The Frontstretch: Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Las Vegas Edition by Cami Starr and Mike Neff -- Wednesday March 7, 2007

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Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Las Vegas Edition

Cami Starr and Mike Neff · Wednesday March 7, 2007


After a long week off, it's time to dust off your keyboards and get back into the swing of things with your fantasy racing team. If you've suffered some bad luck this year, like I have, the off week gave you a chance to refocus and strategize to make up lost ground. If you had a good week at California, like Mike did, you may have been upset about losing your momentum while your Nextel Cup superstars took things South of The Border to race in Busch. But with this weekend's race at Las Vegas, the Cup series is back and the stage is set to take some gambles and watch them pay off big.

So, what drivers will help you win the jackpot and which ones will make you go bust at this newly renovated facility? Let's find out in this week's Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans:

Cami's Race Rewind:

Jimmie Johnson scored back-to-back Vegas wins by making a final turn pass on Matt Kenseth in last year's UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400. Kenseth was the dominant car of the day, hands down, leading 146 laps before Johnson was given a chance to catch him through the benefit of a late yellow flag. The race ended with a green-white-checkered finish after the caution waved for debris following contact between Denny Hamlin and Kenny Wallace. Johnson, who won his second race of the year, took advantage of the opportunity to blast past Kenseth and streak to the checkered just as time was running out. In the end, the No. 48 car led only one lap all day…but it was the most important one of all. Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon rounded out the Top 5 finishers.

Mike's Keys to the Race:

Vegas is a bit of a wild card this year. With a reconfigured race track, it’s going to be hard to guess who will run well based on past history. The only safe bet you can make is that the teams that historically run well at 1.5-mile tracks in general should do well at a facility now configured more like Atlanta or Charlotte. The Roush brigade, as well as the Hendrick and Childress teams, should also find their way up front again here. The advantage of the new variable banking at Vegas is that teams that are slightly off can search around and find a line that will make their cars run well. So, with that type of adjustability built in, teams with bad handling cars early have options to turn things around.

Mike's Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

Matt Kenseth is on a roll. He was poised for a third place finish at Daytona before the last lap wreck, and followed that up by dominating the weekend at California. Without Robbie Reiser on the pit box, the team is more focused then ever on performing well in order to make it through Robbie's suspension. So far, they’re doing an outstanding job; look for the No. 17 to have another great weekend.

Kevin Harvick was a flat tire away from possibly sweeping the first two races of the season. The RCR organization is hitting on all cylinders like they were last year; look for Harvick to have another strong run this weekend despite the veteran finishing just 11th in this race last year.

Sit ‘Em Down:

Despite a reasonable start, Joe Nemechek is still going through the growing pains of being with a new team. While he does run well from time to time on 1.5-mile tracks, he's been inconsistent at best, and while his organization boasts the championship points leader, Nemechek’s team hasn't been quite as hot. It's a good idea to wait a little while before giving them the nod to do well.

Ryan Newman is still struggling to run consistently. Replacing Matt Borland has set up the team to go through some adjustments, so it's a good idea to let the No. 12 team ride the pine until they prove that they can get themselves up front.

Roll the Dice:

Elliott Sadler is finally getting comfortable with his Evernham Motorsports team. The organization has run well on 1.5-mile tracks with Kasey Kahne, and Sadler has shown that he can run well with Kahne's setups on his cars. This could be a break out week for Sadler and the No. 19 team.

Cami's Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

After losing out on a probable win last week thanks to a mysterious debris caution, Jimmie Johnson will be fired up to get one this week. At least, that's what I am hoping for. But it's not just wishful thinking that has me picking Johnson for Vegas. He's won this race the past two seasons and has never finished worse than 16th in five Vegas starts. Coming off his first Top 5 of the year at California, the No. 48 team looks poised to make another big point jump with a solid run this weekend.

Speaking of solid runs, Jeff Burton is off to a hot start this season. With two Top 5 finishes, Burton is showing early on that last year's run wasn't a fluke. At Vegas, he has two wins and a total of six Top 10s in nine starts. Racing is often a game of momentum, and Burton and the No. 31 team certainly have it going in their favor right now.

Sit ‘Em Down:

Elliott Sadler started off the season well with a Top 10 run at Daytona, but then struggled at Fontana with an ill-handling race car and an untimely caution flag. The team isn't performing terribly, but there are a few things that have me questioning his performance for this week. Teammate Kasey Kahne suffered an engine failure at Fontana; while they aren't always contagious or a long-term problem, it is something to bear in mind this early in the year. Plus, Sadler's record at Vegas hasn't been all that impressive; he's recorded only one Top 10 in eight starts. He may not be awful this weekend, but there are better options to choose out there.

Another driver that has got off to a "decent" start but is one that I'd shy away from is Robby Gordon. Sitting 14th in points, Gordon has finishes of 15th and 21st this year but has earned those by being good…not great. While he did finish 12th at Vegas last year, he has four finishes of 30th or worse in the seven races he's run at the track. Again, there are better options out there to use than this one.

Roll the Dice:

He did me wrong last week, but I'm giving Casey Mears a chance to redeem himself this week. Last week at California he qualified well, but the team couldn't get the right adjustments made on the car and he finished four laps down in 31st place. But I try to be a forgiving person, and looking at Mears' record at Vegas, I feel confident he’ll put in that good finish I know is in him. In only four Vegas starts, he has three Top 10s, which gives Mears the third highest average finish among active drivers.

Trash Talk:

Mike: Nice choice with Johnson. He’s not off to the greatest start this year, but I think he’ll get healthy at Vegas.
Cami: He had a strong shot at winning at Fontana if not for that debris caution and problem on pit road. And with a 7.0 average finish at Vegas, I think he’s worth the gamble.
Mike: Well, that’s not much of a gamble there. Burton is strong here, too…I think the RCR bunch has it rolling again this year. That’s why I’m riding Harvick this week.
Cami: He’s another guy that could have easily won at California. I’m hoping the RCR wave continues, but I sure need the luck after last race’s mess. You had two of the Top 3, and my guys could barely finish. Nice job on Kenseth.
Mike: Thank you very much; I’m hoping he’ll go back-to-back this week. By the way, you really think Sadler is going to stink at Vegas? I think he’s got a real shot at running well.
Cami: They just seemed really off last week and couldn’t get it dialed in. Plus with Kahne’s engine problem, I’m a bit cautious. He might not be bad, but I think there are better choices out there.
Mike: I think he’s worth a roll of the dice, and since they’re in Vegas, I’m hoping to roll some box cars.
Cami: Well, sometimes you just have to call ‘em like you see ‘em. I’m hurting from last week’s early race tangle between McMurray and Riggs. It wasn’t even lap 10 before I knew I was in trouble last week. At least I’m still forgiving enough to give Mears one more chance to redeem himself.
Mike: Yeah, that was a rough one. I think Mears will break out eventually, but they’re still in the early stages. This could be his week though.
Cami: I’m hoping so…I’ll guess we’ll have to see how it pans out.


Season Averages:

Crank ‘em up- 32.5
Sit ‘em down- 16.75
Roll the Dice- 27.5

Crank ‘em up- 18.75
Sit ‘em down- 25
Roll the Dice- 37.5

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