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 on the West Coast and getting cars, personal and equipment back and forth across the country is no easy task. The race can be seen Sunday at 3:30 pm ET on Fox.
* Qualifying for the Pennzoil 400 will take place Friday. Our picks need to be entered before 3 a.m. ET on March 2nd (Friday). I know some of you are new to this game so just remember to get your picks in before the rosters lock.
My Driver Group Game picks are off to a good start. Scoring over 300 points each week should be your goal in the Driver Group Game. So far my picks scored 344 at Daytona and 306 at Atlanta. I admit, I made a mistake by taking Chase Elliott out of the starting lineup, but his car was garbage in practice. I did not want to risk one of the most valuable drivers in this game when he qualifies and practices outside the top 25.
The race at Atlanta was a driver’s race. The driver could search the track to find the groove which made his car go fast. That is not the case at Las Vegas.
The race this week will be in the hands of the crew chiefs. Teams must find the perfect balance to get their cars to rotate through the corners but be tight enough so they do not slap the wall. The track also changes more throughout the race then almost any other track on the circuit. The crew chiefs must adjust the car throughout the race to keep up with the changing track conditions. The setup that works well at the beginning of the race will be junk at the end of the Pennzoil 400.
Here are my picks for Las Vegas…
Driver Group Game A Picks
Brad Keselowski (9) is the best pick for your fantasy team. Crew chief Paul Wolfe is the master at setting up his car for this track and adapting to the changing track conditions throughout the race. Keselowski has a series-high 124.8 driver rating in the last three races at Las Vegas. His average finishing position at the track is 3.5 since 2012. That includes wins in 2016 and 2014. Keselowski ran well last week at Atlanta and his Ford should be up front again Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr. (9) won this race last year and he will have a good chance of repeating Sunday. The stats suggest I go with Joey Logano as my 2nd-driver for Las Vegas but I do not want all of my eggs in the Team Penske basket. Cole Pearn is one of the smartest crew chiefs in the garage. I do not expect the No. 78 team to make the same mistakes they made at Atlanta. Truex is almost a lock to finish in the top 5 at Las Vegas.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Brad Keselowski 2) Martin Truex Jr., 3) Joey Logano 4) Kevin Harvick 5) Kyle Busch 6) Kyle Larson 7) Denny Hamlin 8) Jimmie Johnson
Driver Group Game B Picks
Ryan Blaney (8) is the best choice in Group B this week. Jeff Gordon asked Blaney during the rain delay last week, “Are there any tracks you are looking forward to this season?” Blaney responded, “Kansas and Las Vegas are my best tracks. I always seem to run well there.” He is right. Blaney has the fourth-best driver rating (102) and the fifth-best average finishing position (6.5) in the last three races at Las Vegas. Blaney will get a practice race at Las Vegas in the Xfinity Series Saturday and the extra track time should help him Sunday since both series will run the same tire compound.
Chase Elliott (9) Is a great pick his week on paper. I am not sure Hendrick Motorsports has the new Camaro ZL1 car figured out yet, but Elliott ran too well here in 2017 to leave off your team this week. Elliott started 12th and finished 3rd. The only driver to score more top-five finishes than Elliott on the 1.5-mile tracks last year was Martin Truex Jr. That is elite company. Elliott should be much better this week then he was at Atlanta.
Erik Jones (9) looked horrible last week at Atlanta but do not let the scare you away at Las Vegas. The No. 20 team is known for running up front in Sin City with Matt Kenseth. I am sure they will give Jones a car fast enough to run up front this week. Jones led the series with 95.1% of his laps run in the top 15 at Las Vegas last year. He finished in the top 15 in 2017 and I expect him to finish in the top 10 Sunday.
Kurt Busch (8) is a risky pick at Las Vegas. I know I am playing with fire by picking Busch at his home track but I am going to do it anyways. Busch has been pretty consistent at Las Vegas. He qualifies up front, he runs up front and then he has a problem at the end of the race. For some reason Busch has no luck at this track. Last year he had an electrical failure that took him out of the race. In 2016 he had a tire go down. The No. 41 car has a lot speed right now. They just need some luck. Busch is off to a hot start this season so I will give a spot on my team.
* My sleeper pick this week is Paul Menard. Menard always run a lot better in the first 10 races of the season then he does after the NASCAR All-Star race. Menard has an average finishing position of 11th since 2011 at the track. This is one of the best tracks for Wood Brothers Racing so I expect Menard will have the best car he has ever had at the track. Blaney qualified 3rd and finished 7th at Las Vegas in this car last year. If you want to be different from everyone else, take a chase with Menard this week.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) Ryan Blaney 2) Chase Elliott 3) Erik Jones 4) Kurt Busch 5) Clint Bowyer 6) Jamie McMurray 7) Paul Menard 8) Aric Almirola 9) Jamie McMurray 10) Ryan Newman
Driver Group Game C Picks
Alex Bowman (8) is probably the best choice in Group C this week. I doubt any driver in this group will finish in the top 10, but Bowman will have the best car. Dale Earnhardt Jr. always ran well at Las Vegas so I expect Greg Ives to provide a fast car for Bowman. He ran the No. 88 car for Earnhardt Jr. in five races on 1.5-mile tracks in 2016. Bowman finished 10th at Chicago, 39th at Charlotte, 7th at Kansas, 13th at Texas and 16th at Homestead. He should finish in the top 15 in the Pennzoil 400.
Darrell Wallace Jr. (9) did not run very well at Atlanta but that is one of the toughest tracks for a rookie. I expect Wallace to run a lot better this week. He has three career starts at Las Vegas in the Xfinity Series and he finished two of them in the top seven. He also has two starts in the Camping World Truck Series and his best finish was 2nd in 2014. Fantasy players should expect Wallace to finish between 15th – 20th this week.
William Byron (9): I decided to make a change to my pick for my 2nd-driver for Group C. I looked at my notes for this race and noticed the tire test at Las Vegas in January. Guess who had the best time in the tire test? Yep, it was Byron. Also the track temps during the tire test will be similar to what is scheduled for this weekend (55 degrees). I am going to have Byron on my team in case he has the same speed. Below is the test speeds from Las Vegas.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Alex Bowman 2) Darrell Wallace Jr. 3) William Byron, 4) Chris Buescher, 5) Cole Custer
Tire Test at Las Vegas Speeds
|1.||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||189.281|
|2.||Kyle Larson||Chip Ganassi Racing||189.129|
|3.||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||188.745|
|4.||Ryan Newman||Richard Childress Racing||188.686|
|5.||Kurt Busch||Stewart-Haas Racing||187.754|
|6.||Paul Menard||Wood Brothers Racing||187.500|
|7.||Ty Dillon||Germain Racing||187.500|
|8.||Erik Jones||Joe Gibbs Racing||187.240|
|9.||Darrell Wallace Jr.||Richard Petty Motorsports||187.195|
|10.||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Roush Fenway Racing||187.000|
|11.||Chris Buescher||JTG Daugherty Racing||186.845|
|12.||Kasey Kahne||Leavine Family Racing||186.845|
|13.||Cole Custer||Go Fas Racing||185.675|
|14.||Drew Herring||Toyota Wheel Force||184.319|
|15.||Justin Allgaier||Chevrolet Wheel Force||183.824|
|16.||David Ragan||Ford Wheel Force||180.542|
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Brad Keselowski (9), Martin Truex Jr. (9)
Group B: Chase Elliott (9), Ryan Blaney (9), Erik Jones (9), Kurt Busch (8)
Group C: Alex Bowman (9), William Byron (9)
I will post my final picks for Driver Group Game after final practice Saturday.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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