South Point 400 Preview

After 26 regular season races, the final 10 playoff races are finally upon us. With the uncertainty of Charlotte’s ROVAL looming as the third date in Round 1, the 16 playoff participants are going to be very aggressive at Las Vegas and Richmond to ensure they can advance. Of course, the likes of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, and Kevin Harvick have accumulated so many playoff points during the regular season, it’s going to be very difficult to count them out short of a complete disaster. In essence, 13 drivers are competing for 9 spots over the next 3 events.

LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Las Vegas Motor Speedway was totally reconfigured in 2006, increasing the 12 degree banking to 20 degrees in all four turns. The front stretch was increased from 8 to 9 degrees, and the back stretch was increased from 3 to 9 degrees. Suffice it to say, this completely changed the way teams handled their car setups and corner-entry approaches. Unfortunately, the upgrades did nothing to hinder the onslaught of cheesy gambling puns you’ll be forced to endure during race coverage.

The current style of driving on the new configuration most closely resembles Homestead-Miami Speedway, though Homestead is a true oval, while Vegas is a D-shaped oval. Like Homestead, drivers can run multiple grooves, whether hooking the bottom line, or running dangerously close to the wall. The bottom groove in turn 1 is extremely bumpy, so it will be interesting to see who, if anyone, can run down there well. As the sun wanders across the sky, and more and more rubber, dust, and dirt migrates its way around the track, conditions will be constantly changing on Sunday. Each stage will likely have a new set of contenders, and the teams who adapt best will be there at the end.

PIT STALL PICKS: THE DOWNFORCE, THE DRAFT, & THE DRAG

This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Harvick, Truex, and Kyle Busch have been purposely omitted because they are obvious options each week. Good luck!

THE DOWNFORCE (start ’em)

Brad Keselowski – Brad has finished better than 7th in his last six consecutive Las Vegas starts, and this team is starting to roll with 2 consecutive victories. Normally I’m hesitant to go back to the well with the recent winner, but all teams will be putting their best foot forward this weekend. The first race of the playoffs is no place for complacency, and the #2 has a good chance to make it 3 wins in a row.

Kyle Larson – While Kyle had to qualify for the playoffs on points, he’s been inching closer to a victory in recent weeks. Kyle has two consecutive top-3 finishes at Las Vegas, and he’s one of the better drivers to adjust to the track as the groove changes throughout the race.

Joey Logano – Joey has 5 consecutive top-tens at Las Vegas. He dropped some momentum last week at Indianapolis after stringing together a couple top-fives at Bristol and Darlington. I’m expecting a good day for team Penske.

Ryan Blaney – Speaking of which, Ryan Blaney. Ryan has three consecutive top-tens at Vegas, finishing 5th back in the spring. Ryan won the pole in the first Vegas race, and I think this is a good place for Ryan to get back into top form.

Erik Jones – Erik finished 8th back in the spring race. More importantly, he’s been one of the stronger cars to contend with over the final 11 races of the regular season. During that span, Erik’s average finish is 6.8, including a runner-up result last weekend at Indy.

THE DRAFT (dark horse)

Aric Almirola – Aric finished 10th here back in the spring. However, if we look at his comprehensive performances at other D-shaped intermediates this year, he finished 9th at Kansas, and 8th at Kentucky. He started 6th at Chicago, but finished a lap down in 25th. I anticipate another good chance at a top-ten here.

THE DRAG (use caution)

Kurt Busch – Kurt is a Las Vegas native and would love nothing more than to win at his home track. However, he’s never done that, and two straight sub-30th finishes as this track have to be of some concern. Kurt finished the regular season with 8 straight top-tens, so it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him continue the streak to 9, but a word of caution: Kurt has only finished 24% of his career starts at Vegas in the top-ten (6% top-five), second only to Martinsville as his worst track by these measures.

AVERAGE FINISH POSITION @ LAS VEGAS (last 5 track events)

4.0, #2 Brad Keselowski
5.4, #22 Joey Logano
6.4, #78 Martin Truex Jr.
9.3, #12 Ryan Blaney
9.8, #18 Kyle Busch

AVERAGE LOOP RATING @ LAS VEGAS (last 5 track events)

118.1, #2 Brad Keselowski
112.7 #78 Martin Truex Jr.
111.4, #22 Joey Logano
111.0, #4 Kevin Harvick
104.7, #18 Kyle Busch

2018 PTS MOMENTUM (last 5 overall races this season)

40.8, #41 Kurt Busch
40.2, #9 Chase Elliott
39.8, #4 Kevin Harvick
38.0, #20 Erik Jones
38.0, #2 Brad Keselowski

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