The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs will begin this Sunday with the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race will be covered by NBCSN beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET; the green flag is scheduled to fly at 7:16.
This 1.5-mile oval traditionally has been known for long green-flag runs. In the spring race this season, there were no cautions outside of two stage breaks. Last year’s fall race, however, was a bit of an outlier, racking up 12 total yellows on the day. But even then, the race went caution free in the first stage before both wrecks and aggression started piling up.
Las Vegas summers are also marked by heat and this year’s race will be no different. Unofficial NASCAR meteorologist Brian Neudorff has forecast the race time temperature at 102 degrees, making it one of the hottest races on record.
Keeping that in mind, your daily fantasy roster should focus on durable drivers who can stay on the lead lap during those scorching, long green-flag runs. Ford wheelmen should also be taken into account. Why? Las Vegas has traditionally been a blue oval town. 12 of 23 races at the track have ended with Fords in Cup Series victory lane, including each of the last three races.
FanDuel has put more emphasis on finishing position than other DFS sites. For this reason, it allows you to look at the entire field instead of just dominators and big movers.
Also, with only 0.1 points awarded for each lap led by a driver, the need for a dominator is less important when building a winning lineup. This 267-lap race will have a total of 26.7 points up for grabs in this category. Take note when building your roster and focus on mid-pack competitors who can climb up toward the front on race day.
Here is my team of five drivers for Sunday afternoon’s race….
ELITE TIER: $10,000 and up
Martin Truex Jr. ($13,200)
Career at Las Vegas: 15 starts, 1 win, 4 top fives, 7 top 10s
Average Finish at Las Vegas: 11.5
Stat of Note: Outside of finishing four laps down in 2009, Truex has completed every Cup lap at Las Vegas since 2006.
Truex is really the lone Toyota driver constantly able to contend with the Fords out in Las Vegas. Sure, Kyle Busch finished third in the spring race, but he also only led 13 laps and hasn’t actually won in his hometown since 2009. Busch is also $1,800 more expensive than Truex, which locks away a lot of solid mid-tier picks for your fantasy team. (Unless, of course, you decide to not have any top-tier Fords, which is not a wise decision to make this week.)
Truex remains a quality selection for your roster despite his end-of-regular-season slump (three straight races outside the top 10). His worst-case scenario for this week is probably 20th on the lead lap, all things considered, and it’ll likely end up far better than that.
Brad Keselowski ($13,000)
Career at Las Vegas: 12 starts, 3 wins, 6 top fives, 8 top 10s
Average Finish at Las Vegas: 12.3
Stat of Note: The Obama Administration was in its first term when Keselowski last finished outside of the top 7 at Las Vegas (2012).
Honestly, you can do well with either Joey Logano or Keselowski in this role. I went with Keselowski due to some slightly better consistency (8-for-8 on top 10s in his last eight starts). Also, he’ll be looking to rebound following a terrible wreck at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week.
Sometimes, an incident like that will mark the beginning of the end of a driver’s season. But Keselowski definitely seems like more of the type who will use it to light a fire under this No. 2 team. The defending race winner should have plenty of speed and track position in his quest to go back-to-back at LVMS.
ALL-STAR TIER: $6,000 – $9,999
Aric Almirola ($8,300)
Career at Las Vegas: 12 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 3 top 10s
Average Finish at Las Vegas: 22.9
Stat of Note: All three of Almirola’s top-10 finishes at Las Vegas have came in his last three starts there.
Almirola is another good pick based off the manufacturer he drives for. The No. 10 Ford wheelman has been solid recently out at Las Vegas, once one of his worst tracks. His seventh-place finish in the spring is particularly impressive considering he had to start 25th in a race that had just two cautions.
Almirola is an extremely solid roster selection considering his price and the fact he’s in a Ford. What’s more is that, unlike a fair amount of other drivers near this salary level, Almirola is in the postseason. Drivers in the playoffs typically step up their performance entering them relative to non-playoff drivers. That’s especially when they’re not entirely safe from elimination in the first round….
Ryan Newman ($7,800)
Career at Las Vegas: 20 starts, 0 wins, 4 top fives, 9 top 10s
Average Finish at Las Vegas: 15.9
Stat of Note: Outside of his current team, Newman has at least one top-five finish at Las Vegas with each organization he has raced for in Cup.
Last month, I invented a statistic called “The Pearson Grade”. Newman was by far the best driver, meaning he’s been very adept at finishing better than where he’s been running at for the balance of the race. Newman is also the master of the block, racing as hard as possible to stay on the lead lap no matter what the situation. That’ll serve him well here as he enters the postseason an underdog to advance into the next round.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,500)
Career at Las Vegas: 8 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 1 top 10
Average Finish at Las Vegas: 21.1
Stat of Note: Stenhouse’s finish of sixth at Las Vegas earlier this year is one of just two top-10 finishes on the year so far for the Mississippian.
Although he finished better at Charlotte Motor Speedway a couple of months later, arguably Stenhouse’s best race of the season came in the spring race here at Las Vegas. Stenhouse led five laps late in the going and even got a solid eight stage points out of the race, finishing sixth. He’d be an absolute bargain at this price if he can come close to that level of performance again.