The Cup Series will join the Truck and Xfinity Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) this weekend. This is a high speed track with a lot of bumps, or what the drivers call “character.” The tires will not wear as fast at LVMS as they did last week at Auto Club Speedway, but the racing should be similar. The drivers need to move around on the track and keep their momentum going in order to pass other drivers. The racing at LVMS was good last year and I expect the same Sunday in the Pennzoil 400.
The Driver Group Game picks crashed and burned last week so we need to bounce back in Sin City. Kyle Larson was making quick work of the field at Auto Club Speedway when he had an electrical failure in the car. AJ Allmendinger was running in the top-12 when he was spun out and went sliding through the soaking wet grass. We were able to get a win from Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick finished fifth. We just needed a bit more luck last week. Hopefully my luck turns in Las Vegas.
STRATEGY FOR LAS VEGAS
One of the biggest questions I had entering the 2023 season was… Is the parity in the Cup Series here to stay or was a simply a product of the teams not having much information on the Gen-7 car? The first race on an intermediate track is in the books and it looks like the parity is here to stay and predicting these races is not going to be as easy as it was in previous seasons. Six different teams finished in the top-10 last week and that could happen again Sunday at LVMS.
I still think the Chevy’s have a slight aero advantage on the intermediate tracks. They finished in the top-four positions last week at Auto Club Speedway. I expect the Trackhouse Racing, Richard Childress Racing and the Hendrick Motorsports drivers to be fast this week. Team Penske is also fast and LVMS is one of their best tracks. It will be hard to fade Joey Logano or Ryan Blaney this weekend.
The Driver Group Game lineups lock Saturday at 1:45 pm ET. We do not get to see practice or qualifying this week before out lineups are locked, so the picks are based off of the stats from the races at LVMS last year, the races at similar tracks (Kansas, Charlotte and Michigan) and a lot of the data from the race last week at Auto Club.
Here are the picks for the Pennzoil 400 …
DRIVER GROUP GAME LINEUP
GROUP A DRIVERS
ROSS CHASTAIN (9): The 2022 season for Trackhouse Racing was not a fluke. It looks like their cars will be fast again in 2023. Chastain led the most laps, won both Stages and finished third last week at Auto Club Speedway. The No. 1 car also led the most laps in both races at LVMS last year. He finished third in the spring race and second in the fall. It is going to be tough to beat Chastain this week so I will have him as my top driver in Group A.
JOEY LOGANO (9): The No. 22 Pennzoil car has a history of running well in the Pennzoil 400. Logano has been too hot to fade. He won the race at LVMS last October and he had the third-best car last week at Auto Club Speedway. Logano has been to Victory Lane in three of the last four seasons at LVMS. I would not be surprised if he is holding the trophy after the race Sunday.
(CONTRARIAN PICK) DENNY HAMLIN (9): Are you a Toyota fan and do you want to use one of their drivers in your lineup? If so, Hamlin is your driver. He won at LVMS in 2021. The No. 11 car has finished four of his last five races in Sin City in the top-five. The only thing that kept Hamlin out of the top-five at LVMS over the last three seasons is a drivetrain issue in this race last year. I like Joey Logano a bit more Sunday, but I have no problem switching to Hamlin.
GROUP A DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Kyle Larson 2) Joey Logano 3) Denny Hamlin 4) Kyle Larson 5) Ryan Blaney 6) Chase Elliott 7) William Byron 8) Christopher Bell
GROUP B DRIVERS
KYLE BUSCH (8): I hate to burn two allocations with Busch this early in the season but there is no way you can fade him at his home track. Busch is at his best when he gets to “practice” in the Truck or Xfinity Series race before the Cup Series race Sunday. Busch will compete in the Truck and Xfinity Series races this weekend, so he will have three practice sessions and 334 laps in the lower series races to get his rhythm down for the Cup Series race. Busch has finished four consecutive races at LVMS in the top-four. He should be a lock for a top-four finish again Sunday.
DANIEL SUAREZ (9): There is no slowing down Trackhouse Racing. Suarez led 32 laps and scored 18 Stage Points in the last race at Las Vegas. He also had the third-best green flag speed and the third-best Driver Rating in the race last year in Las Vegas. Suarez also scored 14 Stage Points and finished fourth last week at Auto Club Speedway. The No. 99 car has the speed to finish up front. It also helps that his pit crew was the second-fastest last week (behind his teammate Ross Chastain). I have to play the Trackhouse Racing cars while they have a speed advantage on the track and in the pits.
ALEX BOWMAN (9): Bowman led 16 laps, scored 10 Stage Points and went to Victory Lane in this race last year. He did not compete in the October race at LVMS because he was recovering from a concussion. Noah Gragson drove the No. 48 in that race and finished 11th. It does not matter who is behind the wheel of the No. 48 car at LVMS, it has the speed to run up front. Bowman had the seventh-best Driver Rating and the fifth-best average running position at Auto Club Speedway last week. He should be fast again Sunday.
MARTIN TRUEX JR. (9): The last pick for Group B came down to Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick. I looked at the stats 10 different ways and it is splitting hairs picking between these two drivers. I used Harvick last week so I will give Truex a spot in the lineup this week. He has finished his last five races at LVMS in the top-eight. His average finishing position at this track since he joined Joe Gibbs Racing is seventh. That is a large sample size with a lot of success. I will roll the dice in Sin City with the No. 19 car.
(CONTRARIAN PICK) TYLER REDDICK (9): Reddick was really good at LVMS last year. He finished seventh in this race last March. He came back to the track in October and finished sixth. Kyle Busch will be driving that car this week and Reddick will be behind the wheel of the car the Kurt Busch drove to a 13th-place finish in the spring and Ty Gibbs finished 19th in the fall race. If you believe the switch from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing will not slow down Reddick, take a chance with the No. 45 car. It also helps that Reddick will get some extra practice this week since he is competing in the Xfinity Series race Saturday.
GROUP B DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Kyle Busch 2) Daniel Suarez 3) Martin Truex Jr. 4) Alex Bowman 5) Kevin Harvick 6) Tyler Reddick 7) Brad Keselowski 8) Bubba Wallace 9) Austin Dillon 10) Chase Briscoe
GROUP C DRIVERS
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. (9): I am a big believer in momentum in NASCAR and Stenhouse has it. He won the Daytona 500 and the No. 47 car finished 12th at Auto Club Speedway. I like what Stenhouse said last week in his media tour. Stenhouse said their team goal is to finish each race in the top-15. They will use pit strategy to keep their cars in the top-15, because they think if they can simply finish in the top-15 in most of the races, they will make the playoffs no matter how many winners there are. He also said that JTG Daugherty Racing will use some of the money from their Daytona 500 win to pay Hendrick Motorsports to provide a fully setup car for them to race. I will play the hot hand with Stenhouse at LVMS.
AJ ALLMENDINGER (8): I hate to burn another allocation with Allmendinger because I need six allocations for the road course races. That only gives me three allocations to play with and I already used one last week at Auto Club Speedway. I had Allmendinger penciled in for this race before the season started and I will stick to my initial thoughts. Allmendinger started 21st and finished 9th at LVMS last week. He also had a lot of speed last week at Auto Club Speedway before he was spun into the grass. I will have Allmendinger in my lineup as an insurance policy for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
(CONTRARIAN PICK) HARRISON BURTON (9): Team Penske Racing and the Wood Brothers have a history of running well at LVMS. Burton started 19th and finished 16th in this race last year. He also started 24th and finished 15th at Auto Club Speedway last week. This is a good race to get a top-15 finish out of the No. 21 car for the Wood Brothers Racing.
GROUP C DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) AJ Allmendinger 2) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 3) Harrison Burton 4) Noah Gragson 5) Noah Ty Gibbs
* Be sure to check back Saturday after final practice for my updated starting lineup.
TRUCK SERIES PICKS
GROUP A: Ty Majewski was fastest in practice, and he was on fire at the end of the season last year. I will roll with the No. 98 truck.
GROUP B: I will take a chance with Nick Sanchez. He is driving the truck that won this race last year and he has Kyle Busch to lean on after practice.
GROUP B: Matt Crafton has been awesome at Las Vegas for years. He starts 11th and should finish in the top-10 tonight.
GROUP C: Kyle Busch is a lock in Group C.
XFINITY SERIES PICKS
GROUP A: JOHN H. NEMECHEK won last week and his No. 20 car looked fast again in practice. My choices were Josh Berry and Nemechek. Berry starts in the back and Nemechek starts in the second row after Cole Custer goes to the back too. Nemechek should be a great pick Saturday.
GROUP B: CHANDLER SMITH won the pole and scored us 10 bonus points. We may not get him in this position the rest of the year, so I will take a chance with this talented young driver
GROUP B: BRETT MOFFITT looked fast in practice and he qualified fourth for the race. Get used to that, because his car is provided and set up by Stewart-Haas Racing. He is essentially a teammate of Cole Custer and Riley Herbst.
GROUP C: KYLE BUSCH starts in the back. That will only motivate him more to win the race.
Good Luck This Week!
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