There are certain races on the NASCAR annual schedule that command more attention from the betting markets than others. Obviously, the Daytona 500 is king. However, the two events in which the Cup Series travels to Las Vegas each year are right up there as well. At VSiN, we take special interest in these two races because of the affiliation our friends at South Point Hotel & Casino have with the sport. They’ve been the title sponsor of the last five fall races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With that in mind, with the circuit coming to town this weekend for the Pennzoil 400, I figured it would be prudent to offer up an expanded betting preview for the event, including a more detailed breakdown of the key factors that go into my race simulation, as well as my early race predictions.
We are two races deep into the 2023 season, and so far, we have witnessed Ricky Stenhouse winning a wild Daytona 500 and Kyle Busch taking home the checkered flag at Fontana with his new team, RCR. Ross Chastain leads the points after two races with 92, followed closely by Joey Logano, just a point back. Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, and Daniel Suarez are also off to strong starts. However, perhaps the bigger story is the drivers who have struggled out of the gate and are already digging deep holes for themselves, thanks in large part to encountering trouble in each of the first two events. As of today, there are four drivers that were in the playoffs last year that are ranked 23rd or lower in the standings. The biggest name of the bunch is Kyle Larson (24th), but Austin Dillon (23rd), William Byron (29th), and Chase Briscoe (33rd) are also hungry and perhaps due for a good run at Las Vegas on Sunday. Interestingly, Larson is the projected winner on my initial simulation, while Byron is pegged to finish fourth.
Sunday’s race at LVMS will be the 31st in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series at the mile-and-a-half oval. The venue is considered one of the “cookie cutter” tracks on the circuit in that it is one of a handful of facilities that were introduced in the sport around the turn of the century that was 1.5 miles long and resembled the shape of a cookie cutter. Only a few others remain, namely Homestead-Miami, and Kansas Speedway, so if you’re looking at similar tracks and past races that might aid your handicapping this weekend, those two should be at the forefront. The drivers are scheduled to run 267 laps, and all kinds of factors besides raw speed can determine who visits Victory Lane, ranging from fuel strategy to avoiding trouble, to best adjusting to the changing track conditions throughout the race.
Racing conditions and what it takes to win at Las Vegas differ greatly from what we have seen over the first two races, as Daytona is always a crapshoot, and at Fontana, finding the right drafting partners and avoiding trouble is most important while handling and finding the quickest lanes around a very wide track. Being the first time at one of these 1.5-mile tracks in 2023, the practice and qualifying sessions on Saturday will be the first indication we have as to which drivers are getting around the quickest. Furthermore, my simulation model underscores practice speeds are the most important factor in projecting success at this venue.
Pennzoil 400 Race Statistical Breakdown
The two races at Las Vegas last season in the Next Gen car are probably the best evidence we have as to which teams and/or drivers might be best prepared to thrive this weekend. The spring race at LVMS in ’22 was won by Alex Bowman, although Ross Chastain had the best overall day by driver rating, generating a 128.3 on NASCAR’s analytical scale. William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Kyle Busch all earned grades of 106 or higher as well. In the fall race, Joey Logano took home the win, along with driver ratings honors, scoring 130.6. Chastain had another very good day, finishing second and earning a rating of 122.7. Ryan Blaney and Tyler Reddick also fared well.
Those two races play a big part in determining my “handicap” ratings for this week’s simulation. In fact, these are the top five drivers in TRACK RATINGS heading into Sunday’s race:
- Kyle Larson – 121.6
- Denny Hamlin – 116.8
- Kyle Busch – 108.7
- Ryan Blaney – 108.5
- Ross Chastain – 104.8
Perhaps not surprisingly, these five drivers make up most of the top on the To-Win Odds board at DraftKings as of Tuesday 3/1. Busch is the favorite at 600, followed by Larson at 700, Chastain and Joey Logano at 800, and Blaney & Hamlin at 1000. All five of these drivers should be expected to be in the hunt, assuming they show good speed in practice and qualifying.
My track DESIGNATION RATINGS are somewhat similar, with the top 5 looking like this:
- Kyle Larson – 121.3
- Alex Bowman – 112.2
- Ross Chastain – 108.4
- Christopher Bell – 103.1
- William Byron – 102
Larson and Chastain make second appearances on the top list for this week, and you’ll see shortly on my race picks that I expect both to be among the top finishers on Sunday.
In terms of my Recent Ratings, this is the top 5 heading into Las Vegas
- Ross Chastain – 102.7
- Joey Logano – 100.8
- Chase Elliott – 97.8
- Christopher Bell – 97.5
- Kyle Larson – 95.8
Again, we find a few of the usual suspects and most of the favorites for the Pennzoil 400.
Simulation Results/My Predictions
My initial simulation run on Tuesday prior to practice and qualifying on Saturday showed Kyle Larson as the predicted winner for Las Vegas, followed by Blaney, Logano, Byron, and Chastain.
Keep in mind that these early simulation results are based heavily on a model forecasting how well these drivers would run in practice and qualifying. For instance, the projections show Blaney expected to start 2nd on Sunday, behind Penske Racing teammate Austin Cindric. They also show the #12 Ford driver as obtaining the projected top practice speeds. Variations from those projections will have a huge impact on my final simulation, which will be posted Saturday following the lead-up activities at the track.
Drivers projected higher on simulation than usual: Byron (4), Cindric (12), Burton (24)
Drivers projected lower on simulation than usual: Elliott (9), Reddick (14), McDowell (29)
My initial Las Vegas predictions:
- Larson 2. Chastain 3. Blaney 4. Bell 5. Hamlin
Longshot driver(s): Bowman ( 2000)
Driver(s) to fade: Elliott ( 1000)
Las Vegas receives a Handicap-Ability Grade of B on my scale, meaning it ranks in the upper half of tracks in predictability using statistical models based upon past results.
As is always the case in Sin City, there will be plenty of wagering options to choose from for Sunday. To win odds, driver vs. driver matchups, over/under on finishing positions, and cross-sport props are among my favorites. Any serious wagering should probably wait until later in the week, however, after practice and qualifying sessions are completed.
That action kicks off Saturday with a practice session at 1:30 PM ET, then qualifying right after at 2:00 PM ET. Christopher Bell (spring) and Tyler Reddick (fall) took the poles last season. However, keep in mind that Kyle Busch is the only prior LVMS driver in 30 past races to win from the first starting spot, doing so in ’99. Since then, the average starting spot of the winner is 8.8, with 12 of the last 18 winners starting in the top 10. Martin Truex, in 2017, was the last driver to win here after pacing practice. The thrilling weekend wraps up Sunday with the waving of the green flag for the Pennzoil 400 scheduled for 3:30 PM ET.