Two races down, many more to go. It’s time to head to Vegas, baby, for the 2023 Pennzoil 400.
In terms of takeaways from last week’s race, I have only one primary thought: He’s ba-a-a-a-ck.
In every sport, there are moments when a veteran superstar suddenly begins putting on a masterclass in what made them so unbelievably amazing in the first place. At no point in 2022 did Kyle Busch look remotely as good as he has in the first two races of this season, and if you rewatch the Pala Casino 400, there are many moments where he does just that.
"Welcome to RCR, baby." Radioactive: Fontana. #RaceHub pic.twitter.com/h6PyKvOZXZ
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 28, 2023
So fine. He’s looked dominant in the first two races, and he has that feeling of someone out to prove a whole lot of people wrong. But can he do it again? Can he succeed at <checks notes> <clears throat> Vegas?
I dunno. Is he any good in his hometown? (He is.) Does he have minus odds to finish Top 5 this weekend? (He does.) Could he go on an absolute dominant tear a la Kyle Larson in 2021? (He might.)
Oh – and Ross Chastain also looks good and sits atop the Cup Series standings. Just thought I’d mention him because he’s my pick to win on Sunday.
Fantasy NASCAR: 2023 Pennzoil 400
Las Vegas Speedway is a 1.5-mile intermediate track with a D-shaped oval. It has progressive banking from nine degrees to 20 degrees on turns.
Here is a look at the drivers with better odds to cross the finish line first. These are the ones you might want to focus on first in season-long formats.
**Reminder that a perfect driver rating is 150.**
The Top Picks
Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota) Driver Rating 108.9
See what I did there? I made you think Busch would be my first choice, but Hamlin’s driver rating is impossible to ignore. In his last six races in Vegas, the No. 11 car has finished in the Top 5 four times and won once. In 22 career races, his average finish is 12.8. Hamlin finished sixth in Sonoma last week, and he looks poised to continue his quality racing at the 2023 Pennzoil 400.
Joey Logano (#22 Ford) Driver Rating 103.2
In 19 career races in Sin City, Logano has seven finishes in the Top 5 and has taken the checkered flag three times. His average start is 8.5. His average finish is also 8.5. He has finished in the Top 10 in both races this season. At this point, he seems like the safest guy to roster in DFS, and this may also be a good track to deploy him in season-long formats.
Kyle Busch (#8 Chevrolet) Driver Rating 100.3
When I first started watching NASCAR, it took me less than three laps to decide Busch was my mortal enemy, and I would cheer against him at all costs. I can feel that way and still roster him everywhere when he is racing like this, and you probably should, too. (Also, he has 11 finishes in the Top 5 in 23 races at Vegas, in case you wanted me to quantify it versus just offering anecdotes.)
Wouldn’t Bet Against Them
Kyle Larson (#5 Chevrolet) Driver Rating 103.1
Through the first two races, Larson had the best odds of winning at most sportsbooks, and he had a DNF at Daytona and finished 29th last week. Granted, his difficulty in Sonoma may have been identified pre-race had they been able to hold qualifiers. All the same, it remains hard to bet against him. With such a high driver rating and four Top 10 finishes in his last six races, Larson remains high on the list of possible winners at the 2023 Pennzoil 400.
Ryan Blaney (#12 Ford) Driver Rating 104.3
Blaney is in a very similar boat to Larson in terms of not knowing for sure what to expect from him nowadays. After finishing Top 10 at Daytona, he ended up 26th last week, and he has led only 17 laps total thus far. His Vegas stats are good; he has five finishes in the Top 5 in 13 career races. The only caveat is that his highest finish is… fifth. You can’t ignore his driver rating, but temper expectations all the same.
Ross Chastain (#1 Chevrolet) Driver Rating 87.6
I had Chastain in my season-long lineups last week and then took him out late Sunday morning. This is terrible fantasy etiquette, but it’s also a warning unto us all: Don’t bet against Chastain. He’ll be smashing watermelons before we know it and could do his first one at the 2023 Pennzoil 400.
The 2023 Pennzoil 400 Sleepers
Two drivers jump out at me as solid, lower-rostered fantasy options for this weekend.
Kevin Harvick (#4 Ford) Driver Rating 91.7
Harvick seems like a sleeper because he feels like a boring driver to roster. He has a completely average cost ($8,500 on FD) and seven Top 5 finishes in 27 career races here. Yet, there he is. Week in and week out, just floating in the Top 10, scoring movement points, and filling in the “safe” driver category on your roster. But he has also won here twice, and if we truly are in a Renaissance Era season, it would make sense for him to have another good showing this weekend.
Brad Keselowski (#6 Ford) Driver Rating 83.9
Much like Busch last week, Keselowski’s driver rating does not tell the whole story of his Las Vegas prowess. In 19 career races here, he has finished in the Top 5 eight times, but he also has three wins. He has zero DNFs, which is a stat I like to look at for veteran drivers when considering DFS lineups. His seventh-place finish last week has him climbing back into “Don’t forget about him” territory.
I’ll be back Sunday morning with my DFS picks and other thoughts regarding the 2023 Pennzoil 400. Between now and then, don’t hesitate to hit me up on Twitter at @thewonkypenguin with any questions, thoughts, or funny GIFs.