Dan Beaver

Statistically Speaking

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Start or Park: Pennzoil 400

Friday, March 2, 2018


Last week, NASCAR visited Atlanta Motor Speedway—one of the similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile tracks. This week, they are at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Two weeks from now, the Cup drivers tackle a slightly longer version of the unrestricted, intermediate speedways at Auto Club Speedway, and then two weeks after that, they are back on another 1.5-miler with Texas Motor Speedway.

This might be a time to place-and-hold several drivers on your roster, but that can be difficult in allocation management games like NASCAR Fantasy Live. It is important to know which drivers tend to excel on each given course even though the temptation is going to be strong to re-use last week’s lineup. The top-10 from Atlanta will dominate the front fourth of the field again, but it is important to sprinkle in some dark horses from level two.

Level One

Start Martin Truex Jr.
Last week, we avoided the temptation to pick the low hanging fruit and that turned out to be a solid decision. Martin Truex Jr. and the team pushed the envelope a little too much before qualification and could never quite satisfy the computer that makes the current measurements. He was forced to come from the back and probably used his equipment up in the process. Last year, he started his domination at Vegas and then went on to score five more wins on this track type. He was second in City of Lost Wages in 2015, which gives him one of the best recent records on this track.

Start Joey Logano
We expected a little more from Joey Logano at Atlanta, so his sixth-place finish was not as exciting as it could have been. He keeps coming close to top five without quite being able to seal the deal; four of his last six efforts on this track type landed between sixth and eighth. But Vegas could be the track that sets him back on the right course. He was fourth in this race last year, second in 2016, and fourth again in 2014. In the past four seasons, he has swept the top 10 and this could be the week he gets his first win on the track.

Park Kyle Larson
It is much too soon to worry about Kyle Larson’s long term prospects this year, but neither Chip Ganassi Racing driver looked very sharp last week at Atlanta. His teammate McMurray was only 19th in a field of 36; Larson finished ninth and while that is not terrible on its face, he has not scored a top-five on one of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks in his last four attempts. Yes, Larson finished second in last year’s Vegas race, but that is his only top-five in four starts and two of his other races ended well outside the top 15.

Level Two

Start Clint Bowyer
The entire Stewart-Haas Racing program is improving and that makes both Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola good values this week. Neither has quite risen to the status of A-list drivers in most games and their salary caps are affordable enough to take a risk on them. Bowyer was particularly impressive last week at Atlanta with his top-five run and he has solid Vegas stats to recommend him as well. He was 10th in this race last year and had a second back in 2009. Expect a result in the mid- to high-single digits. Almirola should finish somewhere on the cusp of the top 10.

Start Jamie McMurray
Jamie McMurray has a better risk-versus-reward evaluation this week because he did not spoil the curve last year like his teammate Larson. McMurray was steady and consistent, but he did not challenge for as many wins, which resulted in the No. 1 team flying under the radar. McMurray was eighth in this race last year; that was not an anomaly. In his last six attempts at Vegas, he has finished in a narrow range of eighth to 16th every time with an average of 11.8.

Park Jimmie Johnson
Last week, we were willing to give Jimmie Johnson the benefit of the doubt. His overall record on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks is so much better than the competition and it is difficult to believe he is not going to rebound. It’s getting easier to accept that new reality with each passing week. Johnson not only finished 27th at Atlanta, he never showed any strength during the weekend. He also finished 27th at Texas in the most recent race on this track type. He will probably not do that badly again at Vegas, but a result around 20th is the most likely scenario.

Level Three

Start Kasey Kahne
Last week, reality set in with the No. 95. Kasey Kahne was able to raise their results a little, but he did not contend for a top-10 and probably will not during the first half of the 2018 season, but his 21st-place result was enough to put him in the front half of the field. This week, he could do just a little better and land in the high-teens, which will make him a decent value if he qualifies outside of the top 20.

Start Cole Custer
The No. 51 is swapping drivers on a conditional basis and while that is usually a sign for us to approach drivers cautiously, it has its place in allocation management games under certain conditions. Custer is making his first ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series attempt, but the team has been around for some time. The reason he was tapped for this ride is because his Xfinity car owner Gene Haas is sponsoring the car to give him an opportunity to stretch his legs on the bigger stage. In the second series, he has scored half of his career top-fives on similarly configured tracks and has shown a knack for this type of racing.

Previous Start or Parks

QuikTrip 500 
Daytona 500

 



Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.
Email :Dan Beaver



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