NASCAR’s three-race West Coast swing kicks off at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend in what will be the most wagered race of the season. The difference between second place isn’t even close. The action wagered in the months leading up to the season-opening Daytona 500 two weeks ago will be more than quadrupled this week for Sunday’s Kobalt 400.
With over 100,000 visitors in town for the race, the sportsbooks amp up their wagering menu in a similar fashion as they do for the Super Bowl. Odds to win the race are the most popular bets, but you’ll be able to bet anything that’s in a race box score.
And I really do mean anything.
Try lap leaders, different drivers to lead a lap, cautions, finish position by several drivers, average speed or winners of the first two stages. You’ll be able to find everything around town at one of the many sportsbooks. At a lot of books that offer USFantasy Sports pari-mutuel wagering, you can even bet the drivers like horses with win-place-show, exactas and daily-doubles.
Before you go to the bet window and simply take your favorite drivers – the sportsbooks love that type of blind loyalty, we will get a final read on who the drivers to beat are during Saturday’s final practices, but there’s already data to go off of from last week’s Atlanta race.
While the layout and surface of Las Vegas’ sister track at Atlanta is vastly different, both are high-banked 1.5-mile tracks and require similar set-ups. Drivers who did well at Atlanta should be just as good this week. We got a glimpse of how the new low downforce package would run last season at Kentucky and Michigan and it was amazing to see drivers who did well then also look outstanding at Atlanta.
It’s not a coincidence that last year’s Kentucky winner, Brad Keselowski, won Sunday at Atlanta and that runner-up Kyle Larson won last year at Michigan with Keselowski finishing third. Kevin Harvick led the most laps at Kentucky, but finished ninth – just like he did Sunday at Atlanta, and was fifth at Michigan. Chase Elliott would finish third at Michigan and end up fifth at Atlanta. They all tie in together and have the new downforce package figured out the best.
Jimmie Johnson holds the Las Vegas track record with four wins, the last coming in 2010, but the seven-time Cup champ didn’t look very competitive during happy hour at Atlanta and ended up finishing 19th. Still, he’s finished sixth or better in four of the past five Vegas races and is to be respected.
Harvick won at Las Vegas in 2015 and he emphatically answered any questions some may have had about how Stewart Haas Racing’s transition from Chevrolet to Ford would go on its first crack on a 1.5-mile track, one week after teammate Kurt Busch gave the “thumbs-up” with a restrictor-plate package win in the Daytona 500.
Harvick looked just as good as ever leading a race-high 292 of 325 laps at Atlanta. In fact, he even had some of the same bad luck happen Sunday with a late speeding penalty that kept him from a sure win. He easily had the best car on the track, but it was the sixth straight time he’s led the most laps in a race and didn’t win.
Keselowski won at Las Vegas last year and also 2014. Joey Logano was runner-up last season to give Team Penske a 1-2 finish. Logano finished sixth at Atlanta last week and should be given serious consideration to grab his first win at Las Vegas where no one has a better average finish than him at 10.7 in seven starts. Johnson is second-best with a 10.9 average.
Matt Kenseth is a three-time Vegas winner, the last coming in 2013, and has a 12.9 average in 17 starts. He’s tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for most the Vegas starts. Junior has never won in Vegas, but should be someone to consider as well, due to looking very good in practice at Atlanta before a flat tire ruined his race day.
Martin Truex Jr. was runner-up at Vegas in 2015 and finished 11th last year, which was one of the few races on 1.5-mile tracks he didn’t lead a lap. He led the series with 883 laps led on 1.5-mile tracks in 2016. He was eighth at Atlanta last week and didn’t lead a lap.
Only five drivers led a lap at Atlanta and there were only nine lead changes. There were six cautions, including the two after the first two stages, which I found surprising because it seemed like every car was slipping as they made turns with the shorter spoiler on the new package.
I’m going to ride with Harvick to pick up the win in a race that is 100 miles shorter than last week – he would have won at Atlanta if it was a 400-miler. It will be a nice anniversary gift for wife Delana Harvick, as they got married in Las Vegas 16 years ago prior the Vegas NASCAR week. I hope to celebrate with them and cash a ticket.
One more thing to note that will be announced this week: Las Vegas will be getting a second Cup race, set to be during the Chase. Night race, I hope. The season finale in Las Vegas would be appropriate in my opinion.