It was great to be back at a predictable track. The wild goings-on at Daytona International Speedway might be thrilling for rank and file fans, but they play havoc with fantasy rosters. Atlanta Motor Speedway was a different story and last week we placed more than 50 percent of our picks within three positions of their actual result. Nearly two-thirds were predicted within five. Barring a rash of accidents, the same success is predicted for the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
This week’s predictions rely heavily on last week’s results. The similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks reward the same drivers regardless of whether they have one dogleg or two, which allows the teams to gain some momentum.
1. Martin Truex Jr.
A fifth-place finish at Atlanta was not what everyone expected from Truex, but he may have used up some of his equipment by rapidly coming from the back of the pack in the first segment.
3. Joey Logano
With only one top-10 in his first five starts, it took a while for Logano to get a handle on Vegas. His last four efforts have all been top-10s with three of them being in the top five.
4. Kevin Harvick
He had the most dominant car by a wide margin, but Harvick does not quite have the same record at Vegas as he does at Atlanta. Still, a top-five should still be in the offing this week.
5. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has almost as much momentum on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks as Truex. He enters the Pennzoil 400 with seven straight top-fives on this course type.
6. Kyle Larson
As impressive as it was, last year's second-place finish was the only time in four starts that Larson finished in the top five at Vegas.
7. Kyle Busch
The Younger Busch brother has run better than he's finished most weekends at Vegas, but he has developed a tendency to be an all or nothing driver there. That is a risky proposition for fantasy owners.
8. Chase Elliott
Our enthusiasm for Elliott waned just a little last week when he struggled to finish in the top 10 on a track where he has never finished worse than that in any of NASCAR's top series.
9. Ryan Blaney
There might have been a little too much pressure on Blaney to perform up to Keselowski and Logano's standard last week, but his 11th-place finish was well within his career range on this track type.
10. Kurt Busch
There is a lot on the line for both Busch brothers when they return to Vegas, but Kurt has not been able to provide the locals with a top-five since the 2005 season.
11. Clint Bowyer
Before players get overly excited about last week's third-place finish, they should note it is Bowyer’s first top-five on a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track in the past 46 races.
12. Erik Jones
Last year as they ran for ROTY honors, Jones and Suarez spurred one another to excellence. Last week's 11th for Jones was a continuation of that theme.
13. Jamie McMurray
Last year, McMurray was among the most consistent racers on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks with eight straight top-15s to start the year. In his last three attempts, his best effort was an 18th.
14. Aric Almirola
The entire Stewart-Haas Racing organization is on the rise this year. That is going to make Almirola one of the greatest sleepers almost every week.
15. Alex Bowman
It is going to be difficult to handicap Bowman much higher than the top 15 so long as the entire Hendrick Motorsports brigade struggles to get into the top 10.
16. Austin Dillon
A 14th-place finish last week in Atlanta was fairly typical of how Dillon has run on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and he should be able to back it up with another mid-teens result.
17. Paul Menard
The alliance between the Wood Bros. and Team Penske is already paying dividends for Menard. Last week, he was incredibly fantasy relevant with a 17th-place finish.
18. Daniel Suarez
Suarez scored two top-10s on this track type last year. Last week, he earned his sixth top-15 in 11 attempts on them.
19. Jimmie Johnson
Since winning at Texas last spring, Johnson has struggled to record only two top-10s on a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track and his average is about 20th.
20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Despite getting run into from behind in the smoke from his teammate Bayne's blown engine, Stenhouse finished 16th at Atlanta. That was the ninth time in the past 12 races on this track type that he finished at least that well.
21. William Byron
Even though he finished two laps off the pace and was scored only 18th, Byron gained some valuable experience on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway.
22. Ryan Newman
Problems with a tire cost Newman a strong run in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 and fantasy owners are left to wonder what might go wrong at Vegas.
23. Darrell Wallace Jr.
Reality set in for Wallace last week and fantasy owners will want to take a race or two as they evaluate his program.
24. Chris Buescher
One of the best dark horses last fall at Kansas was Buescher when he scored a solid sixth-place result. That is unlikely to happen again, but he should be a solid pick regardless.
25. Trevor Bayne
The Glory Days of Roush-Fenway Racing are fading and the current crop of Young Guns is not quite able to pull this team up by its bootstraps. Last week's blown engine for Bayne did not help matters any.
26. Ty Dillon
He started the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track season with a 15th last year, which Dillon followed with a 21st at Vegas. Last week, his 2018 season got off to a slower start in 26th.
27. AJ Allmendinger
We are expecting the JTG-Daugherty Racing teammates to improve this year, but it might take a few races to get into their rhythm. Allmendinger finished 29th at Atlanta last week.
28. David Ragan
Seven of Ragan's last 11 races on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks ended in the 20s, so that is where he is expected to land this week in the Pennzoil 400.
29. Kasey Kahne
Kahne did about what we expected last week. He improved the Leavine Family Racing's results slightly while finishing below his career average at Atlanta.
30. Michael McDowell
They had two completely different journeys, but McDowell and his old team finished within a handful of positions of the other. Look for another result in the mid-20s this week.
31. Matt DiBenedetto
Considering that he ended 2017 with three straight results in the low- to mid-20s, a 31st at Atlanta was a bit of a disappointment for DiBenedetto.
32. Cole Custer
Gene Haas is sponsoring the No. 51 this week and wants his ingénue behind the wheel. Look for Custer to record a result around 30th and plan accordingly.
33. Ross Chastain
Chastain's 30th-place finish at Atlanta was a solid showing considering this was only his third Cup attempt.
34. Cole Whitt
Whitt scored his career-best finish at Vegas last year when he crossed under the checkers 28th, but his average of 33.75 is more predictive of how he'll run this week.
35. Joey Gase
This will be Gase's first Vegas attempt in a second Premium Motorsports car. His last attempt on a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track ended in a 32nd at Texas last fall.
36. Jeffrey Earnhardt
Earnhardt has two previous starts at Vegas and they both ended in the low-30s. Attrition will be necessary to allow him to finish that well again.
37. Gray Gaulding
The No. 23 team is trying to protect their charter by making every race, but they may not have the resources to run very long in the event.
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