South Point 400The green flag to NASCAR's 10-race Playoffs drops Sunday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile high-banked layout, one of four races in the Playoffs on 1.5-mile tracks and the eighth of 11 overall.
So far, six different drivers have won the seven previous races on them with only Brad Keselowski winning multiple times. Keselowski has three Cup wins at LVMS, which includes winning this race last season.
The one surprise among all the winners on 1.5s this season is that points-leader Kyle Busch isn’t one of them. He’s tied for the series lead with four wins and 13 top-fives, but his last win came in June 2 at Pocono meaning he’s gone winless in his last 12 Cup starts overall. He’s only won his home track once (2009) in his 16 starts.
“Yeah, Vegas always means a little bit more pressure – more pressure on myself – just because it’s the hometown and you want to win there,” Busch said. “Thankfully, I have won there and I’ve knocked that one off the list, but certainly you want to win there every year. I love Vegas, the atmosphere and everything going on around that place. We’ve run up front there the last couple of years, so I would like to get our M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Camry back in victory lane there. It’s always been a big race for us and the M&M’S Hazelnut Spread team, so I’m hoping we can bring home the win in my hometown.”
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook made Busch the 9/2 betting favorite (Bet $100 to win $450) based on his overall body of in 2019, which includes three wins using the race package with cars featuring aero ducts and engines producing 550 horsepower which is the same package that will be used this weekend. He’s also led the most laps in the last two races relative to what we’ll see in Sunday night’s South Point 400. The last race on a 1.5-mile track was at Kentucky Speedway on July 13 and he finished second after leading 76 laps. Two weeks ago he led 118 laps on Darlington Raceway’s high-banked 1.366-mile layout.
The last two spring dates at LVMS has seen Kyle Busch win the Truck Series race on Friday night then takes the checkers in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, but fail to win Sunday’s Cup race both times. Only one 2009 Cup win on his home track still baffles me.
What’s even more baffling to me is that Kurt Busch has no wins in any series on his home track. He’s had 19 Cup starts and has averaged a 21st-place finish. It is his worst statistical track in the series, and he’s probably had more laps on it than any driver from any series. He was racing on it as a teenager when the track first opened.
Despite all the negative data on his home track, I still made a bet on him at 25/1 odds because of how well Chip Ganassi Racing has been doing with this package. They’re dialed in. Kurt Busch won his only race of the season by outdueling his brother Kyle at Kentucky and two weeks ago at Darlington Raceway he led 94 laps and settled for seventh.
If you’ve been reading my weekly NASCAR piece over the years, you know I’m a sucker for a great feel-good story in NASCAR and Kurt Busch finally conquering his home track would be hard to top.
Storylines that could top it?
Okay, let’s try a few. How about Jimmie Johnson extending his track record to five wins in his first attempt of not being involved in the postseason. The seven-time champ hasn’t won since 2017 at Dover, a span of 85 races have passed. He’s got 50/1 odds to win Sunday.
Another great story would be Ryan Newman (100/1), the last driver to make the Playoffs, get his first win since 2017 and first Las Vegas win of his career in any series. The win would automatically put him into the next stage of 12 drivers regardless of what he does the next two weeks. We all root for the underdog, don’t we?
“We’re excited to have made it to this point and secure our well-earned spot in the playoffs," Newman said. “Now the plan is simple: go have fun and continue to put our best foot forward during this three-week stretch and the results will take care of themselves. We were able to test at Las Vegas back in the preseason with the new package, so we have some good notes heading into the weekend. We’re looking forward to the challenge in our Oscar Mayer Ford.”
I’ll root for Newman, but I didn’t bet on him if that tells you anything. A driver I did bet this week that I stand to make the most profit with is Kyle Larson, who like Newman and Johnson hasn’t won since 2017. He’s posted at 12/1 odds, and I didn’t feel like a sucker at all betting a guy who hasn’t won for so long. Usually, I’m the guy that says why should I bet on something to happen that doesn’t happen. Larson won an Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas last spring but doesn’t have any Cup wins in seven starts.
However, Larson has been runner-up at Las Vegas in two of his last four starts. It’s not a win, but it does show he knows how to navigate the track well. But my top reason for betting this week is the race package CGR has all figured out, the one that got his teammate Kurt Busch a win at Kentucky. Larson has top-fives in five of the last six races using this package (two runner-ups) and the race he didn’t at Indy last week he was going to have a sure top-five, maybe win, if he didn’t wreck.
The driver who worries me the most, the driver that can really mess up my Sunday night payday is Kevin Harvick who has been racing in all series at LVMS since it was built. He won a K&N Series Pro West race on it in 1998, has two Xfinity Series wins and also two in the Cup Series. He’s one of the hottest drivers on tour now winning all three of his races this season in his last seven starts.
“I think we’ve definitely made some strides in getting where we – closer to where we want to be,” Harvick said. “I think we still have some things that we have to work on at certain styles of racetracks. But this is survive-and-advance, and you don’t necessarily have to have the fastest car. We had the fastest car (at Indy), maybe not the best-handling car, but we survived, and really a day like that is a lot like how you’re going to have to approach every race in the playoffs.
“So we’ve been to Las Vegas, and it’s unbelievable how far things have advanced and changed, and I still feel like we’re learning a lot about this particular rules package at certain types of racetracks, and we’ve been changing things and working on things, and there’s a lot of little things that you put together to start the playoffs that you put through the manufacturing side and the engine side and the 100 other things that you put together, and you just have to execute at this point.”
Harvick finished fourth in the spring Vegas race (won by Joey Logano) and led a race-high 88 laps. He’s better now and my bet on him at 5/1 could basically have me breaking even on the day. One last thing about the longtime Harvick-Vegas connection. Las Vegas is also the place he and his wife Delana were married during NASCAR week in Vegas in 2001 after Harvick got promoted to the Cup Series.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:1) #42 Kyle Larson (12/1)
2) #1 Kurt Busch (25/1)
3) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (5/1)
5) #22 Joey Logano (6/1)
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