Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Kobalt Tools 400
Despite some strong posturing by track owner Bruton Smith, Las Vegas Motor Speedway has remained a once-a-year stop on the Sprint Cup Series schedule. The site is labeled as a cookie-cutter due to its 1.5-mile length, but features a slightly different set of banking characteristics. The racing surface at LVMS was redesigned for the 2007 season, offering only four Cup races in which to analyze.
Since LVMS is the first test on an intermediate track, teams will learn quite a bit about that state of their 1.5-mile programs this week. In all, eight 1.5-mile tracks will host a total of 11 races this season. Owners will want to monitor the driver trends at these sites because success on intermediates is pivotal in both reality and fantasy.
Location: Clark County, Nev.
Drivers to keep an eye on
A blown engine early into the Daytona 500 left Harvick with the worst finish of his career, 42nd. A sharp contrast from year ago when he was easily the most consistent driver in the series with only one DNF. Any concerns over a potential fall from grace for RCR were swept aside last week at Phoenix International Raceway with Harvick's fourth-place finish. Over the last three starts at LVMS, Harvick has held an average running position of 10th or better with two top-five finishes, including a runner-up performance last year. Look for Happy to keep smiling while his owners make some easy money.
Over the last four starts at LVMS, Edwards has held an average running position of 10th or better with more than 85 percent of laps in the top 15, including a career-high 96.6 a year ago. Edwards claimed victory here in 2008 but has finished 17th and 12th in his last two spins. Despite some very solid runs, Lady Luck has not always been on his side. However, past performances indicate Edwards has all the ability to be position for a big haul when the pay window opens.
Vegas offers a chance of redemption for Biffle after what has been a rough start to 2011. Since 2008, he's held an average running position between seventh and ninth with over 85 percent of laps in the top 15 and cashed out with top-10 finish in each start. The Biff is something of a boom-or-bust driver, but risk-taking owners could hit very well hit the jackpot.
Since LVMS was redesigned for the 2007 season, Busch has held an average running position that has ranged between six to 12th. On two occasions he spent more than 93 percent of his laps running in the top 15. During that time, Rowdy has finished no worse than 15th, including a victory in 2009. Owners in leagues that reward qualifying efforts will certainly want the Nevada native in their lineup as he has won two poles in the last three attempts.
Dating back to 2005, Gordon has five finishes of sixth or better in seven starts at LVMS. Last year, Gordon dominated all day leading 219 of 267 laps with an average running position of first. Victory would escape him after of a late call for two tires left Gordon settling for third. Coming off an impressive win last week at Phoenix, Gordon and new crew chief Alan Gustafson are off to a great start. Expect another strong performance and the right calls this time around as the checkered flag nears.
Although his pair of Las Vegas wins came years before the track was remodeled, Burton has remained successful following the makeover. In fact, his average finish of 8.5 is tops among active drivers since 2007. Burton hasn't finished worse than 15th in that time with an average running position that has been between seventh and 11th. After an engine failure at Daytona and the big wreck at Phoenix, Burton needs a good finish in a bad way. Heading back to Sin City could be a blessing.
Well known as an ace on intermediate tracks, Kahne owns three straight finishes of 11th or better at LVMS. He did not exceed more than 60 percent of laps in the top 15 in any of those races but still posted decent average running position figures. Last week's sixth-place result at Phoenix was Kahne's best performance at the desert in a while. With his Red Bull wings already in place, Kahne is cleared for takeoff.
Despite getting wrecked at Daytona, Earnhardt matched a race-high average running position of ninth. At Phoenix, Earnhardt overcame a 35th-place starting position to record his first top-10 there since 2008, the same year Earnhardt finished as the Vegas runner-up. Among drivers that have competed in all four races since the changes to LVHS were completed, Earnhardt's 9.8 average finish ranks fifth. His average running position has been 11th or better in three of those events with more than 84 percent of laps in the top 15. Junior Nation should be on their collective feet once again.
Temper your expectations
After years of excelling primarily on flat tracks, Hamlin had several dominating performances on intermediate tracks in 2010. However, LVHS has remained a struggle. Since 2007, Hamlin has never held an average running position better than 15th despite a top-five and another top-10 in that time. The month of April contains three prime spots for Hamlin as he owns a minimum of two wins apiece at Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. Spring time is the right time when it comes to unveiling Hamlin.
Unlike his younger brother, this Nevada native has not had a pleasant homecoming in quite some time. Despite qualifying 10th or better, including winning the pole last year, the elder Busch owns an ugly average finish of 30.5 in four starts since 2007. Busch is best played at the 1.5-mile tracks with 24 degrees of corner banking: Texas, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Despite a hot start this season, the double deuce is wild in Vegas, and not in a good way.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
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