The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will travel to Las Vegas this weekend for the Kolbalt Tools 400.
This will be the first race of the season on the 1.5-mile tri-oval race tracks. Since the majority of the races are held on this type of race track, Sunday’s race will give fantasy NASCAR players a good indication of who the drivers to beat will be in 2014.
Fantasy NASCAR teams in the Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing game will get a chance to cheat this week. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have an extra practice session at Las Vegas Thursday. It would be smart for fantasy players to check out the practice speeds before their Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing lineups must be selected Friday morning.
The strategy for Fantasy Live at Daytona was to select drivers who started in the back who could move to the front. Last week at Phoenix, the strategy was to select drivers who started up front and could lead many laps. This week is a combination of those strategies.
Pick two drivers starting in the back half of the field with an opportunity to move to the front and two drivers who start up front with an opportunity to lead many laps. The last driver should be the best possible driver for the money left for your team.
Here are my top 30 drivers for the race this weekend at Las Vegas.
Racing for the Win
1. Jimmie Johnson: He is the best choice in the field this week. He has four wins at Las Vegas and a series-best average finishing position of 9.5. Johnson also has a series-best driver rating of 112.3. He should be on every fantasy team this week.
2. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is the defending race winner at Las Vegas. He was the best driver on 1.5-mile race tracks last season, and he should be strong again Sunday. Kenseth has looked good this season but not as strong as he was in 2013. This will be the week when he gets back to racing for the win.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt is off to a great start in 2014. He won the Daytona 500 and finished second at Phoenix. It only makes sense that he will finish third this week at Las Vegas.
4. Carl Edwards: This is the week to select Edwards for your team. He finished his last two races at Las Vegas in the top five, and he has the second-best average finishing position in the last four races in Sin City. Edwards usually performs well early in the season, and this may be the race track where he wins his first race of 2014.
5. Joey Logano: At the end of the 2013 season, Logano was one of the best drivers on the 1.5-mile race tracks. Penske Racing seems to have figured out the aerodynamics of the 2014 car. Do not be surprised to see Logano running up front again this week.
6. Kevin Harvick: Harvick has been good at Las Vegas but not great. He has never won at the race track, but he has the eighth-best driver rating and the fifth-best average finishing position. He is off to a great start this season. He will finish in the top 10 at Las Vegas.
7. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has looked fast in the first two races of the season. There is no reason to think he will not be fast again this week at Las Vegas. Keselowski started on the pole last year in this race and finished third. He will finish inside the top 10 this week.
8. Kasey Kahne: Las Vegas is one of Kahne’s best race tracks. If you are going to use him for your team, this is the week to do it. He has the second-best driver rating in the last two races at Las Vegas. He finished second last year and started on the pole in 2012. He will be the third driver from Hendrick Motorsports to finish in the top 10 Sunday.
9. Kyle Busch: This is Busch’s home race track. He won here in 2009 and would love to take the No. 18 car back to Victory Lane Sunday. His stats are not great, but he usually starts in the top five and finishes in the top 10. He is a great choice for your team this week.
10. Greg Biffle: Biffle is a much better driver on the two-mile race tracks than he is on the tri-oval race tracks. If you are going to use Biffle at a 1.5-mile race track, though, Las Vegas is the track to select him for your team. He has the fourth-best average running position and fourth-best driver rating. He should easily finish in the top 10 at Las Vegas.
11. Tony Stewart: Stewart has some of the best stats of any driver in the field this week at Las Vegas. He has the third-best driver rating and the sixth-most laps run in the top 15. He won this race in 2012 and finished 11th last year. Stewart has not looked great this season, but he should still be able to finish near the top 10 Sunday.
12. Denny Hamin: Hamlin does not have great stats at Las Vegas. He has either been really good or average at the race track. In his eight starts at Las Vegas, Hamlin has four top-10 finishes and four finishes outside the top 15. He is off to a great start this year, so look for the “good” Hamlin to show up Sunday.
13. Jeff Gordon: Gordon’s last victory at Las Vegas came in 2001. He has not been great at the race track in the past three years, but Hendrick Motorsports is the best team in the Sprint Cup Series right now. The team will give Gordon a car good enough to finish in the top 15.
14. Ryan Newman: Newman had two consecutive top-five finishes at Las Vegas in 2011 and 2012. Last season, he was running in the top 15 when his engine blew up. Newman will bounce back this season with a top-15 finish in the desert.
15. Paul Menard: Menard is a sleeper pick this week. He finished 10th in this race last year and seventh in 2012. He is unlikely to finish inside the top 10 again this week, but expect a top-15 finish from him at Las Vegas.
16. Jamie McMurray: McMurray has had fast cars so far this season. He has a streak of two consecutive races at Las Vegas where he finished in the top 15, and he will make it three in a row Sunday.
17. Clint Bowyer: Las Vegas is not one of Boyer’s best race tracks. His average finish at the track is 17.1. Michael Waltrip Racing has some work to do to catch up with the other top teams. Expect Bowyer to finish somewhere near his average.
18. Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has had fast cars and bad luck this season. He had one of the fastest cars at Daytona but finished last. Furniture Row Racing will provide another fast car for Truex this week. He will easily finish inside the top 20.
19. Kurt Busch: You would think that Busch would dominate at his home race track, but that has not been the case. He only has one top-five finish in his 13 career starts at Las Vegas. Busch has better equipment this year, though, so expect a top-20 finish from the Las Vegas native.
20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: The 1.5-mile intermediate race tracks are where Stenhouse has his most success. He only has one career start at Las Vegas in the Sprint Cup Series. Last year, he started seventh and finished 18th. Look for the same type of results from Stenhouse this week.
Trying to Stay on Lead Lap
21. Aric Almirola: Almirola is often overlooked in fantasy NASCAR. He usually runs in the top 20, but he seldom runs in the top 10. Almirola will run inside the top 20 Sunday but only finish inside the top 25.
22. Jeff Burton: Burton will be making his season debut in the No. 66 car for Michael Waltrip Racing. He has had a lot of success at the race track in his career. He has two wins and eight top-10 finishes at Las Vegas. He is the best pick for Group C in Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing.
23. Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose has five career starts at Las Vegas. He has finished three of his starts inside the top 20. He will just miss out on another top 20 finish.
24. Brian Vickers: Vickers is much better on the short race tracks and the road courses. He is nothing more than an average driver this week. There are better selections for your team at Las Vegas.
25. Austin Dillon: Dillon will once again be the best rookie in the field. He has the talent to race inside the top 20 but not the experience. He will easily finish inside the top 25 this week.
26. AJ Allmendinger: See analysis of Brian Vickers above.
27. Trevor Bayne: Bayne will be driving the No. 21 car for the Wood Brothers Racing. He makes for a great sleeper selection on any team.
28. Casey Mears: Mears started 30th and finished 27th in this race last season. The same results can be expected Sunday.
29. Kyle Larson: Larson has never raced in a Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas. He started 13th and finished 32nd in his only start in the Nationwide Series at the race track. A top-30 finish is all that can be expected from the young driver this week.
30. Danica Patrick: Patrick looked lost in this race last season. She started 37th and finished 33rd. She did finish two of her three races in the Nationwide Series at Las Vegas in the top 12, however.
Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing Picks
Group A: Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth
Group B: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle
Group C: Jeff Burton, Trevor Bayne
Fantasy Live Picks (NASCAR.com)
Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Jeff Burton, Michael McDowell
Fox Fantasy Racing Picks
Captain: Jimmie Johnson
Driver 2: Matt Kenseth
Driver 3: Joey Logano
Driver 4: Kasey Kahne
Driver 5: Kyle Busch
Unless otherwise noted, all stats were received from NASCAR Media.