Set your lineup for NASCAR's 10-race playoff opener
"Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs!"
Oh, but the playoffs are here for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. The first race in their round of 16 is the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET. TV coverage will be provided by NBCSN.
It's been two months since drivers raced on a 1.5-mile track, the same length as LVMS. Not only that, but their first race at Las Vegas was all the way back in March, which was also the first race with aero ducts. My, how things have changed since then. It'll be a good test to see how much the aero duct and lower horsepower package has improved.
March's Pennzoil 400 winner, Joey Logano, had the most DraftKings points in the field, as he led 86 laps and earned 32 fastest laps. He also started 10th, but remember, NASCAR's qualifying format was different then. Regardless, even if a strong team starts further back, they have a good chance to finish well. Their march forward would give you positive place differential points that help you cash in your DraftKings contests. Here are the rules for DraftKings NASCAR contest.
Before I get into this week's picks, I want to review the results from last week. Kyle Busch was fast until his engine expired; that left him 21.5 DraftKings points in the hole. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kevin Harvick won the race and scored 97 fantasy points. Brad Keselowski had similar results to Busch; his unfortunate brush with a tire barrier produced negative 26 points. As you can see, even those who are in good equipment can run into trouble.
Additionally, Ryan Newman earned DraftKings users 50 points while Matt DiBenedetto scored 34.5 fantasy points. Honorable mentions Chris Buescher and Paul Menard awarded DraftKings players 30 and 26.25 points, respectively. It wasn't a bad total considering the bad luck from two of the top drivers I selected.
Denny Hamlin ($11,100)
Career at Las Vegas: 15 starts, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 7 top 10s
Average finish at Las Vegas: 13.7
Have you noticed a pattern recently? Since the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July, Kevin Harvick, Hamlin, and then another driver have taken their turns in victory lane each week. Harvick kissed the bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last Sunday, so it stands to reason the pattern continues with Hamlin, right?
Well, maybe. If Hamlin does continue the trend, it would be his first career win at Las Vegas. He has seven top 10s, including a 10th-place finish earlier this year, in 13 career starts out in Sin City. However, he has only led 15 laps total and crashed out of this race in 2018.
Hamlin does have the speed to get the job done, though and was the only Joe Gibbs Racing car to finish in the top 10 last week. His statistics at 1.5-mile tracks this year certainly leave reason for optimism. His performance in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was arguably the best out of these tracks, as he led 45 laps en route to his second victory of the season.
If Hamlin can put on a similar performance to that Sunday, running the same low-horsepower package, he would definitely help you cash in your DraftKings contests.
Brad Keselowski ($9,500)
Career at Las Vegas: 12 starts, 3 wins, 6 top fives, 8 top 10s
Average finish at Las Vegas: 12.3
I can’t help but go right back to the well with the No. 2 Team Penske Ford driver. All eight of his Las Vegas top 10s (and six top fives) came since 2013, a total which also includes three wins. In fact, he nearly captured his fourth victory in March but couldn't quite pass cohort Joey Logano in the closing laps. Still, Keselowski is the defending winner of this event and has led 280 laps total at Las Vegas. He's also posted multiple fastest laps in several races and would give you bonus DraftKings points for these also.
Even though Keselowski wrecked out early last week at IMS, he still has three victories this season. The third came back in May at Kansas Speedway, another 1.5-mile track at which he led 12 laps. Since then, he's had four top fives and eight top 10s in the past 14 races. That consistency should return now with the postseason in full effect.
Finally, his price on DraftKings is discounted to less than $10,000, meaning you could add more of the mid-tier priced drivers to your lineup. That would help your roster become more balanced and exclude the cheaper ones that wouldn't benefit your score.
Chase Elliott ($8,900)
Career at Las Vegas: 5 starts, 0 wins, 1 top fives, 2 top 10s
Average finish at Las Vegas: 24.0
OK, hear me out on this one. Yes, Elliott hasn't started worse at Las Vegas than 13th. Yes, he's crashed out of three races in five starts.
But what happened in the other two events? Elliott qualified 12th and finished third and ninth, respectively. All this information tells us that he's had very fast cars that qualify pretty well, but not enough to lead any laps or have good results.
So why am I recommending the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports driver? For one, he's had two top fives and four top 10s in the past five races, including a victory at Watkins Glen International. Secondly, he finished fourth at both Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, leading at or around 45 laps in each.
Finally, he's had several races with at least 20 fastest laps and could earn you valuable bonus points if he does so again Sunday. Sure, a top-10 finish might be all you get from him. At the same time... a top-10 finish might be all you need to fill out a winning roster at this price.
Ryan Blaney ($8,700)
Career at Las Vegas: 6 starts, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 4 top 10s
Average finish at Las Vegas: 10.7
Keselowski's Team Penske peer Ryan Blaney has two finishes well outside the top 10 at Las Vegas; one of those, unfortunately, was in March. However, Blaney does have two top fives and four top 10s between those starts. His starting position has varied from the pole in March 2018 all the way to 30th position in 2015, meaning place differential points could be in play.
While he's only led one lap at LVMS, Blaney still is capable and quick enough to earn a good result Sunday night. If he does, that would be a fairly inexpensive option for your daily fantasy roster.
Aric Almirola ($7,800)
Career at Las Vegas: 12 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 3 top 10s
Average finish at Las Vegas: 22.9
Now here’s a name I haven’t mentioned for fantasy in awhile. The No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford wheelman has had a rough stretch for the last few months. In fact, his last top 10 came at Daytona in July.
But while it's been a struggle as of late, Almirola did have several top 10s in the beginning of the year. That stretch included Las Vegas, where he began the race 25th and ended seventh. It's those early performances that earned a playoff bid despite a summer slide that left him vulnerable.
Almirola's also achieved comparable results at this racetrack in recent years. He's only qualified in the top 10 twice in 12 events, yet is currently on a three-race top-10 streak. As recently as 2017, he started 30th and ended the race 14th. That type of performance gives DraftKings users much-needed bonus points for positive place differential. Plus, his reasonable cost allows you to place some higher-tiered drivers in your roster.
Dark Horse Performer
Bubba Wallace ($6,600)
Career at Las Vegas: 3 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Las Vegas: 28.3
OK, so Wallace and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team isn't using the same car that he drove to a third-place finish last week at Indianapolis. I know the performance hasn't been there this year; that's why he's priced at $6,600.
Still, Wallace has the capacity to finish ahead of where he qualifies and wouldn't take much of your DraftKings salary. His best finishes prior to Indy came at Bristol Motor Speedway (14th), Daytona International Speedway (15th), and Martinsville Speedway (17th). Each of those was much a higher position than where he began, making him a great value play for DraftKings players.
Just know the risk that Wallace likely won't repeat the same performance that he had last week. His best career run at LVMS is a mediocre 21st.
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)