After an incredibly exciting weekend at Charlotte, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Sin City to kick off the round of eight! Last week, I didn’t have enough shares of AJ Allmendinger. In last week’s preview we did plug him into our player pool, and in true fashion, he claimed yet another win at the Charlotte Roval. He’s simply outstanding on road courses and gives Kaulig Racing a chance every week. This week we turn our attention to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The NASCAR playoff standings have been updated reflecting the most recent cuts. With four races left on the 2023 schedule, Vegas signals the final “cookie cutter” track. It’s a 1.5-mile intermediate tri-oval that has produced great racing. The NextGen car has thrived on this style of track. Let’s take a look at this week’s South Point 400 preview!
As mentioned at the top, Vegas is one of those basic 1.5-mile tri-ovals. We see these on the schedule similar to Kansas, Texas, and Charlotte. Even Kentucky, which came off the schedule a few years ago, had a similar layout. Nashville Superspeedway has the same layout but is slightly shorter. So it’s a popular track layout but this NextGen car produces great racing. Tire wear gradually comes into play more and more with each passing race at Vegas. Vegas does feature higher banking than some of the other tracks. It was last paved and re-configured in 2006. But the surface is getting older and this track operates with relative tire wear.
South Point 400 Preview: The Top Picks
William Byron (#24 Chevrolet)
Byron has a comfortable lead heading into the next round. There’s also some confidence heading into this race. Byron flat-out dominated this race in the Spring. He started second but led 176 laps on his way to a win. We’re also just a few weeks removed from his win at Texas and he finished second at Talladega and the Roval. Obviously, those tracks don’t compare to Vegas. But he has so much momentum that you have to feel good about his chances to win this race and qualify for the championship in Phoenix. In this intermediate package, Byron has a 50% top-five rate so there are few in this package better than him this year.
Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)
The only driver that has arguably been better in this package than Byron has been Hamlin. Hamlin won this race two years ago with four top-five finishes in his last six races at Las Vegas. Hamlin won Kansas in the Spring and had arguably the best car for the second Vegas race before he lost the lead due to a late caution. Prior to last week’s race, he had rattled off four straight top-five finishes. He won in this package at Bristol and Pocono. After a terrible showing at the Roval, I’m expecting a bounce-back effort for the 11-team.
Kyle Larson (#5 Chevrolet)
Perhaps we’re a week early here with Larson. Larson’s been solid on the intermediates in this package. Oftentimes, the speed hasn’t translated to consistent finishes. Overall, he’s had probably the third-best speed in this package and on these tracks this year. Larson was caught in a wreck in this race a year ago. However, in the other two Vegas races in the NextGen car, he finished as the runner-up. In his last 11 races at Vegas, he’s finished third or better in six of them. Everyone will be all over Larson for Homestead. Perhaps it’ll work in our favor to be a week early.
South Point 400 Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them
Martin Truex Jr. (#19 Toyota)
Above anything else, Truex is consistent. He’s finished between fourth and eighth across his last seven trips to Vegas. He’s finished eighth or better in 11 of his last 12 trips to this track and there are a pair of wins baked into that sample size as well. The playoffs have not been good to Truex. MTJ doesn’t even have a top 15 finish in the playoffs but he’s collected enough stage points to hang around and avoid elimination. This is a good spot for him to come through in the clutch and pull out another solid performance. The recent form could force DFS ownership down so I like the leverage.
Kyle Busch (#8 Chevrolet)
Busch was in a win-or-go-home situation last week. While he was eliminated from the playoffs, he still managed to finish third. It was a hell of an effort, but he’s had some disappointing results the last handful of races. But he still has three wins on the year. This is also considered Busch’s home track and he’s finished sixth or better in five of his last six trips to Sin City. He did grab a win earlier this year on a high speed, high tire wear track at Auto Club. We can call into question his overall motivation after being eliminated. However, he typically wants to put on a great performance at Vegas so he’s one we shouldn’t sleep on.
Bubba Wallace (#23 Toyota)
I’m in on Bubba as far as the preview goes. Once we see the practice data and starting order I could change my tune. In this race a year ago he actually led 29 laps and won the first stage, but then wrecked. This past Spring he finished fourth. Overall, we know he does do better on the intermediates and the Toyotas absolutely crush it on these tracks in terms of overall speed. They’ve dominated Kansas in the NextGen car and Vegas is a very close comparison. Bubba won at Kansas last Fall and even led over 100 laps before finishing third at Texas a few weeks ago. He’s not in the playoffs anymore, but he’s still alive for a strong performance.
South Point 400 Preview: The Sleepers
AJ Allmendinger (#16 Chevrolet)
Allmendinger was in the section above for last week’s race. This week he’s more of a sleeper. For starters, many won’t expect him to contend especially the week after winning at the Roval. But last week was a road course. He’s not a sleeper on a road course. But in this race a year ago he started P21 and finished top 10. Even in the Spring he started P23 and finished 18th. That’s not great but he didn’t go backward at least. He finished top 15 earlier this year at Kansas and Charlotte and was 13th earlier in the playoffs at a high tire wear intermediate like Darlington. He carries far less win equity than last week, but he’ll be affordable and can grab a top 15.
Alex Bowman (#48 Chevrolet)
Bowman appeared as a sleeper last week ahead of the Roval and he grabbed a solid top-10 finish. I’m perfectly fine going back to the well as a driver that likely isn’t going to be incredibly expensive. For starters, he does have a win here. Even better is that the win came in the Spring of 2022 in the NextGen car. This past Spring, he started P11 and finished third. Moreover, on comparable tracks this year, he’s finished top 12 at Charlotte, Kansas-2, and Texas. It hasn’t been a banner year for Bowman. Even dating back to last Fall he’s had two injuries that have cost him time in the car. But he shapes up well for this race and we can go back to him once again.
Erik Jones (#43 Chevrolet)
Jones is likely off everyone’s radar. He’s wrecked in two of his last three Vegas races but did finish eighth in this race a year ago. Even coming into this weekend, he wrecked at Texas and the Roval so there’s no momentum. But he’s had good performances in this package this year. He finished 10th at Darlington and third at Kansas to kick off the playoffs. A lot of the performance data indicates he arguably has had a top 15 car in terms of speed in this package. Ownership could be suppressed based on the recent results, but the round of 12 was odd. It had an awful track that produced terrible racing (Texas), then a superspeedway (Talladega), and then a road course at the Roval. This round could play to Jones’ strengths.