Dan Beaver

Statistically Speaking

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Update: Las Vegas (Spring)

Saturday, March 3, 2018


It pays to roll off the hauler fast on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. That means there are not a lot of surprises by the time the race rolls along, but that fact does not necessarily make a handicapper’s life easier. In NASCAR, there are so many variables that once the box gets smaller, like it does with consistent fast speeds on this track type, mistakes are magnified.

There are also anomalies in practice—and that is one of the characteristics of Saturday morning’s practice. Denny Hamlin appeared to blow out a brake duct midway through the session. He was not running well at the time and that highlighted the struggles of Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin’s speed at the time was only 27th fastest. He improved a little, but landed only 22nd on the speed chart.

Teammate Erik Jones was the fastest Gibbs’ guy. He was 18th. Kyle Busch recorded only the 21st-best speed with the final member of the organization 31st fast.

Hamlin never got the balance good enough in that session to run 10 consecutive laps, but the good news is that both Jones and Busch were significantly better over the long haul. That means they are going to be able to run better than expected at the ends of runs if they do not give up too much in the opening laps.

Ryan Blaney earned his third pole of his career with a burst of speed in the final session of qualification. Winning the pole does not automatically mean he will score a top-10 finish, but Team Penske has been incredible on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks with Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. That bodes well for the third-year driver. He will also have the best pit stall in the field, so a late-race caution is going to benefit him—and in NASCAR, late-race cautions are the norm. Blaney continued to show speed all the way into Final Practice by topping the board in that session.

Ten-lap averages continue to be one of the best indicators of who is going to run well in the race. It will come as no surprise that Kevin Harvick led the league in the morning session after his domination of the Atlanta Motor Speedway race last week. He missed the pole on Friday by less than two-tenths of a second and lines up second. That means he is going to have the second-best pit stall and his experience is going to make the difference on race day. At the beginning of the week, we handicapped him fourth in the Cheat Sheets [http://www.rotoworld.com/articles/nas/78196/229/pennzoil-400-cheat-sheet] and anything can happen during the race like getting shuffled out of the lead during a late-race caution, but it might be time to elevate him to most favored status. Harvick was also second quickest in terms of 10-lap averages in Happy Hour.

Kyle Larson had the best 10-lap average in Happy Hour and was second-best in the first session. He is going to force us to revise our Cheat Sheet prediction that put him just outside the top five. The Pennzoil 400 will develop some long runs during the afternoon and that is going to allow Larson and the other front runners to establish track position that will be hard for the competition to overcome. Larson qualified fifth and will have a good spot in the pits. Look for him to challenge for a top-three result.

Jimmie Johnson finally showed some speed in Saturday’s practice, but he was not able to sustain it. He was third-fastest and second-quick in terms of 10-lap averages during the morning. In Happy Hour, he slipped to 18th on the speed chart and 15th in terms of 10-lap averages. He is an iffy proposition who could pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Martin Truex Jr. was third-quick in both practice sessions. He was favored at the start of the week and there is no reason to take him down a notch. In all likelihood, the battle for supremacy is going to come down to him, Harvick, and Larson. If they fit on your roster, start them with confidence.



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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