Here we go. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the South Point 400. It will take at least 267 laps around the 1.5-mile track to determine a winner for the first of three races in the Round of 16. Next year, the schedule will be altered and this race will be part of the Round of 12, so it will take on even greater importance.
We’ve got a lot to talk about with this one, so we won’t waste any time. Odds are on the right-hand side for desktop viewers and down below the comment box for mobile viewers.
New Kid on the Block
This is the newest NASCAR race. The first race was last year, as Loudon, New Hampshire lost its second date to Sin City. We’ve all lost a lot of things to Sin City, so we know what that’s like. As mentioned, this race will move back on the playoff schedule next year, but it is the first race of the playoffs for the second straight season.
This year’s race will also be run in primetime on Sunday night. With the three-hour time difference and the evening start on the East Coast, that means that this year’s race will be a bit different. Weather conditions will be changing over the course of the race, so pit crews and teams will have to take that into account.
The Sweet 16
The Round of 16 begins with the driver scores adjusted based on the playoff points that they accumulated throughout the season. Kyle Busch is first with 2045 points and he has a 15-point lead over Denny Hamlin. Martin Truex Jr. starts with 2,029 points, one better than both Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, who are tied for fourth and round out the top five.
Brad Keselowski, who won this race last year, is sixth with 2,024 points. Chase Elliott is seventh, six behind Keselowski, with Kurt Busch in eighth with 2,011 points. Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and Erik Jones are all tied for ninth with 2,005 points. Ryan Blaney is alone in 12th with 2,004 points. William Byron and Aric Almirola each managed one playoff point and sit in the bottom four with Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman, who both have zero playoff points.
Three races are in each round. The drivers with the four lowest scores will be eliminated, so that means that Byron, Almirola, Bowyer, and Newman have some work to do. It also means that the guys in the top seven are probably safe, as they all have at least 18 bonus points.
A win in any of these three races means automatic entry into the next round, which starts at Dover on October 6. These three races in the Round of 16 are interesting. Drivers will go from Las Vegas to Richmond to the Roval course in Charlotte.
Odds & Ends
There are betting odds on every NASCAR race, but doesn’t it just seem more fitting when there are odds for a race in Las Vegas? Vegas native Kyle Busch is the +450 favorite, with Keselowski and Harvick at +550, Logano at +660, and then Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Truex and Hamlin at +880. Everybody else is +1320 on down.
There are some drivers that need to try and make a move this week, so, in theory, there should be some betting value on Sunday and throughout the playoffs. Guys that run well on 1.5-mile tracks are only getting one in this set of races. Gaining some extra points is a big deal for drivers like Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, and even a lower price like Truex. Richmond is a short track and then there is the Roval. Guys that make waves on 1.5-milers need to do so.
The problem is that most of the 1.5-mile guys are at the top of the board with names like Busch, Keselowski, and Truex. Bowyer was fifth at Atlanta, second at Texas, and fifth in Kansas, so he has shown a propensity for running well on the bigger tracks, along with a fifth last week at Indianapolis. Still, those aren’t winning marks, they are just top-five finishes.
That means we’re probably looking at short prices, especially when you consider that the last seven winners at Las Vegas are Keselowski, Harvick, Keselowski, Truex, Harvick, Keselowski, and Logano.
In fact, the only drivers not in consideration for the championship to finish in the top 15 at Las Vegas in the spring race was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who has one of highest crash rates in NASCAR, so it’s safe to say he mostly got lucky.
With that in mind, who gets the nod? You have to like the recent form of Kevin Harvick. It took a while to get a win, but he has three in his last seven races and led the most laps in another race he did not win. The +550 price, the same number as Brad Keselowski, makes a lot of sense. I’d actually look at both guys over anybody else in the field.
If you wanted to take a little bit of a risk, a Bowyer top-five prop wouldn’t be bad. He’s +4400 to win, which feels like throwing money away, but Fords tend to run well at Las Vegas and he’s had some good 1.5-mile finishes over the last couple of years. Those props aren’t posted everywhere yet, but will be as the race approaches. Bowyer in some matchups against similarly-priced drivers would be good as well. At 5Dimes, specifically, he’s +235 for the highest finisher in a group with William Byron, Daniel Suarez, and Aric Almirola. That’s a strong bet.