The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to the west coast this week to compete at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This will be the first of three races out west and getting cars, personal and equipment back and forth across the country is no easy task. Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a bumpy track with high winds. This makes the cars unstable and the race pretty exciting. The race can be seen Sunday at 3:30 pm ET on Fox.
The MENCS will have a normal schedule this week. The first practice is scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m. ET (FS1). Qualifying is Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1). There will be two practices Saturday. The first is at 11:30 a.m. ET (FS1) and the final practice is at 2:30 p.m. ET (FS1). Our lineups need to be submitted before 7 a.m. ET on Friday!
Ryan Blaney won the pole for the 2018 Pennzoil 400. He only led one lap before Kevin Harvick took over. Harvick won Stage 1 and Stage and then went on to win the race. Harvick totally dominated the race. The No. 4 car led 214 of the 267 laps but the win was taken away because the car had an illegal rear window brace. The Team Penske Fords finished 5th, 6th and 7th and Paul Menard was 9th. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson also looked good in the race.
Race Rewind at Las Vegas: PennzOil 400 (2018)
NASCAR used the new aero package last week but it was not the full rules package for the 2019 season. The track at Atlanta is so abrasive that the cars had to have cooling ducts on the tires and brakes. This week the cars will have are ducts which to take the air from the front of the car and pass it through the side of the car. This will punch a bigger hole in the air and cause for more drafting.
The best information we have to go with this week is from the test session at Las Vegas in January. Brad Keselowski dominated most of the practice sessions and Austin Dillon was right behind him. The Stewart-Haas Racing cars also looked good. Kyle Busch did not look good but I think he was sandbagging. The No. 18 car would fall to the back on purpose to see how fast he could make it to the front. He would get to the top 3 and quit his run, so he will be better than the speeds suggest.
Las Vegas Test Speeds
Here are my picks for Las Vegas…
Driver Group Game A Picks
You could throw a dart at a board with the Group A drivers on it and whoever you hit will be a good pick. These are the top 7 drivers from the race Sunday. This is the best track for Team Penske so I think you need either Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano in your lineup. Kevin Harvick dominated the race last year but was that because of his illegal car or did the back brace really not matter much? Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson have the best average finishing position in Las Vegas since 2016. Both would be good picks. Kyle Busch can never be counted out at his home track. Chase Elliott is probably the driver I like the least. I still think the no. 9 car will finish 7th so that is not too bad.
Brad Keselowski (8): Keselowski will have momentum heading into the race at Las Vegas after his sick win at Atlanta. Last year Kevin Harvick won three races in a row between Atlanta and Phoenix. Could Keselowski do the same thing? Maybe. He dominated the test session at Las Vegas in January and he won the last race in Sin City. This tracks ranks as his best intermediate track. Keselowski has not finished outside the top 7 at Las Vegas since 2012. That makes him the safest pick in the field this week.
Martin Truex Jr. (8): I really liked what I saw from Truex Jr. last week. I was concerned that the switch to Joe Gibbs Racing would slow this team down but that is not the case. Truex has been awesome at Las Vegas since 2014. He has finished 3rd, 4th, 1st, 11th and 2nd in his last 5 races at the track. He has also led an average of 84 laps in his last 3 races in the desert. I am not worried about the new rules package affecting the No. 19 team. Cole Pearn is a smart crew chief and Truex is one of the most talented drivers. Their success at Las Vegas will continue Sunday.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Brad Keselowski 2) Martin Truex Jr., 3) Kyle Larson 4) Joey Logano 5) Kevin Harvick 6) Kyle Busch 7) Chase Elliott
Driver Group Game B Picks
Ryan Blaney (8): Blaney is the best pick in Group B this week. Las Vegas ranks as his bet 1.5-mile track. He won the pole in this race last year and finished 5th. Blaney has a 5.75 average finishing position since 2015 at Las Vegas. Blaney will be in a good position to win if this race does come down to a drafting contest. He is one of the best young drivers at moving through the draft to make it to the front. I like what I saw from Blaney at Atlanta. I think he will be even better Sunday.
Erik Jones (8): Jones did not have a good race at Atlanta but that had a lot to do with the team having steering problems in practice. They spent so much time on fixing the steering problems that they were not able to focus on the handling of their car. It will be different this week. Jones won the pole for the last race at Las Vegas and he finished 8th in the 2018 Pennzoil 400. He has a Superspeedway win on his resume so he can race in the draft. Jones will be the 2nd best pick in Group B this week.
Aric Almirola (7): Almirola looked really good last week but a speeding penalty forced him to go to the back of the field. He still made his way to the front and finished 8th. Almirola has finished every race on a 1.5-mile track since the playoffs began last year in the top 10 (Only Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. have top-10 finishes in all 1.5-mile races dating back to last August). Almirola is a good Superspeedway driver so he should perform well in the draft. I want at least one Stewart-Haas Racing car on my team and I like Almirola a lot for Las Vegas.
Austin Dillon (8): My last pick in Group B can down to Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon. Busch and Hamlin are good Superspeedway drivers but their results at Las Vegas stink. I will have them for their better tracks and go with a longshot this week. Dillon had the 2nd-best car in the practice at Las Vegas in January. He was 2nd-fastest the first day and 2nd-fastest the final day. Dillon has been hit or miss at Las Vegas in his career but he should be good this week since the draft will be a factor. Dillon is a good Superspeedway driver who should run well his week.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) Ryan Blaney 2) Erik Jones 3) Aric Almirola 4) Austin Dillon 5) Clint Bowyer 6) Kurt Busch 7) Denny Hamlin 8) Daniel Suarez 9) Ryan Newman 10) Jimmie Johnson
Driver Group Game C Picks
Daniel Hemric (7): We almost struck gold with Hemric last week. He was running 4th at the end of the race when he had a tire go down. I expect him to be the best driver in Group C this season so we need to use our allocations with the No. 8 car wisely. Hemric has never competed in a MENCS race at Las Vegas but he did finish 6th in the Xfinity Series race at the track. His teammate (Austin Dillon) had one of the best cars in test session in January at Las Vegas so Hemric will have some good notes to go off of. Also, this was the best track for crew chief Luke Lambert when he was with Ryan Newman. I am sure Hemric will be one of the best picks in this group Sunday.
Ryan Preece (8): How impressive has Preece been this year? He finished 8th in the Daytona 500 and Preece was running in the top 10 at Atlanta when B.J. McLeod decide to slam on the brakes in front of him on pit road. Preece tested at Las Vegas in January and he was the best driver from Group C. The switch to Hendrick Motorsports cars and engines has really helped JTG Daugherty Racing this season. I will take a shot with Preece at Las Vegas.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Daniel Hemric 2) Ryan Preece 3) Matt DiBenedetto 4) Chris Buescher 5) Bubba Wllace Jr.
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Brad Keselowski (8), Martin Truex Jr. (8)
Group B: Ryan Blaney (8), Erik Jones (8), Aric Almirola (7), Austin Dillon (8)
Group C: Daniel Hemric (7), Ryan Preece (8)
I will post my final picks for Driver Group Game after final practice Saturday.
*Stats from Driveraverages.com and career stats from Racing-Reference.Info…
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