Jimmie Johnson Fantasy NASCAR
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Time to Double Down

This week the Sprint Cup Series stop is at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, gambling with your fantasy NASCAR team rarely pays off when we come to Sin City. For whatever reason, very few sleeper picks come through with the finish here, so expect to see a lot of familiar faces this week. Jeff Gordon won the pole on Friday but after damage from Danica Patrick’s spinning car in Happy Hour he will have to start from the rear. There were two practices on Saturday and the results can be found here: Practice #2Happy Hour. As usual, be sure to read Ryan’s notes on each as well: Practice #2Happy Hour. Also never miss another ifantasyrace.com post again, sign up for email notifications.

Final Top 15 Ranking For The Kobalt 400:

1. Jimmie Johnson – Starts 9th – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 2nd
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

The #48 team already looks like they’re in championship form and that should have the rest of the garage worried because they could easily rattle off two or three more wins here over the next month. Jimmie qualified 9th for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 and had the fastest lap in the first practice session on Saturday. In Happy Hour, the #48 Chevrolet was fastest as well with the 2nd-best ten-lap average. Carl Edwards and Johnson co-own the best average finish in the series here at Las Vegas with 9.2, and the latter has visited victory lane four times in his 13 career starts at this track. However, JJ’s latest win here was back in 2010. Still, “Six Time” hasn’t ended up worse than 6th here in the last three events and that shouldn’t change on Sunday (barring any mechanical issues…knock on wood). Jimmie has led at least 34 laps in each of the last three Sprint Cup races at Las Vegas and should be in the lead for quite a few more on Sunday as well. There’s really no reason at all to not lean heavily on the Hendrick drivers here for a while, at least Johnson and Earnhardt, Jr.

2. Kevin Harvick – Starts 18th – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 3rd
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

This week Harvick will only have to pass half the field to get to the lead as opposed to the entire field like last week, so that’s good for fantasy owners. If the Atlanta race showed us anything it was that the #4 Chevrolet is still going to be the car to beat pretty much on a week-to-week basis. In my opinion, the partnership of “Happy” and crew chief Rodney Childers has the makings of a Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus 2.0. Harvick will roll off the grid in 18th when the green flag waves on Sunday but he should be solidly inside the top 10 by the first round of pit stops. He was 3rd-fastest in Practice #2 with the best ten-lap average and ranked 5th on those two charts in Happy Hour. Harvick’s history here at Las Vegas is a bit rocky (14.7 average finish) but he’s finished 12th or better in five of the last seven Sprint Cup events here. He should easily make that six of eight on Sunday. Remember, Harvick was a solid top 3 car here last season before the mechanical issues hit. All you can do in fantasy NASCAR is pick the fastest cars and there’s no reason you shouldn’t at least consider the #4 Chevrolet this weekend.

3. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Starts 4th – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 1st
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

I’m really liking this pairing of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and crew chief Greg Ives. The latter is somewhat of a perfectionist and that’s just going to benefit the #88 team more and more as the season goes on. Coming into 2015 I had major concerns about whether or not Junior would be able to back up his season last year, but those pretty much went out the window when I saw what this team did at Atlanta. Suddenly Junior can qualify again (he starts 5th for this week’s race) and that’ll help put him in contention for more wins. I had Earnhardt ranked 1st in my pre-practice fantasy picks this week and I still believe that the #88 Chevrolet will be one of the best fantasy picks this weekend at Las Vegas. Junior was 5th-fastest in Practice #2 on Saturday and wound up 8th on that chart in Happy Hour. Junior ran 2nd in this race last season and has finished 11th or better in seven of the last eight Cup races at this track. The exception? A 16th-place result in 2010. Go ahead and pick Junior this weekend–and do so with confidence. Nobody has a better average finish than Earnhardt over the last six Sprint Cup events (5.8).

4. Joey Logano – Starts 2nd – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 5th
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

Of course Joey Logano made it to the final round of knockout qualifying and of course he ended up on the front row when it was all said and done. These Penske cars are masters at qualifying, especially the #22. Joey had a similar weekend in Las Vegas as he did in Atlanta and you can expect pretty much the same result. Logano was 4th-fastest in Practice #2 on Saturday and 2nd in Happy Hour. He had the 12th-fastest ten-lap average in that final session as well. Joey has a decent 12.3 career average finish but last year we saw what he can really do: he won the pole and led 44 laps en route to a 4th-place finish. There’s no reason that the #22 Ford shouldn’t be on your radar each and every time we visit an intermediate race track. Logano’s average finish of 7.3 over the last six Sprint Cup races is 3rd-best in the series and he’ll probably improve that number after this weekend.

5. Matt Kenseth – Starts 6th – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 6th
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

Last weekend was a typical (read: quiet) Matt Kenseth weekend and you should expect much of the same here in Las Vegas on Sunday. He posted a solid top 5 finish at Atlanta despite starting from the rear and there’s no reason to think that Matt won’t end up somewhere inside the top 10 once again on Sunday. He owns a solid 11.5 average finish here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and is a three-time winner at this race track–the most recent victory coming in 2013. One way to tell if the #20 Toyota is going to be a very good pick for the race is to see where it starts and Kenseth ended up 6th in qualifying on Friday. When he qualifies well, 90% of the time he has a race car that can definitely compete on Sunday. Matt ranked 10th on the speed chart in Practice #2 and was 7th-fastest in Happy Hour. Going into Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 the #20 Toyota is a solid top 5 pick but we’ll have to see how the afternoon goes. Typically, this team makes the car better as the race goes on so we could very well see Kenseth in victory lane once again in Sin City.

6. Kyle Larson – Starts 5th – Yahoo! B Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 13th
**Risk Factor: High Risk**

Remember what I’ve said about momentum. Kyle Larson has started out his sophomore season in a slump, and it’s really hard to trust him from a fantasy perspective right now. With that being said, last year we all saw what he can do on the race track when he has a good car, and the Ganassi Chevrolets are pretty sporty thus far in 2015. Last year at Las Vegas, Larson started 17th and finished 19th in his first career start at the track, and I fully expect him to improve upon the latter on Sunday. He already improved his average starting position here as the #42 Chevrolet will roll off the grid in 5th on Sunday. “The Phenom” posted the 9th-fastest lap in Practice #2 on Saturday and wound up 17th on the speed chart in Happy Hour, although he had the best ten-lap average. I’d like to think that Kyle Larson could end up with a top 5 finish on Sunday but my gut says that won’t happen. He’s almost there, though. There’s a lot of upside in picking the #42 Chevrolet this weekend, but the question is can you trust Larson? I’m having a hard time doing that right now.

7. Brad Keselowski – Starts 11th – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 7th
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

Last week the late-race decision to get four tires vaulted Brad Keselowski to his top 10 finish, but if you’re looking at the race as a whole, the #2 Ford wasn’t that great. A solid top 15 finish isn’t terrible but you expect so much more out of BK, especially considering how well his teammate Joey Logano is running right now. It looks to be much of the same for Keselowski this weekend at Las Vegas. He ended up qualifying 11th on Friday and was 13th on the speed chart in Practice #2. He improved to 9th-fastest in Happy Hour but I’m still not seeing the Blue Deuce as a top 5 threat on Sunday. Keselowski will probably end up inside the top 10 for the Kobalt Tools 400, though. I don’t know if there’s something going on with this #2 team or what but they’re not quite clicking yet. On a positive note, Brad is the defending race winner here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and finished 3rd here in 2013. The bad news? In his four starts before that he never had a result better than 26th at this track. We’ll see what the team can do with this car on race day but heading into Sunday I see Keselowski as nothing more than a top 10 pick.

8. Kasey Kahne – Starts 3rd – Yahoo! B Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 9th
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

I didn’t want to rank Kasey Kahne this high but I just like him a little bit better than the guys below. This ranking is probably a reach for the #5 Chevrolet, but Kahne is pretty good here at Las Vegas, he has Hendrick power under the hood, and he qualified 3rd. I guess the positives outweight the negatives this week. Kasey was in the teens in both practice sessions on Saturday and had the 4th-best ten-lap average in Happy Hour. Not great, but not terrible either. He has finished 8th and 2nd here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway over the last two seasons and should be a solid top 10 pick in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 as well. Do I think the #5 can challenge for the win? No, but crazier things have happened. You could do a lot worse than picking Kasey Kahne this weekend at Las Vegas. A bad race for this team on Sunday would still be a top 15 finish. Kasey’s career average finish of 13.5 at this track is 6th-best in the series among active drivers.

9. Ryan Newman – Starts 7th – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 10th
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

Here’s a perfect description of “The Rocketman” at intermediate tracks: a solid fantasy pick that very few people take advantage of. And that’s probably because he’s one of those guys that probably doesn’t have a real chance to win, but in some leagues he can be very valuable with those top 10 finishes. Newman ended up 10th at Atlanta last week and I’m expecting much of the same here at Las Vegas on Sunday. He qualified 7th and was 2nd-quickest in Practice #2 Saturday before posting the 13th-best lap in Happy Hour. Ryan ran 7th in last year’s Cup race in Sin City and has finished inside that mark in three of the last four events here. Newman is in no way a flash fantasy NASCAR pick but he’s probably one of the most consistent and reliable there is.

10. Martin Truex, Jr. – Starts 8th – Yahoo! B Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 15th
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

Momentum, momentum, momentum. This team has come out the 2015 gates hot and history has shown us that it’s better to ride the wave this early in the fantasy NASCAR season. Truex backed up his 8th-place finish in the Daytona 500 with a 6th-place result at Atlanta last weekend, and then he came to Las Vegas and qualified 8th in the #78 Chevrolet. Not too shabby. Martin has found some success here at this track throughout the course of his career as well, so that’s just another reason to take a gamble on him this Sunday. Hey, it’s Vegas, right? Might as well double down. Truex ended up 14th here at Vegas last season and has finishes of 8th and 6th to his credit in 2013 and 2011, respectively. He was 6th-fastest in Practice #2 on Saturday and wound up 4th on the Happy Hour chart with the 3rd-best ten-lap average. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me at all if Truex posted a top 10 finish in this year’s Kobalt 400, so if you need a sleeper pick, here’s your guy.

11. Tony Stewart – Starts 12th– Yahoo! B Group
Pre-Practice Rank: NR
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

I’m very hesitant with picking Tony Stewart this weekend but he’s giving me a whole bunch of reasons why I should disregard my worries. First, Smoke qualified 12th for Sunday’s Kobalt 400, and he’s a lot like Matt Kenseth where a good qualifying effort is typically indicative of a very good race day–something that Tony Stewart desperately needs. The #14 Chevrolet was 8th-fastest in Practice #2 on Saturday and then regressed to 20th-fastest in Happy Hour later that day. However, Smoke ran quite a few laps in that final session, which tells me that he likes his car and was just fine tuning it. He rarely shows his hand in practice so I’m not overly concerned by the somewhat lack of speed that the charts say. Tony had a terrible race here last season, finishing 33rd, but before that he was on a four-race streak of finishes 11th or better at Las Vegas, including a win in 2012. There’s quite a bit of risk in picking Tony Stewart this weekend–and he probably won’t make any of my rosters–but the #14 team should have a decent shot at a top 10 if nothing goes wrong on Sunday. And that’s a big if.

12. Jeff Gordon – Starts 1st rear of the field – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 8th
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

Man has this guy burned fantasy owners so far in 2015, myself included. As I’ve been saying these last two weeks, momentum means more than usual early on in the Sprint Cup season and this #24 team is in a bit of a rut. Overall, Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been somewhat mediocre for Gordon, though; in 17 career starts at this race track, he owns an average finish of just 15.0 and one victory (way back in 2001). The #24 Chevrolet might be leading the field to start this weekend’s race but I have major doubts that Gordon will finish the event where he starts. In Practice #2 on Saturday morning, Jeff was just 14th on the speed chart and in Happy Hour he was was 4th. Going into the Kobalt 400, I think Gordon has a solid top 10 car but I wouldn’t put him in the top 5. With that being said, if he can stay out of trouble a top 5 finish is definitely within his reach–and something this team desperately needs. Starting position doesn’t mean a whole lot at Las Vegas so don’t let the P1 qualifying effort make you stuck on Jeff Gordon this weekend. Personally, I want to see him finish a race in 2015 before I confidently pick him. Also, the #24 Chevrolet got some damage near the end of Happy Hour when Danica Patrick spun and the team went to the backup car. Yet another setback for this team…

13. Carl Edwards – Starts 14th – Yahoo! B Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 4th
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

I was really disappointed in this team’s finish last week at Atlanta, and I’m starting to think that they need some time to work together before we all start confidently picking Carl Edwards. Las Vegas has been a great track for him (9.2 average finish) but I don’t even have the #19 Toyota as a top 10 option heading into Sunday. That’s not to say that this team won’t work on the car and get Cousin Carl up there, though. Edwards will roll off the grid in 14th for this year’s Kobalt 400 and I expect him to finish around there as well. He ran a limited number of laps in practice (no surprise there) so it’s hard to get a feel for how fast the #19 Toyota is this weekend but I didn’t see anything that made me think it’s super fast…at least not as fast as the Hendrick cars. The #19 is probably the 2nd-fastest Gibbs car if that means anything to you. A top 10 finish is definitely within reach for Carl Edwards on Sunday. He’s on a four-race streak of top 5 finishes at this track, but I see that ending this weekend. You never know, though…

14. Denny Hamlin – Starts 19th – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 11th
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

The #11 Toyota was one of the best in the field last weekend at Atlanta but that’s just not the case this week in Las Vegas. Hamlin qualified 19th for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 and, honestly, I don’t see him as anything more than a top 15 pick heading into Sunday. With that being said, the #11 team has 400 miles to improve the race car and Hamlin will probably end up inside the top 10 by the time it’s all said and done. Denny was 7th-fastest in Practice #2 but ended up just 16th in the Happy Hour practice session. It was very clear from the TV coverage that the #11 is just lacking some speed, at least it was in practice. In nine career starts here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Denny has just one top 5 finish to his credit (back in 2007) and boasts a decent 13.0 average finish. With that being said, he hasn’t had a top 10 result here since the 2011 season. That could change on Sunday but then again it might not. Fantasy-wise I think there are plenty of better options in place of Hamlin, at least in his fantasy tier.

15. Jamie McMurray – Starts 10th – Yahoo! B Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 14th
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

It’s easy to get down on a sleeper fantasy driver when they disappoint you one week, but you have to remember that that happens. Once again Jamie McMurray looks like a solid top 15 pick heading into this week’s race and might be able to grab a top 10 finish if everything goes right on Sunday. He’ll roll off the grid in 10th and had the 14th-best ten-lap average in that final practice session on Saturday. When one Ganassi car has a bunch of speed, typically the other one does as well no matter what the practice charts say. I’m assuming that’s the case this weekend as the #1 Chevrolet left a lot to be desired on the speed charts this weekend. Looking at Jamie Mac’s performance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he has a career average finish of just 17.9 here but he’s finished 15th, 13th, and 8th here over the last three years. Sleeper-wise I’d say McMurray is the second-best option this week, although I think a finish around 10th is the limit for this #1 team on Sunday.

The Next Ten:

16. A.J. Allmendinger
17. Paul Menard
18. Austin Dillon
19. Casey Mears
20. Clint Bowyer
21. Brian Vickers
22. Greg Biffle
23. Danica Patrick
24. Aric Almirola
25. Regan Smith