Following Kyle Larson‘s close victory at Bristol, NASCAR heads west to Las Vegas to kick off Round 2 of the playoffs. Let’s wrap up NASCAR DFS action from this past Saturday night, how the playoffs stand now with four drivers eliminated and what to expect for NASCAR DFS at the South Point 400 this Sunday evening in Las Vegas.
NASCAR DFS: South Point 400 Race Preview
Larson Claims No. 6
After 496 laps and 22 lead changes, Kevin Harvick was just four laps away from finally getting the winless monkey off his back for 2021. A driver who had lacked speed all season, Harvick finally found it on Saturday (60 fastest laps) night. However, a late pass by Kyle Larson and some timely side-by-side racing by his teammate Chase Elliott proved to be enough to seal the deal for the No. 5 team. Of course, after feeling like Harvick intentionally cut his tire down earlier in the night, who could blame Elliott for not being quite so easy to pass?
Numbers-wise, Larson had spent the most time up front with 175 laps led and the highest average running position of everyone (third) in Saturday’s field. The Awesemo NASCAR Top Driver Tool had given Larson a slate leading 28.3% probability of being a top-two dominator on DraftKings, a prediction that proved true. Leading 175 laps on Saturday, Larson led the most laps and garnered the most fastest laps, nearly matching his package-leading averages in the high-horsepower setup at steeply banked tracks.
The most surprising result from Saturday in Thunder Valley was the no-show from Kyle Busch. Even in down years, like 2020, Busch had been able to show up to Bristol and be a contender. On Saturday, Kyle Busch was just another driver out turning laps. The highest Busch got all night was third with an average running position of ninth with obviously no laps led but just 13 fastest laps. By the end of the night, Busch finished a lap down in 21st-place showing that the concerns over his 2021 results in the 750-horsepower package were legitimate towards his viability in DFS.
Busch and the No. 18 team will not have to contend with another low downforce race until Martinsville, giving them six races to make serious adjustments if they want to contend for the 2021 title. Between then and now, three races utilizing the low horsepower setup await as opportunities to accumulate points should Busch and crew chief Ben Beshore fail to make the appropriate adjustments.
And Then There Were 12
As the checkered flag flew, four drivers were eliminated from the playoff field. When the evening began, Alex Bowman was tied with Kurt Busch in points for the final transfer spot was out due to a tiebreaker. At the end of the race, Bowman advanced with a fifth-place finish while Kurt Busch fell out as the last car on the lead lap in the 15th place. Tyler Reddick attempted to race his way in, just trailing the aforementioned duo by five points, but by 500 laps he only picked up two stage points and ended his evening in the 13th spot finding himself eliminated as well. Had it not been for William Byron‘s chart-climbing evening, chances are that Almirola or Reddick would have advanced. Despite a double-digit hole, Byron parked himself in the top 10 all evening earning stage points at the end of both segments before finishing his night in third.
With the points tallied and the field reset, here is your current field of 12 heading into Las Vegas.
Once more, Larson is the man on top of the mountain with a commanding 46-point lead over the cut-off line. Coming in second is Martin Truex Jr., followed by his Joe Gibbs teammate Denny Hamlin. Coincidentally, the top three spots are all held by the three drivers who won in the first round of the playoffs. Tied with Hamlin is Ryan Blaney who used his points accumulation, leading up to the playoffs, to his advantage to survive a first-round that is almost designed to remove him from the field.
From Kyle Busch down to Byron, only nine points separate drivers who are currently on the inside of the playoff bubble. For Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell and Harvick, just 12 points, at most, separate these drivers from advancing to the third round. Unlike the first round, where it is three straight races of evening into night affairs using the 750-horsepower package, the second round has the most potential for randomness as this round goes from the intermediate track of Las Vegas to superspeedway racing in Talladega and concludes at the Charlotte Roval.
This round provides the most opportunity for driver movement up and down this playoff grid and can easily take a long shot and thrust them into the championship conversation with a victory in one of these next three events. Likewise, even a perceived safe driver can be humbled with a few bad finishes and find themselves on the outside looking in at Kansas in three weeks.
Viva Las Vegas
As previously mentioned, the second leg of the playoffs kicks off Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the South Point 400. This is the fourth straight year that NASCAR has made a return visit to Las Vegas, during the playoff stretch. This will be the first time in five weeks that the Cup Series has raced in the low horsepower package, back when Ryan Blaney won late at Michigan. Oddly, this will also be the first time since the second Atlanta race in July, that NASCAR has raced at an intermediate track.
Shape and lengthwise, Las Vegas is best compared to tracks like Homestead, Atlanta, Kansas and Charlotte. However, with its non-abrasive surface, DFS players are better left comparing Las Vegas to just Kansas and Charlotte from this season. Texas would fit this mold, but the only race held at Texas this season was the All-Star Race with its one-off package and perpetual field resets. With this all in mind, to keep the data set from being too narrow, all intermediate tracks plus Michigan are factored into this week’s edition of the Race Sheets.
Something else to consider, and it played a major factor in the first-ever late summer race at Las Vegas, is the temperature. Due to previous temperature concerns, the Las Vegas singular event on the calendar was always held early in March when temperatures are still mild in the Nevada desert. While that is still true for the first Las Vegas race, this secondary playoff event typically sees temperatures in the 90s as Sunday’s forecast is predicting. This can create a slick track initially as this race will start at 4 p.m. Pacific time, but as the sun cascades, an already non-abrasive track will pick up more grip and return to its normal self.
For this reason, be careful considering past data — namely the 2018 race won by Brad Keselowski. That race started under the hot, boiling sun of mid-day and created a slick surface that most of the field was not prepared for. Following that race with 10 real cautions, things have settled down a bit in the last two late-Summer Vegas events. In that same line of thought, do not go crazy basing driver expectations off the spring race. To begin with, that race was back in March and here the Series stands six months later with evolution in the process. Not to mention, the way Vegas raced in March is going to be a bit different from the way this track races initially on Sunday.
DFS Implications for South Point 400 at Las Vegas
With 267 laps on the itinerary for Sunday, DFS players need to pull back from what they have been doing for the previous three weeks. Dominators are coming down as well as what a tournament option looks like. Drivers are much less likely to get lapped in this low horsepower package, thus tournament options often look more like fringe-cash plays instead of lower-salaried drivers starting in the upper-teens.
Here are some notes to consider from the past three Las Vegas races:
- 2021 Pennzoil 400 — Two drivers led 10% or more of the race, Kyle Larson (103) and Denny Hamlin (47). The optimal DraftKings build rostered those two plus four drivers who all started 16th or worse. Five of the six optimal drivers had finishes of 10th or better.
- 2020 South Point 400 — Three drivers led 10% or more of the race, Denny Hamlin (121), Chase Elliott (73) and Kurt Busch (29). Hamlin and Busch made the optimal lineup while Elliott fell out due to his 22nd-place finish. The optimal DraftKings lineup was a true contrarian build with no one starting higher than Alex Bowman in eighth, but no one starting further back than Matt DiBenedetto in 19th. All six optimal drivers finished in the top 10.
- 2020 Pennzoil 400 — Four drivers led 10% or more of the event, Kevin Harvick (92), Chase Elliott (70), Joey Logano (54) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (30). Late pit strategy jumbled up this final grid giving a three-dominator build, although for DFS players’ purposes it may as well be a two-dominator build as the bulk of Stenhouse’s points came from place differential (+23) and not 7.5 laps led points. Had Elliott not experienced issues, dropping to 26th after starting 10th, this could have easily been a three-dominator build. However, in the end, the optimal DraftKings lineup looked rather chalky and cash-like with its two dominators and four drivers starting from 19th through 27th.
As a baseline, lineups should start with a two-dominator approach across both sites. Depending on how high or low DraftKings goes with drivers like Blaney, Keselowski, Elliott and Harvick, there could easily be room for a third lap leader on DraftKings.
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