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FANTASY: What Happens in Vegas...

Thursday, March 8, 2012
Barring the occasional mystery, trips to Las Vegas tend to follow a formula. Photo: The Hangover

Kobalt Tools 400 Fantasy Preview

Social media really put an end to the age-old phrase that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  Nowadays, what happens in Vegas will be posted to Facebook and uploaded to YouTube long before anyone begins to piece together a night of debauchery.

Not that it really has anything to do with predicting who will win the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, but I'm sure I can find a way to make my peeve of the week relevant.

See, while the social media craze has destroyed the secrets of the Desert Destination and worn off its once mysterious allure, we race fans don't need to be disappointed.  In the case of LVMS, it doesn't hold any weird secrets that are just now being revealed.  The 1.5-mile, D-shaped oval serves as one of the stereotypical "cookie-cutters" of the Sprint Cup Series.

That's not to suggest there's anything wrong with the track.  Like rolling the dice at a Vegas craps table, NASCAR races are inevitably some sort of mix of good and bad luck, combined with intelligence.  But, the cookie-cutter shape at least makes it more predictable for a struggling fantasy owner (and shamed "expert") to figure out which drivers should put up strong finishes.

One might even say, if s/he were really stretching for an analogy, that the predictable formula falls in line with the stereotypical trip to Vegas.  Sure, you might end up waking up on the living room floor with a missing tooth and Mike Tyson's tiger in your bathroom, but for the most part, you know what to expect.  Seriously?  I bet you can't find a single female Facebook friend that visited Vegas without posting a picture of her sitting beside the pool at 11 a.m. with oversized aviators, a smile that says "I can't believe I'm still partying" and a fruity drink with the caption: "Mimosas!!! :)"

It's tends to be predictable, and so do races on cookie cutter tracks.  (Did you follow that path of logic?  I know I barely did.)

Here are this week's Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing Start 'Em and Park 'Em suggestions for the week.

Strategy: If you didn't stay on what ended up being a winding, country road of logic above, I'll simplify it.  There are a certain core group of drivers that tend to do well on cookie cutter tracks, so stick to those drivers.  You're unlikely to make any huge gains on the competition, but like Kyle Busch, who gives away most Chases on tracks like these, you certainly can lose ground if you stray from the course.

A-List

Start

#11 Denny Hamlin - He's racing very well right now, and usually these cookie-cutters are good tracks on which to keep momentum going.  His 79.8 driver rating at LVMS isn't anything great, but Yahoo only scores at the end of the race.  He has four top-10s in six starts and a solid 11.7 average finish ranks third on the A-List (just below the following two drivers).

#48 Jimmie Johnson - Last week, I said to park him, but that was before I realized that Chad Knaus would remain on top of the pit box.  (Silly me for thinking that the appeals process would be timely...and upheld.)  Johnson's 116.4 driver rating is quite impressive at this track (second to only Jeff Gordon) and his 10.6 average finish tops the field.  Johnson won five-consecutive Chases thanks to dominating tracks just like this one.

#99 Carl Edwards - Edwards has two wins, including last year, in seven starts at LVMS.  His 11.0 average finish places him behind just Johnson and Jeff Burton.  His nickname unofficially went from "Cousin Carl" to "Consistent Carl" last year, and consistency is a great attribute to have on a track like this one.

Park

#18 Kyle Busch - If you read the Strategy, you'll realize I don't like Busch on the cookie cutters in general.  These races are won by sticking to a formula and Kyle's a guy that likes doing things his own way.  It's his home track, so he usually has incentive to do well and has won a race here, but an average 15.0 finish isn't anything special for the A-List.

B-List

Start

#5 Kasey Kahne - My intuition says that I should wait on Kahne to get rolling before using up his nine starts, as he should definitely be a B-List commodity with Hendrick Motorsports.  However, my intuition so far has landed me in 497th place out of 589 "Fans of NHMS" players.  He has four top-10s in eight starts and his two poles could be a nice appetizer of bonus points to start the week.

#16 Greg Biffle - The No. 16 team is putting everything together that fell apart last year.  "The Biff" now has two third-place finishes in the opening two races, and, as I said about Hamlin, cookie cutter tracks are great for helping you stay on a roll.

#31 Jeff Burton - Burton's 10.7 average finish at LVMS is second only to Johnson's 10.6.  It was too bad his engine overheated last week (especially since I played him), but he was putting up a good race before that.  Like Biffle, he seems to be revived after a tough 2011.

#55 Mark Martin - Any thoughts that Martin wouldn't be able to compete in a new third car out of Michael Waltrip Racing have gone by the wayside.  In fact, he looks better now than he has for Hendrick the past couple seasons.  He has 10 top-10s in 14 Las Vegas starts and an average finish of 13.0, so there's reason to believe he stays the course this weekend.

Park

#22 AJ Allmendinger - Like Kahne, he hasn't really seemed to have adapted to the new team yet.  He'll definitely be a good option once he gets going, but his best finish at LVMS is 19th, so don't expect a breakout in Nevada.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior has just five top-10s in 12 starts and an average finish of 16.8 at Vegas.  This would be a better week to look elsewhere, as you'll probably want to maximize all nine of his starts.

C-List

Start

#43 Aric Almirola - As Almirola continues to ascend his way to the top of the C-List, the question will be when to use one of his nine starts and when to park him for someone comparable.  The good news is that you should be able to expect a respectable finish this weekend; the caution is that it's also an easier week to predict if another C-Lister might match him.

#47 Bobby Labonte - Labonte is an impressive 11th in the standings right now and has four top-fives in 14 LVMS starts.  This is as good of a weekend as any to take a chance on him.

Park

#34 David Ragan - Ragan couldn't do much about getting swept up in a Lap 2 wreck at Daytona, but he just didn't look like he could do much, period, in Phoenix.  It's unlikely he'll re-emerge as a C-List stud like 2011 and will probably end up as just another one of the Davids in the group (Blaney, Gilliland, Stremme, Reuitmann, none of them will command many starts).

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The picks in this blog are based around Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game and its standard scoring rules.  The preview is designed to provide suggestions, while still encouraging managers to make their own decisions.  Once sorted into Yahoo's A, B and C-Lists, they are organized based on car number and not directly associated with a rank value.

You can sign up and play for free, by visiting http://racing.fantasysports.yahoo.com.  If signed up, the "Fans of NHMS" group may be joined by clicking here.