Not the Time to Gamble in Vegas
We’re in Sin City this weekend for the Kobalt Tools 400. Sunday’s race won’t quite be as predictable as Phoenix was last Sunday–mainly due to the fact that very few drivers consistently run up front here–but if you take my advice and play it conservative here in the first quarter of the season, you should be good. Also, continue to roll with guys that are hot, like the Penske Racing duo of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski (for example). The #22 and #2 took care of business in qualifying again this week and will roll off the grid 1-2 on Sunday (click here for the full starting lineup for the Kobalt Tools 400). There were three practice sessions on the track this weekend as well as a test session on Thursday. Here are the links for those speeds: Test Session — Practice #1 — Practice #2 — Happy Hour. Also be sure to check out Ryan’s notes on each practice, and those can be found here: Practice #1 — Practice #2 — Happy Hour.
Final Top 15 Ranking For The Kobalt Tools 400:
11. Brian Vickers – Starts 9th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
I’m really liking the Michael Waltrip Racing camp this weekend. Clint Bowyer looks like he has a really strong race car, the #55 has some speed, and Jeff Burton is looking marginally better than Jeff Burton normally does. Vickers hasn’t ran a Cup race here at Las Vegas since the 2011 season, but the good news is that he finished 10th in that race. He also ended up 8th here in the 2009 event, although it should be noted that in both of those races he was running for Red Bull. Vickers was hit or miss on the tri-oval tracks in 2013, posting two top 10s (Texas and Atlanta) along with four finishes of 30th or worse (Kansas, Kentucky, Chicago, and Kansas again). Just looking at this weekend, the #55 Toyota qualified 9th and was on the top of the charts in Practice #2 on Saturday. In Happy Hour, Vickers was 8th-quickest and had the 5th-best ten-lap average. If you’re looking for a driver that might sneak his way into the top 5 when it’s all said and done Sunday, consider Brian and the #55 crew. For what it’s worth, Vickers won the pole and finished 3rd here at Las Vegas in the Nationwide Series last season.
12. Jeff Gordon – Starts 15th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Quietly Jeff Gordon is getting off to a pretty quick start here in 2014. After his 4th-place run at Daytona to start the season, Jeff posted a top 5 finish at Phoenix last weekend, too. Will he be able to make it three in a row this Sunday in Sin City? I doubt it, but you never know. Gordon has one visit to victory lane here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (back in 2001) and has amassed an average finish of 15.4 in sixteen career starts at this track. The good news is that in seven of those sixteen attempts, Gordon has wound up 6th or better. The bad news is that he hasn’t posted a top 10 here since the 2010 season. However, that could possibly change on Sunday. The #24 Chevrolet will roll off the grid in 15th when the green flag waves and I expect Gordon to run around there for most of the day. He didn’t light up the speed charts during the practice sessions on Saturday (23rd-fastest in both) and he was middle-of-the-road in terms of ten lap average in that final session. This team was very good on the intermediate tri-oval tracks in 2013, posting top 10 finishes in five of the last six races.
13. Austin Dillon – Starts 4th – Yahoo! C Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
As of now, Austin Dillon is having a similar weekend to the one that Kyle Larson had at Phoenix one week ago. The #3 car looks super fast in practice and he’s starting up front, but will it pay off to pick a rookie on Sunday? Larson did a little worse than expected in the desert but still wound up inside the top 20. One thing about Austin Dillon here at Las Vegas is that he has ran a Cup race at this track before: Mr. Cowboy Hat drove the #51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet to a 21st-place finish in this event last year. I think Dillon will be able to improve upon that this Sunday and could really surprise people. The RCR cars are running great right now, and it doesn’t hurt that the #3 has looked good in practice and qualifying. Austin ended up 16th in Practice #2 on Saturday and then 2nd-fastest in Happy Hour. What I don’t like is that he didn’t show up on the ten-lap average chart in that final session. Dillon finished 19th and 22nd at Atlanta and Texas last season, which are both also intermediate tri-oval tracks.
14. Matt Kenseth – Starts 29th – Yahoo! A Group
15. Kyle Busch – Starts 20th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
These last two drivers rounding out my top 15 for the weekend are both in the Joe Gibbs Racing camp, the same one that I’m surprised more people aren’t starting to ask why the hell are they so slow right now? Matt Kenseth was a threat to win–and he did win here at Vegas–almost every race on intermediate tracks in 2013, and now the #20 is going out and qualifying 29th while barely cracking the top 20 in practice. Similar results have come out of the #18 camp, who ended up 25th on the speed chart when Happy Hour was wrapped up. What concerned me the most is that Kenseth ran a grand total of 25 laps in that final practice session, which tells me one thing: they are searching, and they are searching hard. Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect out of the JGR cars this weekend, and for that reason I would avoid all three of them. They showed last week at Phoenix that they can improve during the race, but these cars should at least be top 10 threats going into these Sprint Cup events and the speed simply isn’t there. Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin could easily get lapped early if we have a long green flag run to start the Kobalt Tools 400, and Kyle Busch isn’t in much better position by starting 20th. Until this organization gets things figured out, I’d stay away.
A Few Words About Other Drivers:
I haven’t paid much attention to Tony Stewart this season, and for good reason: he’s not wowing anybody out there. Smoke qualified 24th and is looking at a ceiling of around 15th going into this weekend’s race. Like I’ve said before, wait until he gets a couple of good runs under his belt before really going hard on Stewart in fantasy. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. qualified 6th for Sunday’s race but I think we’ll see a drop pattern similar to Kyle Larson at Phoenix last weekend once the green flag waves. Stenhouse was 24th-fastest in Happy Hour but should be good for a top 20 finish, with a possibility of a top 15. He wound up 18th in this race last season after starting 7th. Speaking of Kyle Larson, that #42 Chevrolet looks fast once again. I have a little bit more faith in him on these intermediate tracks because they are easier to drive than other tracks, such as Phoenix. Kyle starts 17th and had the 6th-best lap in Happy Hour with the 9th-best ten-lap average. A top 15 isn’t out of the question for this kid. Aric Almirola might be a decent sleeper to take a chance with on Sunday if you feel the need. He’ll start 8th and wound up 13th on the Happy Hour speed chart. For what it’s worth, he wound up 16th in this event last season after starting 22nd. His teammate, Marcos Ambrose, will start from the back of the pack and should end up in the mid-20s when it’s all said and done.Kurt Busch has a brand new chassis this weekend (not leftover Newman junk) but has been mediocre since coming off the truck. He starts 23rd and should race in the high teens all day long on Sunday. I don’t see a reason to consider the #41 at this point. Trevor Bayne is racing in Las Vegas this weekend and came home with a 23rd-place finish here one year ago. I’d expect much of the same out the Wood Bros. car on Sunday, which is a typical result out of the #21 on this track type. Last season Bayne ended up 18th and 16th at Texas and Charlotte, respectively. He was 14th on the speed chart in Happy Hour but will roll off the grid in 34th once the green flag waves on Sunday. A lot of people were getting hyped up earlier in the week about Jeff Burton racing the #66 Toyota this weekend, which is somewhat understandable because this car is similar to what Martin Truex, Jr. raced last season on this track type. That being said, it’s still Jeff Burton we’re talking about. He qualified 19th for this year’s Kobalt Tools 400 but I don’t think he will be able to stay up there. On a positive note, Burton has finished 14th and 11th over the last four years at Las Vegas. The #66 was 29th on the speed chart in Happy Hour. Speaking of Martin Truex, Jr., the #78 Chevrolet will start Sunday’s race in 12th and this team might be one that you should keep an eye on. Martin really excelled on this track type in 2013, so it’ll be interesting to see how much he’s limited by the car. Right now, I think it’s too early to take a chance with Truex in fantasy, and I’d also like to see some more speed out of this car. The #78 ranked 17th in Happy Hour after posting the 13th-best lap in Practice #2. In very deep leagues, why not give Casey Mears a look. He’s coming off a solid 14th-place finish at Phoenix (after his 10th-place run at Daytona) and was 10th-fastest in Happy Hour. I think the move to Chevrolet has really lit a spark under this #13 team. What’s not good is Mears will start 30th on Sunday, but if he can somehow stay on the lead lap he might be able to pull in another top 20. Finally, looking ultra deep, Cole Whitt has finished in the mid-20s in each of the first two Cup races this season, but that streak looks like it will come to an end. The #26 team only ran 17 total laps in both practice sessions on Saturday, so I’m assuming they will start and park.
Drivers to Avoid for the Kobalt Tools 400:
Greg Biffle – Earlier this week I placed a few bets on some drivers to win this race, one of those being Greg Biffle (I couldn’t pass up the 25-1 odds). Going into the race I’m not very optimistic about my chances to make some money, at least on the #16. The Biff has been flat all weekend. He qualified 25th, was 19th-fastest in Practice #2, and ended up 31st on the Happy Hour speed chart (just completing 40 laps total all day on Saturday). This team is searching and it’s painfully obvious. I want absolutely no part of that. On a positive note, Biffle does has six top 10s in the last nine Phoenix races, and you never know, they might put in a setup from the #17 or the #99 before this race goes green on Sunday. I’d still stay away from The Biff, though.
Denny Hamlin – Hamlin is another one of those drivers who might end up being a good pick on Sunday due to the fact that the Joe Gibbs Racing camp can share notes. The bad news? All of the JGR cars are struggling. If we learned anything about that in Phoenix last weekend, though, it’s not impossible for the #20, #18, and #11 to find speed during the race on Sunday. As I’ve said every week, though, I want to limit my risks here early on in the season, so I see no need to take your chances with Hamlin. He disappointed fantasy owners in Phoenix (finished 19th) and I can almost guarantee you he will again here in Vegas on Sunday. He also has four finishes of 15th or worse at this track over the last five events. Hamlin starts 27th and was just 16th-fastest in Happy Hour on Saturday.
Ref.: Junk Cars in Broward.