By Jordan McAbee
A nice week at Atlanta last weekend (301 total points) put our Fantasy Racing Online team into the 99th percentile among all NASCAR.com Fantasy Live teams, so now we just have to find a way to stay there. As mentioned before, part of being successful in this game is locking in drivers at lower price points so you can keep them from week to week and allow for a little more wiggle room in cap space. Both Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. went up $0.25 after the Atlanta race, which means if we keep them (which is the plan) we have an extra $0.50 to work with. It’s not a lot but it’s something.
We’re set to run 267 laps (400 miles) for the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas on Sunday, which means there’s going to be roughly 133.5 bonus points available for both laps led and fastest laps. While I typically try to pick drivers that start further back to capitalize on the place differential points, I think we’re going to see drivers that start up front lead the most laps, so you should take that into consideration. And with the fact that we’re in Las Vegas, I’m in a gambling mood, so let’s get to the picks!
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live Picks for Las Vegas
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ($26.75) – I’m sticking with Junior this week for a couple of reasons. One, he starts mid-pack, so there’s some potential for about 15 or 20 place differential points. Also, he’s been the best driver here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway over the last two years. Not only does he have the best average finish in those two races (3.0) but also the best average driver rating (122.6). Earnhardt is also on a five-race streak of top 10s here in Sin City, so there’s that. But enough about the past, let’s talk about this weekend. The #88 Chevrolet wasn’t great on Friday and really struggled in the first practice session on Saturday. However, by the time Happy Hour rolled around, the team made wholesale changes and Junior jumped up to 7th on the speed chart. His ten-lap average wasn’t as good as I would like (19th), but this #88 team works closely with the #48 crew and the latter may be the team to be on Sunday. The #88 guys have some work to do if they want to finish 2nd again this week, but this team is one of the best at making adjustments during the race and a top 5 is well within reach.
Jimmie Johnson ($26.50) – The garage area is pointing to this #48 Chevrolet for Sunday, and I don’t blame them. Not only is Jimmie Johnson coming off of the win at Atlanta, but his car has been really fast here in Sin City as well. In the second test session on Thursday, which was ran during the middle of the day, Jimmie had the best ten-lap average, and he also ranked P1 on that chart in Practice #2 on Saturday morning as well. In Happy Hour, Jimmie was 2nd in ten-lap average behind Austin Dillon. So when you’re looking at those averages, JJ has pretty much dominated all weekend. That tends to be bad news for the competition. Johnson is a four-time winner here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and could get a fifth here on Sunday. His starting position of 11th is nice as well, as we’ll be able to grab some place differential points.
Matt Kenseth ($26.00) – Here’s my pick to win the Kobalt 400 on Sunday, and I believe that Matt Kenseth will lead the most laps as well. Therefore, I’m not overly concerned about picking the driver that is starting from 3rd. However, there is a little voice in the back of my head saying “stay away” because of this team’s stupid handling of the penalty last week at Atlanta, but like I always say, you have to let things go when it comes to Fantasy NASCAR. Remember, this #20 Toyota was arguably the car to beat last week until that penalty happened–and I’m expecting a similar type of run here in Vegas. Kenseth was constantly in the top 5 in ten-lap average during the testing and practice sessions this week and that’s all I need to know that he has a good car. When they unloaded this week, the car was close to where it needed to be, and that tends to mean Kenseth will be a great pick during the race. He’s a three-time winner here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and has ended up 11th or better in five of the last six events here.
Casey Mears ($12.75) – Here’s my gamble of the week…Casey Mears. Initially I had Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott in this roster spot and instead of Matt Kenseth above, but I decided against that and to roll the dice here in Las Vegas. There’s a lot of upside with Casey Mears right now and I’m hoping to take advantage of it. First, he had a good run at Atlanta last weekend and came home 14th. He qualified 22nd for this week’s race at Las Vegas, which means there’s not going to be a whole lot of damage done (points-wise) if he wrecks or blows up or something. But what I like the most is that the #13 Chevrolet actually has quite a bit of speed. Mears posted the 3rd-fastest lap in Practice #2 on Saturday and was 3rd on the ten-lap average chart as well. He then ranked 8th-fastest overall in Happy Hour and had the 10th-best ten-lap average. If Casey Mears can come away with another top 15 finish in Sin City on Sunday, I’ll be jumping for joy.
Chris Buescher ($7.50) – I typically have Landon Cassill in this spot, but that #38 team really disappointed me last week, so I’m moving over to Chris Buescher. At Atlanta, Buescher brought his car home 28th, and I’ll be satisfied with anything close to that here in Las Vegas on Sunday. He starts 25th, which is a little bit higher than I would like, but the #34 Ford has looked the fastest among these lower drivers all weekend long. I might switch him out with Michael Annett simply because Annett starts further back, but as of now I’m going Buescher. With your lowest priced driver your strategy should really be to lose the least amount of points as possible. Any gain is just a bonus.
Race Winner Pick: Matt Kenseth
Manufacturer Pick: Chevrolet