South Point 400 Preview: Round 2 of the Chase

South Point 400 Preview: Round 2 of the Chase

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

The first race in the Round of 12 of the Chase is on tap this weekend.  NASCAR had recently used the date at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to kick off the Chase for the Cup playoffs, but this season they moved it to the beginning of the second round.  The stars of NASCAR will head to Sin City and Las Vegas for the South Point 400 and to continue the battle of whittling down the playoff field as we approach the championship round at Phoenix. 

This will be the second visit of 2020 to the Las Vegas 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.  Firstly, we'll need to examine the current hot streaks, as the trending drivers should carry their streaks of success or struggles into Las Vegas.  Secondly, 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 late February.  The crew chiefs' notes should be very helpful for the teams that finished well that weekend to repeat their success

The first race in the Round of 12 of the Chase is on tap this weekend.  NASCAR had recently used the date at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to kick off the Chase for the Cup playoffs, but this season they moved it to the beginning of the second round.  The stars of NASCAR will head to Sin City and Las Vegas for the South Point 400 and to continue the battle of whittling down the playoff field as we approach the championship round at Phoenix. 

This will be the second visit of 2020 to the Las Vegas 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.  Firstly, we'll need to examine the current hot streaks, as the trending drivers should carry their streaks of success or struggles into Las Vegas.  Secondly, 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 late February.  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 15 years of competition at this 1.5-mile oval.  Let's take a look at the loop stats for the last 18 races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for some background on the drivers.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kevin Harvick10.36163716363,668105.2
Joey Logano8.05622074873,049104.8
Jimmie Johnson11.77604745823,472102.8
Kyle Busch11.16902082543,508100.4
Martin Truex Jr.11.46742612933,25597.3
Chase Elliott21.4397120821,58597.2
Matt Kenseth13.94192193052,41996.3
Brad Keselowski11.34932492802,56195.4
Ryan Blaney10.031077211,54294.8
Kurt Busch23.247969962,35482.2
Denny Hamlin14.062646182,49481.9
Ryan Newman15.257855592,82080.5
Austin Dillon14.72822151,29479.1
William Byron21.8253512774277.9
Erik Jones22.520133091477.3
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 19.8264313696574.2
Clint Bowyer17.948931182,04172.3
Alex Bowman20.731241196669.9
Tyler Reddick18.044008867.7
Aric Almirola22.13212531,37467.4

Las Vegas Motor Speedway had been a track of parity for much of its history.  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 five of the last seven Las Vegas races, and were victors here earlier this year.  That trend is one we need to pay attention to this weekend.

In February the NASCAR Cup Series returned to the Nevada desert and Joey Logano rolled into victory lane for the second 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 combined to win three of the last four 1.5-mile oval events.  Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon will be among some of those drivers knocking at the door.  The dark horse candidates will be the Chevrolet teams.  Drivers from the bowtie brand haven't won at Vegas since 2015, and have only three victories in the last 10 seasons at the track.  Toyota teams would seem better positioned to challenge Ford's supremacy of this oval.  Truex has won the last two Toyota victories at Las Vegas (2017 and 2019) and the Joe Gibbs Racing star is always a threat to win at this facility.  Here are our picks for fantasy racing success at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for this Sunday evening's South Point 400. 

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kevin Harvick – The 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 in 2018 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-10 finishes in the last five events show he's on fire coming to Vegas.  With the veteran driver's two victories and 650+ laps led at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the last five seasons, there's little doubt of Harvick's top contender status this weekend.  A win punches the team's ticket into the Round of 8 of the Chase, so you can bet Harvick will be sharp in the South Point 400.    

Joey Logano – Logano has been one of the more successful drivers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the last few seasons.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford has a strong 8.0 average finish at the oval, and he's led nearly 500 laps there in just his last nine starts.  Logano has won two of the last three events in the Nevada desert, and rides a strong nine-race Las Vegas Top-10 streak into Sunday's action.  This February's Pennzoil 400 saw the driver of the No. 22 Ford lead 54 laps and out-duel Ryan Blaney to win the last Cup Series event at LVMS.  The Penske Racing veteran grabbed a pair of third-place finishes in his last three starts, so this driver and team have been heating up during the first round of the Chase for the Cup.    

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star is coming off his typical poor Bristol performance and looking to rebound this week at Las Vegas.  This is a great track for the Truex to rally and head deeper into the playoffs.  Truex has two-career victories at the Vegas oval (2017 and 2019) and he's led close to 300 laps at this facility since 2017.  The 1.5-mile tracks have held three Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes for the driver of the No. 19 Toyota this season.  While the wins have been hard to come by, the Top-3 finishes have been abundant.  This event and track are a great opportunity for Truex to step up and seize a playoff-advancing win.  He can't be overlooked in the South Point 400. 

Brad Keselowski – The three-time Las Vegas winner looks to keep his high level of performance on these style tracks going in the South Point 400.  Keselowski has a victory, two Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes on these style ovals in 2020.  His resume at this Las Vegas facility has been very good the last several years.  The Penske Racing star has two pole positions, 280 laps led, three victories and rides a 10-race Las Vegas Top-10 streak into this weekend's action.  Keselowski grabbed a runner-up finish at Kansas Speedway in his last intermediate oval start, so the No. 2 Ford team should be dialed-in strong for this similar track.  With advancing in the playoffs on the line, we believe we'll see the best Keselowski has to offer this weekend.

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

Chase Elliott – Based on the last month of racing, Elliott will be well prepared for this Las Vegas race.  The Hendrick Motorsports star has two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes in the last four events, so momentum is clearly on his side.  Intermediate ovals have been kind to the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet in 2020.  Elliott has racked up one win, three Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes along with close to 200 laps led.  The young Hendrick Motorsports driver has been pretty good at the Las Vegas oval the past couple seasons.  Two of Elliott's last three visits to the Nevada desert have yielded Top-10 finishes.  He led a career-best 70 laps here in February, but ran into some trouble and finished a disappointing 26th-place.  He'll make up for that in Sunday evening's 400-mile battle in Vegas.

Kyle Busch – The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has been feverishly trying to whip his team into championship shape since the playoffs began.  Busch rides a three-race Top-10 streak, including his runner-up Bristol performance into this Sunday's Las Vegas event.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a one-time winner at his hometown track, and he owns nine Top-10 finishes in 18 starts.  Three of his last five efforts have netted Top-10 finishes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  While this is not one of his better intermediate ovals, Busch still sports a 50-percent Top-10 rate and 12.8 average finish at LVMS.  We don't expect this driver and team to be major contenders for the win, but they should be good enough to slug it out in a heated race and challenge for a Top-5 finish. 

Aric Almirola – Almirola has come on strong in recent weeks.  He rides a three-race Top-10 streak into Las Vegas, and that includes an uncharacteristic Top-5 finish at Bristol this past weekend.  Intermediate ovals have been good venues for the No. 10 Ford team.  Almirola has racked up four Top-10 finishes in the eight races to-date.  The veteran driver's career-long stats at Las Vegas Motor Speedway haven't been that good, but his best efforts have come in the last three seasons.  Almirola has three Top-10 finishes in his last five starts at the Nevada oval.  With the playoffs well underway, we expect this driver and team to stay on a roll in the South Point 400.

Ryan Blaney – The driver of the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford comes to the Nevada desert looking to get back to Top-10 form and finish the season well.  He was eliminated from the playoffs after Bristol, and will now shift his focus to getting the team in good shape as we head toward 2021.  Blaney has eight-career starts at this facility, and has netted five 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.  Blaney has nabbed six Top 10's on the 1.5-mile oval circuit this season (75-percent). He should finish somewhere around his career average at this track this weekend, and that's around 10th-place. 

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

Alex Bowman – Considering how good he's been the last month, it's a no-brainer to include the Hendrick Motorsports veteran in the sleepers list this week.  Bowman has four Top 10's in his last five events leading into this weekend.  His last outing on a similar oval netted a sixth-place finish at Kansas Speedway in July.  Bowman's last three starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway have netted 11th-, sixth- and 13th-place finishes since the 2019 season.  That checks in at a respectable 10.0 average finish.  The No. 88 Chevrolet team is still alive in the NASCAR playoffs, and that should be plenty of motivation to spur Bowman to a good finish in Sunday night's 400-mile thriller in the Nevada desert.    

Austin Dillon – The Richard Childress Racing veteran has advanced into the second round of the Chase for the Cup.  Dillon has been pretty sharp of late with a pair of Top 5's and three Top 10's in the last five events.  Intermediate ovals have been a big part of his career-best 2020 season.  Dillon has grabbed one win, two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes on these style ovals this season.  The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet sports two Top-5 and five Top-15 finishes at Las Vegas Motor speedway in 10-career starts.  The average finish of 14.7 isn't eye-popping, but it's respectable.  Dillon peddled the team's Chevy Camaro to a Las Vegas career-best fourth-place finish here in February.  You can bet he'll get a lot of mileage out of those race notes this weekend.

Kurt Busch With the first round of the Chase for the Cup complete, Busch and the No. 1 team are still alive.  Granted they are in the "bubble" to advance past round 2, Busch's 2020 playoff season continues this week at Las Vegas.  All the more reason we expect a big performance from this veteran driver this Sunday night.  Busch's career at this facility has been one of many struggles, but he has cracked the Top 5 at Vegas as recently as 2019.  Intermediate ovals have been good to the Chip Ganassi Racing veteran this season.  Busch has collected six Top 10's in the eight events to-date.  The 10.2 average finish across the span is pretty strong.  While Las Vegas has been a track of some difficulties over the years, we expect Busch to buck that trend in the South Point 400.

Tyler Reddick The rookie driver is once again heating up as we head into the stretch run to finish the season.  Reddick is fresh off 11th- and fourth-place finishes at Richmond and Bristol, and we'll soon see if that short track success translates to a mid-sized oval in Las Vegas.  The young driver made his Cup Series debut at LVMS in February and peddled the No. 8 Chevy to a respectable 18th-place finish in that effort.  He's been far better than that in the races since.  A quick check of the intermediate ovals this season shows that Reddick has grabbed four Top 10's and six Top 15's in eight starts.  The 10.6 average finish across the span speaks for itself.  The young driver looks like he'll challenge the Top 10 in this 400-mile battle.    

Cole Custer – The Stewart Haas Racing rookie had a bit of a letdown at Bristol this past week, but Custer should rebound nicely at the Las Vegas intermediate oval.  The driver of the No. 41 Ford has been good on these cookie cutter tracks in 2020 with one win and two Top 10's in just his last three starts alone.  Those performances came on tracks very similar to Las Vegas in Kentucky Speedway and Kansas Speedway.  Custer has been a Top 10 or Top 15 driver most of the last six weeks.  He brings a lot of fantasy racing potential to the table in this 400-mile contest at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.      

Matt Kenseth – After a struggle-filled season of interim racing for the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team, Kenseth seems to be getting his act together going into the stretch run of the schedule.  His last five starts have netted three Top-15 finishes and he's coming off a respectable 14th-place effort at Bristol.  The veteran driver is not a high ceiling candidate for Las Vegas, but he should peddle to another Top 15 this weekend.  Kenseth has good career stats at this oval with three victories and 10 Top-10 finishes (55-percent).  His past success at this intermediate oval and current level of performance should make him a dependable and safe fantasy racing selection in the deeper tiers or lower driver salaries this weekend. 

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has been struggling the last few weeks.  He has just one Top-10 finish in the last five starts leading up to Las Vegas and some cracks in the armor are starting to appear for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team.  Hamlin is coming off a disappointing 21st-place finish at Bristol and looking to stop the bleeding at Vegas.  While intermediate ovals have yielded two victories to Hamlin this season, we have to be reserved about Las Vegas.  This is not one of his better intermediate tracks.  Hamlin has just a 41-percent Top-10 rate at this facility, and he's only cracked the Top 10 once here in his last five starts.  February's Pennzoil 400 saw Hamlin struggle to finish 17th-place that afternoon.  It's best to keep clear of Hamlin in fantasy racing leagues this weekend.   

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 sixth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway.  It seems that the Stewart Haas Racing veteran has turned things around in the last three races.  With a pair of 10th-place and one sixth-place finish, Bowyer is surging coming to Las Vegas.  The veteran driver has just a 24-percent Top-10 rate at this oval, and his 17.9 career average finish has been going the wrong direction in recent seasons.  Intermediate ovals this season have been stingy for this driver and team.  Bowyer has not scratched the Top-10 column in eight starts and has mustered only a 17.1 average finish for 2020 on the 1.5-mile tracks.  We expect the hot-running Bowyer to experience a cool spell in the South Point 400.   

William Byron – After racing his way into the Chase for the Cup in thrilling fashion with the clutch win at Daytona, Byron took an abrupt exit from the playoffs after Bristol.  The young driver struggled at both Richmond and Bristol and could not advance into the second round of the playoffs.  Things look shaky for the No. 24 team as we visit the Nevada desert this Sunday night.  Byron's cookie cutter oval performance this season has been subpar at best.  With two Top 10's in eight starts (25-percent) and an average finish of 19.2, they have not been his best ovals.  Byron has just one Top-10 effort in five starts at LVMS and he finished 22nd-place here in February of this year.  All indicators seem to point away from deploying Byron at Las Vegas.        

Jimmie Johnson – Another driver that has gone stone cold down the stretch has been Johnson and the No. 48 team.  His last five efforts have netted just one Top-10 and he rides a four-race Top-10 drought into Las Vegas.  Although the seven-time champion has some pretty impressive career numbers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there's good reason to proceed with caution with the No. 48 team this week.  Johnson has just one Top 10 in his last six visits to this facility.  The 1.5-mile tracks have been tough for this driver and team in 2020.  Johnson has labored to just two Top 10's in eight starts on these style ovals this season.  The 19.4 average finish across the span points to the fantasy racing bench this week for Johnson in this fourth race of the Chase. 

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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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