Chasing Las Vegas

·10 min read



The Round of 16 ended with a bang. Drivers continued to make mistakes and some of them were costly enough to eliminate them from the playoffs. With four drivers being dropped off the bottom of the grid and 27 points separating second from 12th in the standings, every position in every stage is going to be important.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the South Point 400 is an opportunity for the contenders to create a little separation to the cutline, so it will be important to roll off the hauler with an adjustable setup. Any driver who experiences problems will immediately feel the pressure with Talladega Superspeedway looming on the schedule next week.

If the four lowest-seeded drivers fail to earn stage points and finish outside of the top 10, they too will be in jeopardy heading to NASCAR’s biggest playoff wild card.

Projected to make the Championship

Kyle Larson (6 wins / 14 stage wins / 3,059 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +225
Power Ranking: 1 (4.96)
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 6.40
Talladega: 28.50
Charlotte Roval: 19.00

Dang, Larson is greedy. Adding six playoff bonus points to his total with last week’s Bristol race and stage win, he now has a 37-point cushion over fifth in the standings. There is a distinct possibility he could add more because he is the defending winner of Vegas’ Kobalt 400 this spring. Larson knows the best way to keep his momentum alive is to keep winning races.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 9 stage wins / 3,024 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +425
Power Ranking: 2 (5.00)
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 13.50
Talladega: 13.33
Charlotte Roval: 15.33

Hamlin is one of four drivers who swept the top 10 in the Round of 16. Better still, he added nine playoff bonus points to his tally with the Darlington win and four triumphs in stages. He finished second at Richmond. About the only thing that gives us pause is that he did not show a lot of strength last week at Bristol after he fell back in traffic. His ninth-place finish didn’t matter much, however, because he was already locked into the Round of 12.

Chase Elliott (2 wins / 3 stage wins / 3,021 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +750
Power Ranking: 3 (7.09)
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 18.33
Talladega: 17.83
Charlotte Roval: 2.67

Elliott continued to make mistakes in the third race of the playoffs. This time, he was caught speeding on pit road early enough that he could drive back to the front, but it is likely that another error in any of the next six races could prove costly to eliminate the No. 9 team. Equally troublesome is the nascent feud between him and Kevin Harvick. If Harvick gets eliminated during the Round of 8, Elliott could face an uphill battle to get all the way to the championship race.

Martin Truex Jr. (4 wins / 5 stage wins / 3,029 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +600
Power Ranking: 5 (9.35)
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 8.83
Talladega: 24.33
Charlotte Roval: 9.33

Truex’s seventh-place finish was almost as good as a win. Bristol has been one of his worst tracks during his career and his recent performances there have not been strong. In fact, that is only his second top-10 finish in the last 18 Bristol races. Now he gets to head to a 1.5-mile track. He has been one of the top performers on this course type for quite some time. He has five top-10s on this track type in six races this year, but only two of those were top-fives.

Projected to Advance to Round 3

Ryan Blaney (3 wins / 4 stage wins / 3,024 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1200
Power Ranking: 4 (7.90)
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 9.17
Talladega: 13.33
Charlotte Roval: 4.67

With the Talladega lottery ahead on the schedule, we are certainly not going to guarantee that any driver, (other than Larson), will have an easy path out of the Round of 12. But we can report that Blaney has the best average finish on the next three tracks combined during the past three years. Teammate Joey Logano has the second-best average and that speaks to the strength of Team Penske at Vegas and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 3,002 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1200
Power Ranking: 6 (10.10)
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 13.83
Talladega: 19.50
Charlotte Roval: 7.67

Harvick is frustrated and angry that he was denied the victory at Bristol. After running into Elliott in heavy traffic and cutting the tire of the No. 9, Harvick was the victim of retaliation. Elliott held slowed him down after returning to the track long enough to allow Larson to find his back bumper. Harvick cannot afford to think about getting even at the moment because he needs every stage and race position he can get during the next three events. With only two bonus points to his credit, he is the low hanging fruit.

Kyle Busch (2 wins / 5 stage wins / 3,022 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1000
Power Ranking: 7 (11.51)
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 8.83
Talladega: 22.00
Charlotte Roval: 33.00

It was with a high degree of confidence that we predicted Busch would challenge for the win at Bristol. We were very wrong. His stellar record on that track did not keep him from struggling from the drop of the green flag. He has an almost equally impressive record on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but until the green flag waves, no one really knows how Busch will perform.

Joey Logano (1 win / 5 stage wins / 3,013 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1000
Power Ranking: 9 (12.47)
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 6.33
Talladega: 17.00
Charlotte Roval: 7.33

The South Point 400 could be challenging for Logano. He finished ninth at Vegas this spring, but that is his only top-10 and one of just two top-15s he’s scored in six "cookie-cutter" races. In six races on this track type, he has an average finish of 17th and if that is how he performs this week, Talladega is going to be nerve racking.

Projected to Fail to Make the Round of 8

Christopher Bell (1 win / 0 stage wins / 3,005 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +2000
Power Ranking: 8 (12.43)
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 17.00
Talladega: 28.33
Charlotte Roval: 24.00

Bell was lucky that four drivers had more problems than he in the playoffs. For one brief, shining moment he finished third at Richmond and gave us some hope that he would become relevant in the playoffs. Bell’s 29th-place result last week cooled that enthusiasm. He has had periodic strong runs on 1.5-mile tracks, but over the past two years his average on this course type is 16.8. That would put him below the cutline with two races remaining in the round.

William Byron (1 win / 3 stage wins / 3,014 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +3000
Power Ranking: 12 (13.46)
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 19.17
Talladega: 15.17
Charlotte Roval: 15.33

Byron is the only driver who defied our prediction last week that he would not make the Round of 12. [https://www.nbcsportsedge.com/edge/article/chasing-cup/chasing-bristol] It took a third-place finish to get enough points to move forward and even then he barely squeaked by. His bad luck at Darlington and mediocre performance at Richmond shook our confidence and it was not quite restored with his Bristol success.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 2 stage wins / 3,008 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1600
Power Ranking: 16 (15.48)
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 7.00
Talladega: 17.17
Charlotte Roval: 18.00

Keselowski has been hit-or-miss on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this year. In six starts, he has two top-three finishes and a 10th. On the other side of the coin, he has an 11th and two results outside the top 15. With an average finish of about 12th, his performance could go either way. The good news is that one of his best "cookie-cutter" finishes this year came at Vegas when he was second to Larson.

Alex Bowman (3 wins / 0 stage wins / 3,015 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +2500
Power Ranking: 17 (16.03)
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Las Vegas: 13.50
Talladega: 21.83
Charlotte Roval: 4.67

Bowman and Byron stumbled during the Round of 16. Both drivers managed to make it past the first three races and Hendrick Motorsports has been strong on 1.5-mile tracks and road courses to provide a little hope they will continue to move forward. Until we clear Talladega, however, it is difficult to assess whether they will have to luck to clear the next hurdle.

Power
Rankings

Power
Avg.

|

Points
Standings

Points

PointsBet
Odds

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

|

Las
Vegas

Talladega

Charlotte
Roval

Projected Top 4

1

4.96

|

1

3,059

+225

Kyle Larson

6

14

|

6.40

28.50

19.00

2

5.00

|

3

3,024

+425

Denny Hamlin

1

9

|

13.50

13.33

15.33

3

7.09

|

6

3,021

+750

Chase Elliott

2

3

|

18.33

17.83

2.67

5

9.35

|

2

3,029

+600

Martin Truex Jr.

4

5

|

7.00

24.33

9.33

Projected to
Make Round of 8

4

7.90

|

4

3,024

+1200

Ryan Blaney

3

4

|

9.17

13.33

4.67

6

10.10

|

12

3,002

+1200

Kevin Harvick

0

0

|

13.83

19.50

7.67

7

11.51

|

5

3,022

+1000

Kyle Busch

2

5

|

8.83

22.00

33.00

9

12.47

|

9

3,013

+1000

Joey Logano

1

5

|

6.33

17.00

7.33

Projected to fail to
Make Round of 8

8

12.43

|

11

3,005

+2000

Christopher Bell

1

0

|

21.33

28.33

24.00

12

13.46

|

8

3,014

+3000

William Byron

1

3

|

19.17

15.17

15.33

16

15.48

|

10

3,008

+1600

Brad Keselowski

1

2

|

4.67

17.17

18.00

17

16.03

|

7

3,015

+2500

Alex Bowman

3

0

|

13.50

21.83

4.67

No Longer in
Playoff Contention

20

18.32

|

13

2,075

NA

Aric Almirola

1

0

|

17.00

11.50

16.33

10

13.05

|

14

2,075

NA

Tyler Reddick

0

3

|

26.00

11.33

12.00

15

14.87

|

15

2,071

NA

Kurt Busch

1

3

|

18.33

20.67

9.67

30

26.31

|

16

2,028

NA

Michael McDowell

1

0

|

26.17

23.67

20.67

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three years race total occasionally varies. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Power Rankings formula includes finishing results in the past 45 days as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.

Power Rankings After Bristol (paved)
Chasing Bristol
Chasing Richmond