No driver has ever started the season with three consecutive victories in what is now known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Matt Kenseth has the Loop Data numbers to suggest he can push to make history.
In the past four races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kenseth has a 107.8 Driver Rating, fourth-best among all current competitors in the past four races at the site since 2005.
He ranks second with 90 of the Fastest Laps Run, and third in Average Green Flag Speed (164.605). In nine career starts at Las Vegas, Kenseth has two wins and Four Top Five finishes.
It’s too early to suggest that Kenseth will be dominant all season long, but in Fantasy NASCAR, you should ride with the hot driver, and Kenseth must be locked into lineups in tiered formats like the ones used by our friends at Yahoo! Sports, or in any salary cap style game.
Yet, Kenseth doesn’t look like the ultimate best bet for the win this week. Neither does Jimmie Johnson, despite the Loop Data stats indicating otherwise. I’ll bank on Johnson for his first Top Five finish of the season, based on the fact he leads everyone in the field in Driver Rating (112.0) and Fastest Laps Run (149) since ’05.
Johnson won each race at the site from 2005 to 2007, so it’s hard to bet against him. Yet he has not truly displayed his championship form early in 2009, so I’ll be bold and pick another big name to end a winless drought, just like Kenseth has done early this year.
Kenseth and Jeff Gordon both failed to earn a victory last season. Kenseth has erased that memory for now, and I believe Gordon, who failed to catch Kenseth at the end last week, will finish ahead of the No. 17 and all other cars at Vegas.
Gordon deserved better than a 13th-place finish in the rain-shortened Daytona 500, and showed he is handling the “new car” better than ever as he finished second at Fontana. A wreck ruined Gordon’s Vegas outing last year, but he finished second, fifth and fourth in the previous three events at the site.
He also has one Vegas win to his credit. Gordon led all drivers in Average Green Flag Speed (165.015), Laps in the Top 15 (1,001, or 93.5 percent) and Quality Passes (186 since ’05). He ranks second among all drivers in Driver Rating (111.4) and Average Running Position (7.4).
Las Vegas is also “home” for the Busch brothers, and both should receive strong consideration this week. Kyle rebounded from a mishap that ruined his Daytona 500 outing to finish third at Fontana.
Kyle has never won at Vegas, but he has finished second, third, ninth and 11th in his past four races at the site. He leads all drivers in Average Running Position (6.8), is third in Driver Rating (109.8) and is second in Average Green Flag Speed (167.674), Laps in the Top 15 (997, or 93.1 percent) and Quality Passes (174) since ’05.
Kurt is looking like a solid value after 10th and fifth-place finishes to open the 2009 season. In some salary cap style games, Kurt is ranked below drivers such as David Ragan and Jamie McMurray, who simply don’t have comparable records of overall success.
I strongly believe Busch is an underrated driver entering this season, so take advantage. Busch is a “Tier B” driver in Yahoo! leagues, along with the likes of Elliott Sadler and Casey Mears. Kurt has an average start of 6.1 at Vegas, so look for him to qualify well.
His average finish at Vegas is 20.1, but I believe he can challenge for the Top 10 this time. His Driver Rating of 89.9 is 10th-best since ’05.
Carl Edwards won the 2008 race at Vegas, which obviously makes him a strong contender this week despite a ninth-best Driver Rating of 92.3. Greg Biffle finished fourth at Fontana, and has three Top 5s in five Vegas starts.
He ranks fifth in Driver Rating (100.2) and fourth in Average Running Position (10.7) at Vegas since ’05. Jeff Burton ranks 31st in the Cup standings after two events, but Vegas looks like a place where he can rebound.
Burton has seven Top-10 finishes in 11 Vegas starts, and ranks third in Average Running Position (10.5), Laps in the Top 15 (866, or 80.9 percent) and Quality Passes (171) at the site since ’05.
Loop Data numbers aren’t the only factors to consider this week. Some notable drivers are in dangerous positioning in the Top 35 in car owner’s points. The one that jumps out the most is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is in the very shaky 35th spot. He has never missed a race since entering the Cup Series, and look for him to make a push forward this week.
Earnhardt has been inconsistent at Vegas, with three Top 10 finishes in nine starts and average finish of 18.7. A sense of urgency, however, should put him in the Top 10 this time. Ryan Newman is 34th, and he has four Top 10s in eight Vegas starts.
Joey Logano is 37th as he makes his debut at Vegas, and look for him to deliver a Top 25 finish based on his need to vault upwards in the standings.
When looking for bargains, consider that Scott Riggs has an 18th best Driver Rating of 74.3 and Travis Kvapil finished eight at the site in 2008.
For my list of fantasy rankings for the upcoming Cup event, along with more in-depth analysis and links to articles on Loop Data and Driver Rating, click here.
Scott Engel was one of three finalists for the Fantasy Sports Writer’s Association’s 2008 Fantasy Racing Writer of the Year Award. E-mail Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.