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.  The stars of NASCAR head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the South Point 400, continuing the battle to whittle down the playoff field as we approach the championship round at Phoenix. NASCAR had recently used the date in Sin City to kick off the Chase for the Cup playoffs, but last season it moved it to the beginning of the second round. 

This will be the second visit of 2021 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 early 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

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

This will be the second visit of 2021 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 early 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 16 years of competition at this 1.5-mile oval.  Let's look at the loop stats for the last 20 races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for some background on the drivers.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Joey Logano8.46662214953,375103.7
Kevin Harvick13.57343796363,979102.9
Kyle Busch10.48122212603,933100.2
Kyle Larson9.85281351291,93998.8
Martin Truex Jr.10.78552782993,76998.3
Chase Elliott20.65581881772,03398.1
Ryan Blaney9.2496110232,06197.6
Brad Keselowski10.87032823092,99396.2
Denny Hamlin12.97711101863,02386.7
Kurt Busch21.8623781252,69682.9
William Byron20.339292641,14182.1
Austin Dillon15.93852651,62579.0
Erik Jones19.13054001,17978.8
Ryan Newman15.361655592,91978.5
Alex Bowman19.74857561,44476.6
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 19.333334361,14473.4
Christopher Bell21.31429033570.1
Aric Almirola22.83942531,58166.5
Matt DiBenedetto18.3241141766364.6
Chris Buescher16.918991134562.8

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.  Chevrolet, however, seems to have risen above the fray.  Drivers from this manufacturer have won the last two Las Vegas races, and have briefly halted Ford and Toyota's run at the desert oval.  That trend is one we need to pay attention to this weekend.

In March the NASCAR Cup Series returned to the Nevada desert and Kyle Larson rolled into victory lane for the first time in his career at the 1.5-mile tri-oval.  With Larson picking up that victory Chevrolet remained squarely atop the heap at LVMS.  However, before we cede the trophy to a Chevrolet camp this weekend we need to realize that contenders will come from several different stables for Sunday's race.  Toyota and Ford drivers had won the two Vegas events prior to Chevrolet's current two-race streak.  Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch will be among some of those drivers knocking at the door.  If Chevrolet hopes to continue their streak of dominance at LVMS, those hopes will largely ride with Chase Elliott and Larson.  The Hendrick Motorsports duo is racing the best for this manufacturer at this point and are carrying that momentum into Vegas.  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

Kyle Larson – Bristol winner Larson looks to continue his winning ways again this weekend in Nevada.  We kick off the Round of 12 of the Chase for the Cup and the Hendrick Motorsports star will be on the hunt for another playoff-advancing victory.  Fortunately for Larson, he's been one of the most dominant drivers this season on the intermediate ovals.  He owns two victories and one runner-up finish in the five events to-date.  As far as Las Vegas Motor Speedway is concerned, Larson won there earlier this season for his first-career Vegas victory and he cracks the Top-5 at this oval at a strong 40-percent rate.  The multi-groove racing action appears to be a favorite of Larson's.  He'll be the man to beat in the South Point 400. 

Chase Elliott – Elliott was in the running for the win last week at Bristol before a run-in with Kevin Harvick would set off fireworks of another kind.  He'll look to put that past him as we head to Las Vegas this week.  Intermediate ovals have been good to the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet this Summer.  After a slow start on these tracks, Elliott has racked up one runner-up finish, two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes along with 35 laps led in the last three cookie cutter oval events.  The young Hendrick Motorsports driver doesn't have the stats at LVMS to inspire much confidence (33-percent Top-10 rate) but he does have some momentum on his side and he does have the best motivation of all, winning in order to advance in the playoffs.  Elliott will be battling among the leaders again this Sunday night.

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star is coming off an uncharacteristically strong Bristol performance and looking to keep it rolling in the Round of 12 of the Chase.  This is a great track for the Truex to keep his momentum 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 four Top-10 finishes for the driver of the No. 19 Toyota this season.  While the wins have been hard to come by, his best intermediate oval performance of the season came last time out at Atlanta (third-place).  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 this 400-mile battle under the lights. 

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 has been struggling coming into this Sunday's Las Vegas event.  However, there is good reason to believe a rebound effort awaits at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a one-time winner at his hometown track, and he owns eight Top-5 finishes in 20 starts (40-percent).  Busch's last two performances at Las Vegas Motor Speedway have netted sixth- and third-place finishes.  While this is not one of his better intermediate ovals, Busch still sports a 55-percent Top-10 rate and 12.0 average finish at LVMS.  The veteran driver knows he needs a win to advance in the playoffs, so we should see Busch's "A-game" in the South Point 400. 

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to 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 also collected a runner-up finish at LVMS in 2019.  Harvick has been heating up of late as his Top-5 Bristol performance showed us last Saturday night.  With the veteran driver's 50-percent Top-10 rate at this oval and recent momentum, he makes a solid fantasy racing play in the South Point 400.  Harvick is a driver who should challenge the Top 5 and possibly even contend for the win. 

Ryan Blaney – The driver of the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford comes to the Nevada desert looking to stay in the championship discussion after his fourth-place finish at Bristol.  He is in good points position to start the Round of 12, but still on the lookout for a playoff advancing win.  Blaney has 10-career starts at this facility, and has netted seven Top-10 finishes.  In this event one year ago, the young driver piloted the team's Ford Mustang to a strong seventh-place finish, and he returned this Spring to register an impressive fifth-place Vegas finish.  Intermediate ovals are among this driver's best tracks on the circuit.  Blaney has nabbed one victory and three Top 10's on the 1.5-mile oval circuit this season (60-percent). He should challenge the Top 5, but certainly crack the Top 10 in this 400-mile battle in the desert.    

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin was his typical self at Bristol last week.  He led 65 laps but would fade to ninth-place by the checkered flag.  He'll look to up the level of performance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Intermediate ovals this season have yielded two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes for an 8.0 average finish for Hamlin.  LVMS is not one of his better cookie cutter tracks, but he's come on strong there in recent performances.  Hamlin notched a career-best third-place Vegas finish in this event one year ago and he return in March of this year to post a strong fourth-place finish in the Pennzoil 400.  Those efforts have boosted his career Top-10 rate at this facility to a more respectable 47-percent.  More importantly, Hamlin led a combined 168 laps in those two events. 

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 8.4 average finish at the oval, and he's led nearly 500 laps there in just his last 11 starts.  Logano has won two of the last five events in the Nevada desert, and he finished a respectable ninth-place there in March of this year.  Intermediate ovals have been a bit of a weakness for the No. 22 Penske Racing team this season, but with the playoffs well underway, Logano should be on his game at one of his better tracks.  He peddled to a strong eighth-place finish at the Darlington oval recently, and that should be a good measure of his potential at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

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

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 two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes on these style ovals in 2021 for a steady 10.8 average finish.  His resume at this Las Vegas facility has been very good over his long career.  The Penske Racing star has two pole positions, 309 laps led, three victories and 11 Top-10 finishes (69-percent).  Keselowski grabbed a runner-up finish at Las Vegas earlier this season, so the No. 2 Ford team should be dialed-in for another strong performance at this track.  With advancing in the playoffs on the line, we believe we'll see the best Keselowski has to offer this weekend.

William Byron – Byron raced for his proverbial playoff life at Bristol last Saturday night, and he saved his own neck with a clutch third-place finish in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.  Now we come to an oval configuration that has been good for the No. 24 Chevrolet team this season.  Byron owns one Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes for a strong 9.8 average finish on the intermediate ovals this season.  One of those performances was his eighth-place Las Vegas finish in March of this year.  Even though Byron owns just two Top 10's at this track in seven starts, the two have come in his last four attempts at Vegas.  Things are definitely turning toward the positive for this driver and team for Vegas, and in more ways than one. 

Alex Bowman – Considering how good he was at Bristol this past week, it's difficult to overlook Bowman and the No. 48 team at Las Vegas.  His fifth-place Bristol finish keeps him alive and racing into the Round of 12 of the Chase.  This season Bowman has posted three Top-5 efforts in five intermediate oval races and the average finish is checking in around a steady 11.4.  Those are not eye-popping numbers but they show that the Hendrick Motorsports driver has the ability to turn in Top-5 finishes on these style tracks.  Las Vegas Motor Speedway has rewarded this driver and team in recent outings.  Bowman has two Top-10 and four Top-15 finishes in his last five Vegas starts. 

Kurt Busch – The bad news is that Busch was eliminated from the Chase for the Cup after Bristol last weekend.  The good news is that he should squarely rebound at Las Vegas.  Busch won this event one year ago, and it turned around many years of struggles at this facility.  It was a truly impressive performance and it has propelled him into the intermediate ovals of 2021.  His last intermediate oval performance was a dominant victory at Atlanta this Summer.  It really seems to be all-or-nothing for the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet on these style ovals.  If Busch's recent Darlington effort is any measure of his potential, that sixth-place finish in early September should be a good gage of what to expect this Sunday night.

Tyler Reddick The young driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet didn't make the cut to advance in the playoffs after Bristol last week.  His 18th-place finish coupled with William Byron's third-place effort bounced him from the Chase for the Cup.  Still, he's been a consistent performer most of the season and certainly late this Summer.  Reddick has been razor sharp on these intermediate ovals in the second-half of the regular season.  Finishes of seventh-, ninth- and sixth-place have been his body of work at Kansas, Charlotte and Atlanta.  Those are great indicators of his potential at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Reddick has just three-career Cup Series starts at this track without much accomplishment to highlight.  However, that all changes this weekend for the driver of the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet.    

Ross Chastain – One of the hottest drivers in the series the last three events has been the surging Chastain.  His third-, seventh- and 14th-place efforts have climbed the No. 42 team three spots in the driver point standings.  Chastain was brilliant recently at Darlington navigating his team's Chevrolet to a third-place finish in the Cook Out Southern 500.  Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be a good track to keep his momentum rolling.  The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has cracked the Top 15 twice in five starts this season on similar-sized ovals.  However, we believe this driver and team's current momentum should not be overlooked.  We believe Chastain could be a Top-10 threat in the South Point 400.

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week 

Christopher Bell – Bell has had some big opportunities to impress the last several weeks with great tracks like Darlington and Bristol in the lineup.  However, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota has largely fell flat of late.  With just one Top-10 finish in his last six events, Bell has barely advanced into the Round of 12 in the Chase and stands on some shaky ground at Las Vegas this week.  The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has been a decent intermediate oval performer in 2021, but not overwhelming.  With two Top 10's in five starts and a 17.6 average finish, he's not been terrible but he's also not been very impressive.  Bell's three Cup Series starts at LVMS have netted one Top 10 and an inflated 21.3 average finish.  It's best to look past the No. 20 Toyota team this week.      

Aric Almirola – Almirola's playoff run came to an abrupt end at Bristol last weekend.  His 18th-place finish in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race was not good enough to push him through to the Round of 12.  It was his seventh consecutive race of failing to crack the Top 10 since his big win at Loudon in the late Summer.  Las Vegas Motor Speedway won't likely be a rebound opportunity for the No. 10 SHR team.  Almirola has had many struggles at this track over the years.  With just three Top 10's in 16 starts, he checks in at a lowly 19-percent Top-10 rate.  The average finish is an unacceptable 22.8 over his career.  Almirola's start here in March saw him make it 178 laps into the Pennzoil 400 before crashing and failing to finish that 400-mile Vegas race. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse labored hard to a 20th-place finish at Bristol this past week.  That's symbolic of his season in 2021.  The JTG Daugherty Racing veteran has just two Top 10's so far this season and is poised to finish outside the Top 20 in the driver standings if things don't change.  Las Vegas Motor Speedway has held very little success for the veteran driver over his nine-season career.  With just two Top 10's in 12 starts, Stenhouse checks in at a lowly 17-percent Top-10 rate.  His average finish is a subpar 19.3 at this intermediate oval.  Recent outings have been better, but Stenhouse's inconsistency at the Vegas track is undeniable.  It's best to keep the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet benched for this playoff race.         

Erik Jones – Jones rewarded fantasy racing players who were savvy enough to deploy him at Bristol last weekend with a strong eighth-place finish.  However, this will be a week to fade the driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet.  It has been tough going for this driver and team on the intermediate tracks in 2021.  With just one Top-10 finish, Jones is checking in at 19.8 average finish on these style tracks.  Last time out he registered a subpar 24th-place finish at Atlanta.  Las Vegas has been an oval of mixed results for the veteran driver.  Jones has just three Top 10's in eight-career starts (38-percent).  This is a week to bench the Richard Petty Motorsports driver in weekly lineup and salary cap leagues. 

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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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