With another crash-filled Daytona 500 in the books, the Fantasy NASCAR owners can really start attacking the 2020 Cup Series season.
While we shouldn’t have to deal with Daytona-type attrition this weekend, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing at Las Vegas. The curveballs started in practice Friday when the Toyota teams appeared down on speed, and it continued Saturday when qualifying was rained out, setting the field by owner points. Throw in the fact that three of the Joe Gibbs Racing affiliated cars will be sent to the rear of the field, and we have a lot of unknowns to deal with as the green flag approaches.
For Fantasy Live, I stuck to the drivers starting near the front of the field who had success at the 1.5-mile tracks last year and to the drivers who have strong resumes at Las Vegas. Stage points are crucial in the scoring in this contest, and I think the drivers starting up front will have the inside track to earning them.
In the Driver Group Game, I decided to take a bit of a conservative approach, particularly with my Group B picks. The performance of the Toyota teams in practice has me curious, so I decided to lean on the drivers with safe, solid floors, rather than going with drivers who may have higher ceilings. This early in the season, I’ll take a quality finish while I get a better feel for which drivers and teams will be at the head of the class in each tier.
I was torn with my decisions in Slingshot Fantasy Auto this weekend. With the field being set by last year’s owner points, there isn’t a lot of low-hanging fruit in the place differential category. I’m typically all about loading up on differential points, but when you combine the starting lineup with the unknowns that come with the second race of the year, I decided to anchor my lineup with a couple of studs starting up front.
Check out all my season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks for the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Harvick was the man to beat at the 1.5-mile tracks throughout last season, scoring a series-high 443 driver points and leading a series-best 590 laps in the 11 races. Harvick led 40-plus laps in seven of those starts, leading a race-high 88 laps in a fourth-place effort at Las Vegas in March and leading 47 laps in a runner-up effort at the track in the fall. Harvick finished fourth or better in all four stages in the two Vegas races, finishing either first or second three times. A penalty to Kyle Busch will have Harvick leading the field to the green, and stage wins and a race win are definitely on the table.
He led 86 laps in a win here last March, and Logano led a race-high 105 laps in the fall race at Vegas. He also gobbled up stage points in those starts, finishing third or better in all four stages and notching a pair of stage wins. Logano has cracked the Top 10 in each of the last 10 Vegas races, leading at least 25 laps seven times and 40-plus laps six times. A Top 5 starting spot should have Logano up front all afternoon.
Who doesn’t love a hot streak in Vegas? Keselowski has finished seventh or better in his last nine starts at the track, picking up three wins during that stretch and finishing second and third in the two races here a year ago. His high floor and Top 10 starting spot are exactly what I want as we get a feel for what to expect in 2020.
I’ve got high expectations for Blaney this year, but regardless of how he ends up performing overall, his resume at Las Vegas speaks for itself. He has finished seventh or better in five of his last starts at the track, and since joining Team Penske, he has three Top 5s in four starts. Rolling off from the Top 10 with a car that was strong in practice, his Vegas success looks poised to continue.
He was more solid than spectacular at the mile-and-a-half ovals last year, but Vegas was one of his better tracks. He cracked the Top 10 in the March race, and he led 12 laps and finished fourth in the fall event. Elliott also logged points in three of the four stages between the two races. He will start in the Top 10 Sunday, and Elliott had one of the better cars on the practice sheets. I think he has a solid floor and decent upside.
Garage Driver – Martin Truex Jr.
Based on the numbers, Truex is probably a Top 3 option this weekend at Las Vegas. He won the fall race at the track last year, and he earned points in all four stages in the two races, logging one stage win. Truex also owns a series-best 3.5 average finish in the five races at Vegas since 2017, winning twice in that span. He starts second, but I’ll start him on my bench as he breaks in a new crew chief with a car that didn’t jump off the page on the practice charts, but there’s a good chance he ends up in my starting lineup before the day is done.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
He’s starting up front, he was solid in practice, and his resume at Las Vegas stacks up with any driver out there. The combination of his high floor and high ceiling makes him a smart play for the second race of the year. He might not win, but I love his chances of delivering a Top 5 and some stage points.
Ryan Blaney (B)
Blaney has run well at Las Vegas throughout his career, notching five finishes of seventh or better in his last six starts and cracking the Top 5 in three of his four starts with Team Penske. Starting in the Top 10 with a car that showed plenty of speed on short and long runs in practice, he looks poised to contend for a Top 5 while providing some stage points.
Aric Almirola (B)
I had Almirola as one of my Group B plays as a high-floor, fallback option, and with the Toyotas struggling a bit on the practice charts, I didn’t want touse Erik Jones. Plus, Almirola actually showed Top 5 speed in practice Friday. He finished seventh and 13th in the two races at Las Vegas last year, and he only finished worse than 16th in two of the 11 races at mile-and-a-half tracks in 2019. At worst, Almirola should contend for a Top 10 and help me start 2020 with a strong point total.
Ross Chastain (C)
Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer should all be solid plays, as well, but with Chastain subbing for Ryan Newman and getting to drive decent equipment, we have a chance to save a start from the three super rookies without sacrificing anything in the upside department. With Newman’s timetable undetermined at this point, it’s a no-brainer to use Chastain this weekend, especially after he posted Top 10 speeds in practice.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kevin Harvick ($12,500)
I normally lean on the place differential category in Slingshot, but with the field being set by owner points from last year, it limits the big names starting deeper in the field. Throw in the fact that it is early in the year with plenty of unknowns, and I am going to trust the driver who has been the best in the business at Las Vegas and at the 1.5-mile tracks in general over the last couple of years. Harvick will be scored from third, but he will lead the field to the green with Kyle Busch being sent to the back. He should able to finish in the Top 5 and earn plenty of stage points.
Joey Logano ($12,200)
Much like with the Harvick pick, I am going with Logano’s consistency instead of hunting for place differential points. He has eight straight Top 10s at Las Vegas, winning the March race last year and leading the most laps in the fall event. Starting in the Top 5, I’m expecting Logano to deliver double-digit stage points and challenge for the win.
Alex Bowman ($10,700)
Bowman emerged as a borderline Top 5 option at the mile-and-half ovals down the stretch last year, and he finished 11th and sixth in the two races at Las Vegas. More importantly, the speed appears to have carried over into 2020. Bowman showed Top 5 speed in practice Friday, and I think he can back it up Sunday. If you want a little more place differential upside, Jimmie Johnson and Aric Almirola are my favorite alternatives.
Matt DiBenedetto ($8,500)
Although he struggled at the 1.5-mile tracks last year, it looks the move to Wood Brothers Racing is going to pay immediate dividends. He ranked sixth and fifth in the two practice sessions Friday, but with qualifying being rained out, he has to start 19th. I think he can gain double-digit spots and finish in the Top 10 this weekend.
John Hunter Nemechek ($6,100)
Nemechek starts back in 29th, but in two starts at 1.5-mile tracks last year, he finished 21st and 23rd. If he just challenges for a Top 20 Sunday, I’ll be satisfied with the return on investment, and he actually showed Top 10 speed Friday’s second practice. I think he could be a steal at this price.