Yahoo: Top 30 Drivers
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The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend for the start of the annual West Coast swing. Sunday’s Kobalt 400 will also be the second race in a row contested on a 1.5-mile oval, and if last weekend’s race at Atlanta was any indication, NASCAR’s new rules for 2017 aren’t going to result in dramatic changes for DFS strategies.
Granted, it has only been one race, but the new downforce package and three-segment race format didn’t stop Kevin Harvick from absolutely dominating the laps led and fastest laps run categories.
I said prior to last week’s race that I still expect the dominator categories to be key to building a winning DFS lineup in 2017, and nothing I saw at Atlanta makes me think otherwise, especially for this weekend’s race.
As is the case at most 1.5-mile tracks, races at Vegas are often dominated by one or two drivers. The Kobalt 400 is scheduled for 267 laps, and in four of the last five races here, one driver has led 75-plus laps. In fact, a driver has topped 100 laps led three times in that same span.
Yes, the place differential category is always going to be a valuable source of points, but if you want to take down larger tournaments and win the big bucks, hitting on the driver who owns the dominator stats is basically a must this weekend.
Make sure to check back for updated picks and DFS lineup tips following qualifying. In the meantime, here is a closer look at the drivers who could help you come out of Vegas a winner.
Yes, he gave away the win last weekend at Atlanta when he sped on pit road, but that doesn’t change the fact that Harvick finished as the top scorer on DraftKings by a wide margin thanks to owning the dominator categories, and a repeat performance could be on tap Sunday. He led a race-high 142 laps in a decisive win at Vegas in 2015, and over his career, he ranks fourth or better in both dominator categories.
Johnson’s success in Vegas has stood the test of time, and he remains a force in the dominator categories. He is a four-time winner here overall, and ranks first in both laps led and fastest laps run. Meanwhile, he has led 30-plus laps in each of the last five races here, finishing sixth or better four times.
Logano has been knocking on the door of a win at Vegas recently, leading 40-plus laps in each of his last three starts. Last year, Logano led 72 laps on his way to a second-place finish. To put things in perspective, he already ranks in the Top 5 in laps led at Vegas, and has only been racing since 2009. The bottom line is that Logano is capable of scoring some serious points in the dominator categories this weekend.
While he hasn’t led many laps at Vegas, it’s tough to argue with his final results. He has a 3.0 average finish over the last four races here, including two wins in 2014 and 2016. Keselowski was up front all afternoon before eventually grabbing the win at Atlanta last weekend, and he has already shown he can seal the deal at Vegas.
Elliott continued an encouraging trend at the 1.5-mile ovals after contending for the win all afternoon in Atlanta. He led 75-plus laps in two of the final four races at 1.5-mile ovals in 2016, and Vegas is another track where he could deliver a Top 5 finish and earn some points in the dominator categories. I’ll keep him in mind as a contrarian building block in GPPs.
As is the case with most tracks, Larson’s results at Vegas have been hit or miss. However, he has come close to opening the year with back-to-back wins, and he ran in the Top 5 for most of the afternoon at Atlanta. Larson’s raw talent behind the wheel has always been off the charts, and he is showing signs of making the leap to weekly contender. On upside alone, you will want some exposure to Larson in GPPs this weekend.
It’s all about upside with Kenseth. He has three Top 10s in four starts here with Joe Gibbs Racing, winning the 2013 event. More importantly, he is a three-time winner at Vegas overall, and he has led at least one lap in five straight races here. Overall, he ranks second in fastest laps run and third in laps led at Vegas, so he is a contrarian candidate to lead the dominator categories this weekend.
If his Top 5 run at Atlanta was any indication, the success he found at 1.5-mile tracks to close the 2016 campaign appears to be carrying over, and the hot streak could continue this weekend. Kahne has three Top 10s in his last four starts here, and led 114 laps in the 2013 race. The key for Kahne will be qualifying, and if he continues to start outside the Top 20 at these 1.5-mile ovals, he will continue to post huge scores on DraftKings thanks to the place differential factor.
He has only made two Cup starts at Vegas, but Blaney has already flashed impressive upside. In his track debut in 2015, he started 30th and climbed to 19th. Last year, he started 14th and finished sixth. Not only has Blaney shown the ability to run in the Top 10 here, but his place differential numbers have been outstanding. As long as he doesn’t qualify in the Top 5, he’ll become a very appealing mid-priced play, especially in GPPs.
His performance at Atlanta was far from encouraging, but Vegas is arguably Menard's best track. He has reeled off six straight Top 15 finishes here, gaining an average of 10.4 spots per race. If he qualifies in the back half of the field, he should have a safe floor. I'll be keeping him in mind for cash games.
One of the biggest surprises of last weekend’s race was the performance of Whitt and the No. 72 team. He started 37th, but quickly cracked the Top 25 before eventually coming away with a 20th-place finish. It remains to be seen if he can consistently perform among the Top 25, but he looks like a viable punt option to save cap space this weekend and possibly beyond.