, his two wins, four Top 5s and 3.4 average finish are all tops in the series.

3. Kevin Harvick, #4 Jimmy Johns/Busch Beer, Stewart-Haas Racing

After several dominating runs at Atlanta, Harvick finally sealed the deal and picked up another win at the track. He crashed out early at Vegas last year, but he finished seventh at the track in 2016 and led 142 laps and won the race in 2015. Harvick should be one of the top plays in all formats this weekend.

4. Kyle Busch, #18 M&M’s, Joe Gibbs Racing

Busch did not have the dominant run I expected after winning the pole at Atlanta, but he still had a Top 5 car by most scoring loop measures. Vegas has been a boom-or-bust track for him, but he’s a former winner and has led 25-plus laps in three of the last four. I’m a little curious to see how he performs Sunday after disappointing a bit at Atlanta, but he is capable of carrying a fantasy team on any given week.

5. Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing

Hamlin picked up where he left off last season at the 1.5-mile tracks, notching a Top 5 at Atlanta. He finished sixth at Las Vegas last year and ranks fifth in points scored over the last five races at the track. I see his hot streak at the mile-and-a-half tracks rolling on.

6. Joey Logano, #22 Shell-Pennzoil, Team Penske

After suffering through a disappointing 2017 season, Logano’s Top 10 at Atlanta was a good sign. Now, he gets to head to one of his best tracks. In five starts at Las Vegas with Team Penske, he has a 6.4 average finish and has led 40-plus laps three times. Logano should have a great shot at a Top 5 this weekend.

7. Kyle Larson, #42 CreditOne/DC Solar, Chip Ganassi Racing

Larson had a Top 10 car at Atlanta, but he never appeared to have the speed to make a run at a Top 5. That could certainly change this weekend at Vegas, where he finished second a year ago. I think a Top 10 is a given, and Larson is always a candidate to earn some dominator points at DraftKings.

8. Chase Elliott, #9 NAPA Auto Parts, Hendrick Motorsports

After turning a terrible car into a Top 10 finish, Elliott showed why he is considered a championship contender this season. I am leaning towards sitting him this weekend in case his struggles at Atlanta have something to do with still trying to figure out the Camaro, but he did finish third at Las Vegas last season. I won’t hesitate to use him if his practice speeds look good.

9. Ryan Blaney, #12 Menards/PPG, Team Penske

A bad qualifying effort and a pit road penalty made life tough on Blaney, so his 12th-place finish was pretty good given the circumstances. He already has three Cup starts under his belt at Vegas, finishing sixth in 2016 and seventh last year. Another Top 10 run Sunday should be his floor.

10. Clint Bowyer, #14 Mobil 1, Stewart-Haas Racing

His teammate, Kevin Harvick, won the race, but Bowyer might have been the biggest winner. After a so-so first year with Stewart-Haas Racing, he needs to take a big step forward, and a third-place run at Atlanta was a great way to start. Bowyer finished 10th at Vegas a year ago, and if what we saw last weekend was any indication, he could be a surprise Top 5 option Sunday.

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