Can Kevin Harvick repeat in Vegas Sunday?

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The NASCAR Cup Series comes roaring through Las Vegas this weekend for the 22nd straight year with the Pennzoil 400 and with it comes thousands of fans loaded with cash.

Not only make it the most bet race of the season in the sports books, but they also drop thousands of dollars elsewhere throughout the casino. NASCAR is good business in Las Vegas.

The fans love Las Vegas, the drivers and crews love it, and of course, the casinos love it because it’s another free roll of capitalizing on other people’s entertainment. The casinos don’t have to do anything except open the doors and the fans all show up.

Of course, the South Point actually sponsors the fall race and is heavily involved in the spring as well, but for the most part, it’s been a free roll for the casinos. Las Vegas or Fontana? Your choice.

But that’s the beauty of Las Vegas. The city is bigger than any event. It has more rooms and more entertainment. It has more of everything, which is why there are nights when the main arenas around town have Grammy winners playing at the same time or four college basketball tournaments happening at the same time of March as we’ll see in a couple of weeks. There’s enough to go around, and for the NASCAR teams, its actually a breath of fresh air because they can relax at dinner or at their hotel with their families with not a lot of people bothering them. They’re hidden within the Las Vegas sphere.

The main story coming in this week will be in regards to the new tapered spacer package which dropped horsepower from 750 to 550 to produce better competition. And I think they succeeded. 

What’s not to like about NASCAR’s new package? It’s only one race at Atlanta and while the speeds were about 6 mph slower than what the Cup cars ran in the same race last season, the racing was better. There was four wide racing at several points in Sunday’s event. It was harder for the leaders to get separation so the distance between first and 25th-place after 15 laps of green flag racing was much shorter.

The statistics between the two races don’t tell the full story because they actually look similar. Last season at Atlanta there was five cautions and 24 lead changes among eight drivers. On Sunday there was five cautions and 26 lead changes among nine drivers.

The big difference between the two races is that last year I didn’t think there was any juncture where Kevin Harvick wouldn’t win as he led 181 of the 325 laps. But Sunday we saw drama with about seven different drivers looking like they were taking control of the race and capable of winning. Brad Keselowski led just once, but it was for the final 33 laps with Martin Truex Jr. reeling him in.

The margin of victory at only .218 of a second. Harvick won by 2.690 seconds last season and was followed by two other Fords. Sunday saw a Ford win, Toyota finished second, and a Chevy finished third.

It’s just one race with the new package and hardly a large enough sample size to go all in with a strong opinion, but I’m all thumbs up so far and pumped for 2019 which looks to be a season of parity just as NASCAR and its competition committee had hoped for. 

The only difference from what we saw last week to what’s about to happen at Atlanta’s sister track in Las Vegas is the asphalt having more grip — likely fewer tire issues, and also aerodynamic ducts being used instead of the brake ducts NASCAR mandated for Atlanta. However, this week’s package was used in the Las Vegas testing four weeks ago.

So for handicapping purposes, we have one full race of results to go off of and three test sessions on the Las Vegas 1.5-mile layout to review. We can also mix in a little bit of past history because the same cast of characters seems to routinely do well in Las Vegas.

Keselowski has won three of the past six Las Vegas races, including the first fall race last season. One more win and he’ll tie Jimmie Johnson with four. Harvick won this race last season, giving him two of the past five wins. There are only five active drivers that can claim a win in Las Vegas and they’re all former Cup Series champions.

No driver sneaks up on a fluke win in Las Vegas. And the sports books rarely get fooled with odds paying out larger than 20-to-1. But if there were a year for a long shot to finally cash it would be 2019 with this new package where cases can be made for up to 20 drivers to win.

What the parity witnessed at Atlanta mean this week is that the odds to win on favorite should be raised and the longer shots shortened similar, but still a bit different, to what we saw in plate races. You should be able to get fair prices on the favorites which is the complete opposite to 2018 when the Big-3 of Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Truex Jr. forced books to drop their weekly odds on them to prices never seen so low collectively In NASCAR betting history.

But the new package has inspired some of us to bet drivers like Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, or Ryan Newman on a 1.5-mile track as opposed to last year when bettors were basically throwing their money away betting against the Big-3 who won nine of the 11 races on 1.5s. 

Having said all that, I’m going with Keselowski to win again and it’s not only because he’s been the dominant driver lately in Las Vegas, or because he won last week on Vegas’ sister track, but rather it’s more about what he did in the Las Vegas test running the same exact package we’ll see Sunday.

In the final two sessions, he ran the most laps in each and the No. 2 got better with each lap and some tinkering in the garages. In the final practice, he was fastest and I believe notes from those sessions produced his win last week at Atlanta, and maybe this Sunday.

I’m going to stick my neck out there on some long shot wagers such as the drivers I mentioned above, but as for the best chance of winning these five look to be it and the cream usually rises to the top in Vegas.

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