Loading scores...
Chasing the Cup

Chasing Las Vegas

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Two races are in the 2016 NASCAR book and they came on two distinct track types. Fantasy players did not learn much from the Daytona 500 to help set their lineups in the coming weeks, but Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 was a different story.

Not only was this race contested on an unrestricted, intermediate speedway—the type of track that dominates the schedule—it went as close to caution-free as any event is likely to go. That allowed the cream to rise to the top. Last week’s dark horse top-16 drivers Michael McDowell and Regan Smith slipped down in the points and will almost certainly fly under the radar until the next plate race.

Ryan Newman’s spin at the end of the Atlanta race put him in jeopardy of falling outside of the top 16 and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could drop also unless Roush-Fenway Racing turns their program completely around. Meanwhile there are some hungry drivers waiting in the wings, including Hendrick Motorsports powerhouses Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott. Jamie McMurray and Ryan Blaney have also run well enough to make a challenge.   

Regular Season Races Remaining: 24 (Maximum points per race = 45)
Unique Winners in 2016: 2

Locked In

None

Currently Eligible on Wins

Jimmie Johnson (1 wins / 70 points)
Power Ranking: sixth
Last week: 10th
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 17.67
Phoenix: 11.00
Auto Club: 11.67

Johnson entered the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 barely inside the top 16 in points. Misfortune could have dropped him well down the order, but he had a typical race by his standards and continuously improved the No. 48 until it was perfect at the end of the show. He is practically guaranteed a position in the Chase with last week’s win. His strong run propelled him up the Fantasy Power Rankings’ grid.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 70 points)
Power Ranking: seventh
Last week: fifth
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 10.67
Phoenix: 14.33
Auto Club: 6.67

By winning the Daytona 500, Hamlin has very little pressure on his shoulders and that will allow the No. 11 team to experiment. Sometimes the lack of pressure is a good thing, but occasionally it works against a team and Hamlin’s 16th at Atlanta dropped him down the Fantasy Power Rankings’ grid. This team was a little hit and miss last year, but they surged on short, flat tracks. Phoenix International Raceway is just around the corner from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Currently Eligible on Points

Kyle Busch (0 wins / 78 points)
Power Ranking: first
Last week: first
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 7.50
Phoenix: 15.40
Auto Club: 9.00

Busch carried his momentum into 2016 with strong runs at both Daytona and Atlanta. Top-fives in each of those races were joined by four at the end of 2015 to give him a current six-race streak. During his career it has been difficult for Shrub to string more than this together, but the series visits his hometown track next week and Busch should challenge for another top-five in Vegas.

Kurt Busch (0 wins / 69 points)
Power Ranking: second  
Last week: third
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 23.00
Phoenix: 15.00
Auto Club: 9.33

It is fitting that the elder Busch enter Vegas with the second-best Fantasy Power Ranking. He was forced to sit out this race last year because of a suspension from NASCAR and did not get to revel in the adoration of the hometown crowd. While he has been consistently strong, he lacks some of the glitz and glamor of his younger brother in recent events and that could make him a better value overall if he flies under most fantasy players’ radar screens.

Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins / 75 points)
Power Ranking: third
Last week: fourth
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 8.00
Phoenix: 16.50
Auto Club: 10.33

Truex started the Chase last year with a 13th-place finish. He stayed just strong enough to advance from round to round, and swept the top 15. Two attempts this year ended in top-10s, which gives him a current 12-race, top-15 streak. So far 2016 seems to be a repeat of 2015 for the No. 78 team and that could make Truex one of the best values early in the season.

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 74 points)
Power Ranking: fourth
Last week: fifth
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 17.00
Phoenix: 3.17
Auto Club: 6.67

Harvick finished second to Kyle Busch at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year. He was fourth in this year’s Daytona 500, which was part of a four-race, top-five streak. Tack on a pair of top-10s at Martinsville Speedway last fall and Atlanta last week—and that makes his fantasy owners very happy indeed.

Joey Logano (0 wins / 64 points)
Power Ranking: fifth
Last week: second
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 8.67
Phoenix: 9.33
Auto Club: 8.67

Penske Racing seems to be having some difficulty in finding the right setup for the new low down force package. Some drivers like to drive loose cars and some prefer them to be a little tighter. It is going to take a race or two to figure out where Logano really fits on the scale. He was strong last year at the beginning of the season, but that is not a guarantee he will be equally stout in 2016.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 51 points)
Power Ranking: eighth
Last week: eighth
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 6.67
Phoenix: 12.20
Auto Club: 3.00

A late-race pit penalty cost Kenseth a shot at finishing on Atlanta’s lead lap and that could ultimately cost him dearly in terms of momentum. He finished 19th, which is the sixth time in his last seven races that he failed to crack the top 10. He is too strong to stay down long, but strange circumstances dictate finishes as often as raw power in Modern Day NASCAR.

Kyle Larson (0 wins / 49 points)
Power Ranking: ninth
Last week: sixth
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 13.50
Phoenix: 16.00
Auto Club: 8.00

Despite a generally disappointing week at Atlanta, most fantasy experts remain convinced that Larson will get his first win on an unrestricted, intermediate speedway. Vegas could be a great venue for him since the progressive banking acts somewhat like a cushion and Larson is one of the drivers who cut his teeth on dirt tracks. Watch him closely in prelims.

Brad Keselowski (0 wins / 54 points)
Power Ranking: 11th
Last week: Outside the top 16 in points
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 3.67
Phoenix: 6.17
Auto Club: 4.33

Keselowski did not seem to be much stronger than Logano last week at Atlanta, but he managed to earn a top-10 finish. That was the seventh time in the past nine weeks that he finished among the top 10 and it offset a 20th in the Daytona 500. Most fantasy owners will want to wait and see what happens in this week’s Kobalt 400 before committing to either the No. 2 or 22 long term.

Austin Dillon (0 wins / 63 points)
Power Ranking: 12th
Last week: 14th
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 19.00
Phoenix: 24.25
Auto Club: 20.50

Dillon is hanging in the top 16. With no more than 40 cars in a field, one needs only be moderately strong as long as they are consistent. Look for this Young Gun to hammer out solid runs with very little drama. He makes a good place-and-hold driver in most games because he is going to be conservative for a while and should not make many mistakes.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 46 points)
Power Ranking: 14th
Last week: 12th
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 9.00
Phoenix: 13.83
Auto Club: 20.33

Kahne cannot afford to have very many bad runs. He is clinging to the top 16 in points by the narrowest of margins and is coming off a season when he failed to make the Chase. Worse still, two of the drivers chasing him in the standings have the same Hendrick Motorsports resources and could leave the No. 5 as the odd man out for a second consecutive year.

Aric Almirola (0 wins / 55 points)
Power Ranking: 15th
Last week: 15th
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 22.33
Phoenix: 16.00
Auto Club: 22.33

Last year, Almirola became part of the Chase story in the opening weeks of 2015 only to fade in late spring and summer. Sitting 10th in the standings does not give him much wiggle room and this is a team that needs several strong runs in the next four weeks to establish themselves in the standings. If he does not run well at Vegas, he should be parked until he logs back-to-back top-10s.

Carl Edwards (0 wins / 73 points)
Power Ranking: 17th
Last week: 18th
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 17.33
Phoenix: 11.67
Auto Club: 16.00

Edwards lost a lap for much of the Daytona 500 and that continues to hurt his Fantasy Power Ranking. He surged at the right time to finish fifth there and again last week at Atlanta, so he does not have to worry much about the points’ standings. Better still, he is one of the drivers who loves the new low down force package and his positive attitude will keep him in the top 10 for some time.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (0 wins / 50 points)
Power Ranking: 21st
Last week: Outside the top 16 in points
Points’ Standings: 13
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 24.67
Phoenix: 19.33
Auto Club: 26.67

Roush-Fenway Racing seems to be improving. They still have a ways to go before fantasy owners will consider them as place-and-hold options, but each Roushketeer showed some signs of promise last week. Keep a close eye on them again this week and if the collective organization runs strong, consider them great dark horses at Auto Club.

Ryan Newman (0 wins / 48 points)
Power Ranking: 23rd
Last week: 22nd
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 16.00
Phoenix: 13.70
Auto Club: 15.00

Newman finished 24th last week at Atlanta, but he was a big part of the storyline. A spin that sent the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 into overtime showed just how much this driver races on the edge. If Newman does not finish in the top 15 this week at Vegas, it will not be because he was laying down on the job. 

 

Power
Ranking

Top
16

Driver

Wins

Power
Avg.

Las
Vegas

Phoenix

Auto
Club

Eligible on Wins

6.

6

Jimmie Johnson

1

9.86

17.67

11.00

11.67

7.

5

Denny Hamlin

1

9.88

10.67

14.33

6.67

Drivers Eligible on Points

1.

1

Kyle Busch

 

7.00

7.50

15.40

9.00

2.

7

Kurt Busch

 

7.43

23.00

15.00

9.33

3.

2

Martin Truex Jr.

 

7.86

8.00

16.50

10.33

4.

3

Kevin Harvick

 

8.00

17.00

3.17

6.67

5.

8

Joey Logano

 

8.43

8.67

9.33

8.67

8.

12

Matt Kenseth

 

10.86

6.67

12.20

3.00

9.

14

Kyle Larson

 

11.29

13.50

16.00

8.00

11.

11

Brad Keselowski

 

13.00

3.67

6.17

4.33

12.

9

Austin Dillon

 

13.29

19.00

24.25

20.50

14.

16

Kasey Kahne

 

13.86

9.00

13.83

20.33

15.

10

Aric Almirola

 

14.57

22.33

16.00

22.33

17.

4

Carl Edwards

 

16.86

17.33

11.67

16.00

21.

13

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

21.00

24.67

19.33

26.67

23.

15

Ryan Newman

 

22.83

16.00

13.67

15.00

Drivers Outside the top 16 in points

10.

 

Jamie McMurray

 

12.43

13.00

13.50

22.67

13.

 

Ryan Blaney

 

13.43

     

16.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

15.57

4.33

10.50

15.67

18.

 

Brian Vickers

 

17.00

14.00

28.33

 

19.

 

Paul Menard

 

19.71

8.33

18.17

22.67

20.

 

Ty Dillon

 

20.43

 

27.00

 

22.

 

Regan Smith

 

22.14

     

24.

 

Michael McDowell

 

24.29

38.67

32.00

 

25.

 

Greg Biffle

 

26.14

17.67

18.00

18.33

26.

 

Landon Cassill

 

27.43

40.67

34.17

39.67

27.

 

Chase Elliott

 

27.71

     

28.

 

Danica Patrick

 

27.86

27.00

28.67

29.67

29.

 

Trevor Bayne

 

28.14

23.67

31.00

 

30.

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

28.29

12.00

18.80

20.67

31.

 

Michael Annett

 

28.43

34.00

33.50

23.50

32.

 

Brian Scott

 

29.00

 

32.00

31.00

33.

 

David Ragan

 

29.14

28.33

27.50

29.00

34.

 

Casey Mears

 

29.29

27.33

22.00

26.33

35.

 

Clint Bowyer

 

31.29

23.67

21.00

9.33

36.

 

Chris Buescher

 

36.00

     

37.

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

37.57

 

31.50

 

 

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three-years sometimes occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.