Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch NASCAR Fantasy Insider: Loading the Dice for a Sin City Payoff

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series concludes its two-week west coast tour with a stop at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday. It’s the first race of the season on a 1.5-mile oval, the most common distance for a NASCAR track in this division. Since being reconfigured with higher banking in the corners, LVMS has become an entirely different animal, going from cookie cutter to highly competitive throughout its 427-mile main event.

With its asphalt ever aging, expect the racing to evolve even further this coming weekend. But when push comes to shove, LVMS is another intermediate oval, after all – which means it’s more than likely that come race’s end, the usual suspects from the sport’s biggest teams will be running up front. In 11 total races at this track, a car from Roush or Hendrick has stood in victory lane all but once, when Sterling Marlin pulled the upset for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2002.

By the Numbers

Best Average Finish at Las Vegas (active drivers, since 2005)
Kyle Busch, 4 starts, 6.2
Denny Hamlin, 3 starts, 7.3
Jimmie Johnson, 4 starts, 8.0
Greg Biffle, 4 starts, 8.2
Matt Kenseth, 4 starts, 8.5

2008 UAW Dodge 400 Top-Five Finishers
Carl Edwards, 86 laps led
Dale Earnhardt Jr., 17 laps led
Greg Biffle, 0 laps led
Kevin Harvick, 0 laps led
Jeff Burton, 10 laps led

High Rollers

Kyle Busch won two of the three races he ran last weekend, but he didn’t take home the biggest prize of all after slipping to third in the Cup race. Not only did Busch fall short of victory lane on Sunday, he didn’t even lead a lap – a far cry from his dominating performance one week earlier at Daytona. That should be enough to inspire Rowdy to step it up a notch once the Las Vegas native steps foot on his hometown track. Busch has never won at this facility, with a second and a third the best finishes he has on his resume.

But aside from a 41st-place finish in his first visit to Vegas, Busch has actually run 11th or better in his other four starts here – so it’s not exactly a stretch he could bring one home in front of his hometown fans. Look for Busch to get back on the winning track this weekend in Sin City. – Mike

As if it isn’t enough bad news for the field that Kenseth’s vaunted “Killer Bees” are back on top, the first driver in a decade to win the first two Cup races is heading to a track in Vegas that he might as well own. Since 2003, Kenseth has won twice in Sin City – finishing outside the top 10 only once – and even in that race, he led 70 laps and was running in the top five before getting spun out by Jeff Gordon late. No team has more momentum than the No. 17 crew right now, and a historic three for three to start the year is a strong possibility. – Bryan

Quarter Slot Players

Kurt Busch has certainly been a surprise to start the year, tied for third in points after a convincing top five at Fontana that made it clear Penske Racing (or the No. 2 team, anyway) has made strides in its intermediate program. Busch now heads to his hometown racetrack with momentum at his side – and Penske Racing’s recent history to help support him. Last year, Busch’s teammate Ryan Newman scored three consecutive top 15s at Fontana, Vegas and Atlanta to follow up their Daytona 500 victory. Busch seems more than capable of pulling a similar feat. – Bryan

Hamlin has the second-best average finish among active drivers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He has run there three times, scoring three top 10s and a top-five finish for his efforts. An innocent victim of Daytona’s big wreck, Hamlin bounced back nicely with a sixth-place finish at Fontana that righted the ship of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota. Remember, Hamlin drives for Joe Gibbs, an owner whose cars were dominant last year on intermediate tracks. Hamlin is going to look to stay close to Kyle Busch so that he isn’t forgotten in the Gibbs lineup; and with the No. 18 expected to run up front, the No. 11 shouldn’t be too far behind. – Mike

Penny Slot Players

Marcos Ambrose has not raced in a Cup car at Las Vegas, but that task has not caused him much trepidation at other tracks. Over the very short history of his blossoming Cup career, Ambrose has already proven one thing: he’ll take care of his equipment, drive within his means, and bring home his Toyota in one piece. When you’re dealing with the lower-tier drivers, that is a very important factor, and one of the main reasons for picking the Australian this weekend.

Ambrose has run two races this year with an average finish of 19.5, good enough to land 20th in points. He’s not setting the world on fire (his highest finish is 17th), but he’s not tearing up his stuff and finishing in the 40s either. Look for Ambrose as a nice sleeper pick to give you another solid run again this weekend. – Mike

It’s risky to start part-timers in fantasy for two reasons. Those teams almost always have to race their way into the big event, and once they get there, their pit crews are unpredictable at best. But Brad Keselowski went a long way towards dispelling that notion last year, when he qualified for November’s race at Texas Motor Speedway and finished 19th in his Cup debut.

Keselowski will be driving a full-fledged Hendrick Motorsports entry instead of the No. 09 Phoenix Racing car this weekend, which should give him a major leg up in qualifying. Plus, on the Nationwide Series side of things, had teammate Mark Martin not spun him late in the race last year, Keselowski would have scored his first career win at LVMS. – Bryan

Results of our experts in the Frontstretch Fantasy Games

Game of Tomorrow
Bryan 443
Mike 284

Hat Dance Dynasty
Bryan 416
Mike 202

NASCAR Knockout (Average Finish)
Bryan 7.00
Mike 8.50

Frontstretch Fourplay
Bryan 944
Mike 889

In order to help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week – as well as the total for the season.

Last Week: 383
Season: 628

Last Week: 325
Season: 426

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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