South Point 400 Preview: Let the Chase Begin

South Point 400 Preview: Let the Chase Begin

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

The first race in the 2019 Chase for the Cup is on tap this weekend.  NASCAR has chosen to start the Chase at one of the many Monster Energy Cup Series' intermediate ovals this Sunday afternoon.  The stars of NASCAR will head to Sin City and Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the South Point 400.  The intermediate oval in the Nevada desert hosts the opening race of the Chase.  NASCAR shook up the schedule last season, and moved the Chase opener from Chicago to Las Vegas, as well as some other noteworthy changes to spice up the competition.  This will be the second season that we race twice on the LVMS oval.  We will have good data from that event earlier in the season to look back on, and we'll take full advantage of it.  

We'll need to take into account several factors this weekend.  First, we'll need to examine the current hot streaks, as the trending drivers should carry their streaks of success or struggles into Las Vegas.  Second, we'll need to take a look at how the drivers have performed on similar ovals this season.  The intermediate oval is the most widely used track on the circuit, so we have plenty of data to examine.  Lastly, we'll take an in-depth look at the race earlier this season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  That data will have some relevance for this weekend, even though that event was held way back in March.  The crew chiefs' notes should be very

The first race in the 2019 Chase for the Cup is on tap this weekend.  NASCAR has chosen to start the Chase at one of the many Monster Energy Cup Series' intermediate ovals this Sunday afternoon.  The stars of NASCAR will head to Sin City and Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the South Point 400.  The intermediate oval in the Nevada desert hosts the opening race of the Chase.  NASCAR shook up the schedule last season, and moved the Chase opener from Chicago to Las Vegas, as well as some other noteworthy changes to spice up the competition.  This will be the second season that we race twice on the LVMS oval.  We will have good data from that event earlier in the season to look back on, and we'll take full advantage of it.  

We'll need to take into account several factors this weekend.  First, we'll need to examine the current hot streaks, as the trending drivers should carry their streaks of success or struggles into Las Vegas.  Second, we'll need to take a look at how the drivers have performed on similar ovals this season.  The intermediate oval is the most widely used track on the circuit, so we have plenty of data to examine.  Lastly, we'll take an in-depth look at the race earlier this season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  That data will have some relevance for this weekend, even though that event was held way back in March.  The crew chiefs' notes should be very helpful for the teams that finished well that weekend to repeat their success this weekend.

LVMS is one of many intermediate ovals on the circuit, so we have lots of data to fall back on at this point in the season.  Since NASCAR's top division raced earlier this season at the Vegas oval, we'll get the opportunity to look back on the race earlier this year with a discriminating eye.  Considering that historical data is so valuable in developing our weekly driver list, we'll take a quick look at these track specific statistics.  The loop stats in the table below span the last 14 years of competition at this 1.5-mile oval.  Let's take a look at the loop stats for the last 16 races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for some background on the drivers.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Jimmie Johnson12.26184625823,086104.6
Kyle Busch10.36181972543,272103.7
Kevin Harvick14.35153174973,140102.5
Joey Logano8.54521643282,558101.6
Brad Keselowski12.33792342802,23396.1
Martin Truex Jr.11.55452122602,81095.7
Kyle Larson11.427162241,23693.3
Chase Elliott24.02423501,11191.3
Ryan Blaney10.71904011,06590.2
Erik Jones19.018020086687.5
Denny Hamlin13.752141152,21682.9
Kurt Busch22.137662962,01582.9
Ryan Newman15.553254592,64480.5
Austin Dillon16.417417485276.6
Paul Menard15.64424491,73374.4
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.21.120920679374.0
Clint Bowyer17.941029171,81772.3
Daniel Suarez17.88871226066.6
Aric Almirola22.923616098264.0
William Byron26.775102124662.9

Las Vegas Motor Speedway had been a track of parity the last several seasons.  We've seen different racing camps and different manufacturers dominate at the Nevada oval in the past.  Ford, however, seems to have risen above the fray.  Drivers from this manufacturer have won the last three-straight Las Vegas races, and four of the last five.  That trend is one we need to pay attention to this weekend.

This spring the Monster Energy Cup Series returned to the Nevada desert and Joey Logano rolled into victory lane for the first time in his career at the 1.5-mile tri-oval.  With Logano picking up that victory Ford remained squarely atop the heap at LVMS.  However, before we cede the trophy to a Ford camp this weekend we need to realize that contenders will come from several different stables for Sunday's race.  Toyota and Chevrolet drivers have won the last three intermediate oval events at Kentucky, Chicago and Charlotte.  Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Kyle Larson will be among some of those drivers knocking at the door.  The dark horse candidates will be the Joe Gibbs Racing teams.  Only one Gibbs driver has pulled into victory lane at LVMS since 2014, and that was Martin Truex Jr. in 2017.  Busch and Denny Hamlin appear to have the odds stacked against them, but certainly Busch has the homerun potential with so much on the line.  Here are our picks for fantasy racing success at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kevin HarvickThe track in Las Vegas has produced a lot of repeat winners, and Harvick is among them.  The Stewart Haas Racing star won here in 2015, and he returned to victory lane in Vegas last year in the Pennzoil 400.  The driver of the No. 4 Ford has been one of the most dominant performers of late.  Harvick's three victories and four Top-5 finishes in the last seven events show he's on fire coming to Vegas.  With the veteran driver's two victories and 500+ laps led at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the last five seasons, there's little doubt of Harvick's top contender status this weekend.  The Chase for the Cup starts this weekend, and you can bet this driver and team will be well prepared for a strong performance in the South Point 400. 

Brad Keselowski The three-time Las Vegas winner looks to keep his current hot streak going in the South Point 400.  Keselowski has cracked the Top 5 in two of the last three races, and he's surging at the right time of the year coming into the Chase for the Cup.  His resume at this Las Vegas facility has been dramatically improving in recent seasons.  The Penske Racing star has really made headway at this cookie cutter track in his last several visits.  He has two pole positions, 280 laps led, three victories and six Top-5 finishes in those last eight efforts at the Vegas oval.  Keselowski rides an eight-race Las Vegas Top-10 streak into this weekend, and that's a great statistic.  The driver of the No. 2 Ford has some major momentum and history on his side as we head to Las Vegas.

Joey Logano Logano has been one of the more consistent 1.5-mile oval performers of the last three seasons.  Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been no exception to that rule.  He's going to continue carving out that reputation this Sunday afternoon.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford has a strong 8.5 average finish at the oval, and he's led well over 300 laps there in just his last seven starts.  He's rides a seven-race Las Vegas Top-10 streak into this weekend's action.  Logano has managed one win, one runner-up and three Top-5 finishes in the seven intermediate oval races to-date, so his program for these style tracks has been razor sharp.  The Penske Racing veteran served notice with his runner-up finish last weekend at Indianapolis that he will be a factor in this season's Chase. 

Kyle Busch The driver of the No. 18 Toyota had a poor performance at Indianapolis this past week, so it's a bit concerning heading to Las Vegas.  He suffered an engine failure and wound up with the DNF.  We expect Busch to rebound from that disappointment this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a one-time winner at his hometown track, and he owns nine Top-10 finishes in 16 starts.  Two of his last three efforts have netted a runner-up and third-place finish at this facility.  Those last three starts have also yielded 24 laps led, so Busch has not only been finishing up front here, he's been leading laps as well.  If there is any driver in the Toyota camp that can upset the Ford teams its Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Erik JonesThe third-year Joe Gibbs Racing driver has taken major steps this season.  He's won his second-career victory recently at Darlington, and had been on absolute fire before his crash at Indy last week.  Jones now sets his sights on Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  This will be his fifth-career Cup start at the oval in the Nevada desert, and the experience should start to show.  The intermediate ovals have been great tracks for the driver of the No. 20 Toyota this season.  Jones has nabbed three Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes in those seven events for a steady 11.0 average finish.  Sunday's first race of the Chase will be just another Top-10 finish in what has been an impressive season for Jones and his Joe Gibbs Racing team. 

Kyle LarsonSomehow the Chip Ganassi Racing star got through the regular season without winning a single race.  We're still scratching our heads on that one, but with three Top-5 finishes in the last six races, things are looking up in a major way.  The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet will use the playoffs as a reset button on his 2019 campaign.  Now the wins and good performances really matter.  Fortunately, his Las Vegas stats of late have been very good.  Larson has a pair of second- and a third-place finish in his last four Las Vegas outings.  Intermediate ovals this year have generally been good for the CGR driver.  Larson has been turning it up of late with second- and fourth-place finishes most recently at Chicago and Kentucky.  His odds of winning the South Point 400 are not the greatest, but he should have no trouble forging a Top-10 finish in this opening race of the Chase.

Kurt Busch Considering how good he's been the last month, it's no stretch to slot the Chip Ganassi Racing veteran in the solid plays list this week, but Vegas has been a work in progress for this veteran driver.  Busch has been a top performer on the cookie cutter ovals this season with one win, three Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes in 2019.  The lone victory came very recently at Kentucky.  Vegas has been tough on this driver over the years.  Busch's hometown track beat him up early in his NASCAR career, but of late it's started to yield some better performances.  The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet led 23 laps and raced to an impressive fifth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this season.  The notes from that outing should be very fresh in crew chief Matt McCall's little black book. 

Martin Truex Jr. The Joe Gibbs Racing star is wobbling a bit as we visit Las Vegas and kickoff the Chase.  Still, we have to give him fantasy racing respect with his accomplishments at this oval, and the playoffs starting.  Truex has really carved up these style tracks the last three seasons with multiple victories and Top-10 finishes.  Las Vegas Motor Speedway has held some recent success for this veteran driver.  He won at the Nevada speedway three seasons ago, and has three Top-5 finishes in his last four starts there.  The driver of the No. 19 Toyota hasn't been quite as dominant this season on the cookie cutter ovals, but Truex still boasts one victory (Charlotte) and four Top-10 finishes in seven races.  Truex is not in the contender list this weekend, but he has the skill and potential to jump up and surprise.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Las Vegas & solid upside

Chase ElliottBased on the last month of racing, Elliott will be well prepared for this Las Vegas race.  The Hendrick Motorsports star has one win and four Top-10 finishes in the last five events, so momentum is clearly on his side.  Elliott qualified 12th on the grid here in March, and peddled his No. 9 Chevy Camaro to a ninth-place finish in the Pennzoil 400.  The young driver now has two Top 10's in his last four trips to the Nevada desert.  While his career record at LVMS still lags a bit, Elliott should have the speed to overcome that record.  With the Chase playoff starting and so much on the line, we expect the talented youngster to turn it up a notch in the South Point 400.

Denny Hamlin Hamlin has been pretty sharp the last few weeks.  Two victories, six Top-5 and seven Top-10 finishes have been his body of work the last eight races.  The Joe Gibbs Racing veteran doesn't have the best career stats at Las Vegas.  Despite a career 47-percent Top-10 rate at LVMS, most of his success came earlier in his career at this oval.  However, this being the first race of the Chase, we expect Hamlin to respond accordingly.  He finished fifth in his last intermediate oval start at Kentucky in the late summer, and Hamlin finished 10th at Las Vegas earlier this season.  He has what it takes to be a reliable performer at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  

Clint Bowyer Last week we advised to take a chance on Bowyer, and it paid off.  He peddled the No. 14 Ford Mustang to a brilliant fifth-place finish at the Brickyard.  It seems that the Stewart Haas Racing veteran has turned things around in the last three races.  With seventh-, sixth- and fifth-place finishes at Bristol, Darlington and Indianapolis, Bowyer looks ready for the Chase.  The veteran driver has just a 27-percent Top-10 rate at this oval, but his 13.3 average finish on these size ovals in 2019 speaks volumes of his potential for this weekend.  Bowyer's last cookie cutter oval outing yielded 40 laps led and a strong sixth-place finish at Kentucky Speedway.  He has a really good chance to kick off the Chase well and extend his current Top-10 streak to four races.

Ryan Blaney The driver of the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford comes to the Nevada desert fresh off a seventh-place finish at the Brickyard.  He will look to keep up this level of performance in the first race of the Chase.  Blaney has six-career starts at this facility, and has netted four Top-10 finishes.  In this event one year ago, the young driver piloted the team's Ford Mustang to a career-best Vegas finish of fifth-place.  Intermediate ovals are among this driver's best tracks on the circuit.  Chicago and Las Vegas are his Top 2 tracks in terms of average finish position.  We really like Blaney to impress in Sunday's South Point 400. 

Chris Buescher While the JTG Daugherty Racing veteran is not a part of the Chase for the Cup, he's been racing extremely well in recent weeks.  Buescher has been a Top-15 finisher in four of the last five races leading up to this weekend.  He's been razor sharp on intermediate ovals this season.  All four of Buescher's Top-10 finishes in 2019 have come on these 1.5-mile ovals.  His five prior starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway have yet to yield a Top-10 finish, but the driver of the No. 37 Chevrolet has grabbed a pair of Top 15's in his last three Vegas starts.  We believe Buescher will be a shoe in for a Top-15 finish Sunday afternoon, and have the upside of a potential Top-10 finish in this first race of the Chase.   

Paul Menard The Wood Brothers Racing veteran has been a steady performer on intermediate ovals this season.  Menard has patched together four Top-15 finishes in the seven 1.5-mile oval races to-date for a respectable 16.9 average finish.  The driver of the No. 21 Ford Mustang grabbed a season-best 11th-place finish in his last outing on these style ovals with his performance at Kentucky Speedway.  Las Vegas has also held some success for Menard over his long career.  With five Top-10 finishes in 14-career starts, he sports a decent 36-percent Top-10 rate at this facility.  Those stats also include his steady 15th-place finish in March's Pennzoil 400.  The notes from that outing should still be fresh.

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Aric Almirola Almirola hasn't quite been his usual self the last several weeks.  He hasn't cracked the Top 10 in the last eight races, and his average finish the last four is an inflated 23.3.  It's a very uncharacteristic level of performance for the No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing team.  The good news for Almirola is that he's in the field for the Chase, and will be racing for the championship.  The bad news is that he's limping into this season's playoffs.  Almirola was hot early in the season on the cookie cutter tracks, but he's cooled off in the second half.  A middle teens finish would be the ceiling for Almirola this weekend, while it's more likely he'll be scuffling around the low 20's.    

Jimmie Johnson Johnson's playoff hopes went up in smoke at Indianapolis last weekend.  It was a very disappointing end to a big playoff push for the No. 48 Chevrolet team.  The seven-time champion is mired in an eight-race Top-10 drought, and his crash at the Brickyard last week was just the latest bad luck to strike the Hendrick Motorsports team.  The oval at Las Vegas has held tons of success for Johnson over the years.  He's a four-time winner at Vegas and has nine-career Top-10 finishes there.  However, the last of those came in 2016.  Johnson has not cracked the Top 10 at LVMS since.  In fact, his last two starts in Sin City have yielded subpar 22nd- and 19th-place finishes.  This is likely not a rebound week for this driver and team.      

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The No. 17 Ford team's recent bad luck continued at Indianapolis this past week.  Stenhouse limped home to a 31st-place finish at the Brickyard.  That's his third-consecutive finish outside the Top 30 entering this weekend.  The Roush Fenway Racing veteran is reeling coming into the South Point 400.  Stenhouse has been pretty decent this season on the intermediate ovals, but his recent slump is very concerning.  Las Vegas Motor Speedway in particular has been a tricky oval for him.  Stenhouse has just one Top-10 finish in eight-career starts for an inflated 21.1 average finish.  His current slump and lack of career success at Las Vegas are good reasons to keep this driver on the fantasy racing bench this weekend. 

Daniel HemricThe Richard Childress Racing rookie has fallen on hard times of late.  After posting a handful of Top 15's during the summer, he capped that run off with a strong seventh-place show in late July at Pocono.  Since then, it's been tough plowing for the No. 8 Chevrolet team.  Hemric has labored to four finishes outside the Top 25 in four of the five events since Pocono.  Coming into Las Vegas the young driver is scrambling to get back in the groove.  Hemric's intermediate oval finishes this season have been a real mixed bag.  Three Top-20 finishes offset by four finishes outside the Top 20.  The average finish over the span stands around 22.6.  We have a feeling he'd be happy with that this weekend, but won't likely fetch a finish that good.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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