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Fantasy NASCAR Predictions: Las Vegas - Kobalt Tools 400 (Post Happy Hour, Post Qualifying)

[caption id="attachment_18137" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images"][/caption]

Redemption in Sin City for Kasey Kahne?

For the first time this season, we get to see the drivers of the Sprint Cup Series on one of the 'bread and butter' cookie-cutter tracks: Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Kasey Kahne grabbed the pole for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 on Friday, and the full starting lineup can be found by clicking here. Chances are you will see me mention average practice speeds or ten-lap averages a lot in this article, and in case you missed on those numbers, click here to see them and the recap of all the practice sessions this weekend. Also, don't forget to follow me on Twitter: @FanNASCARPredic.

Please Note: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Juan Montoya will all go to the back of the field to start the race on Sunday due to backup cars/engine changes.

Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The Kobalt Tools 400:


1. Kevin Harvick - Starts 3rd – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

Last year it was a rare event to see Harvick near the front of the average speed chart, but this season it's looking like it's becoming more likely to occur. We all know that when he starts up front, he's going to be a good pick, and right now he's my pick to win. I expect Harvick to lead a bunch of laps early and--as long as the team can keep up with adjustments all day--he should find victory lane. Kevin's never won at Las Vegas, but he did finish 2nd here in 2010, and in 2008 he finished 4th. If that little streak continues, we should at least see the #29 in the top five at the end of the race on Sunday. In the last two years, Harvick has been the fifth-best driver on the tri-oval tracks, posting eleven top 10s in nineteen races.

2. Tony Stewart - Starts 7th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

Smoke has posted eight top 10s in thirteen starts at Las Vegas--including a runner-up finish in this event last season--but he also has four finishes outside of the top 20 to go along with that. Still, the #14 Chevy looks great once again this week, and as long as he doesn't have to save fuel, I expect Stewart to have a solid top 5 day in Sin City on Sunday. Tony ended up 5th on the average speed chart and was 7th in terms of ten-lap average during Happy Hour. He will start the Kobalt Tools 400 in 7th, which is much better than his average start here, which is 14.8. Stewart's 355 laps led at this track is third-best in the series.

3. Kasey Kahne - Starts 1st – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

After last week, I'd use caution when picking Kasey Kahne this weekend, and I wouldn't go "all in" with him on every single roster. Still, the #5 Chevy looks--once again--like one of the best cars in the field, and starting from the pole doesn't hurt KK. These are generally the kinds of tracks that Kasey excels at, and he has been pretty good at Las Vegas in his career, with just two finishes worse than 11th. This is Kahne's third pole at this track. In the 2004 race, Kasey's rookie year, he led 43 laps before finishing 2nd. In 2007, Kahne started from the pole and led 13 laps but finished a disappointing 35th because of an accident. He hasn't finished worse than 14th here since that race. Kasey was 8th in terms of ten-lap average during Happy Hour and ended up 3rd on the overall average speed chart.

4. Jimmie Johnson - Starts at the rear of the field – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

Five Time's primary car was wicked fast (and would have been my pick to win). His backup car, though, is almost as fast as the first, although just a notch slower in my book. Still, Johnson should be a top 5 car in the Kobalt Tools 400. He owns the best average finish in Sin City (10.6) and Jimmie has visited victory lane four times in his ten starts here. His worst finish here is 29th, which came in 2008 when Johnson started 33rd. He posted the third-best ten-lap average in Happy Hour with this backup #48 Chevy and I have him as Medium Risk for the simple fact that he starts in the back. If there isn't an early wreck, though, Johnson should still be a great pick on Sunday.

5. Kyle Busch - Starts at the rear of the field – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

Again, Kyle is under Medium Risk because of his starting position. It's hard to pass here, so the #18 team will have to use pit strategy early and often I think. However, if this race goes green for long periods, it's going to be all on Rowdy, and there's no one else I'd rather have starting in the back. Kyle runs well here but sometimes doesn't get the finish he deserves (like last year when he blew an engine while running the top 5 for most of the day). His 2nd-place qualifying effort from Friday makes it five straight Las Vegas races where Busch have/should have started in the top 5. He won from the pole here in 2009 and Kyle has just two finishes outside of the top 15 in his eight career starts at this race track. He came out at the end of Happy Hour and posted the best ten-lap average in his backup #18 Toyota.

6. Matt Kenseth - Starts 11th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

I was really expecting a lot more out of Kenseth this weekend (and the entire Roush-Fenway stable, for that matter). He'll start in the sixth row on Sunday afternoon, which is a lot better than where he normally qualifies (average starting position of 17.7 in twelve starts). Matt has two victories here (in 2003 and 2004) and has just one finish outside of the top 20, which was in 2009 when Kenseth finished 43rd due to engine problems. Even though the Roushkateers are generally very low risk on the cookie cutter tracks, I'm putting Matt in the Medium Risk category this week due to the fact that he really didn't impress me in practice on Saturday. However, if this team tweaks the car right before the Kobalt Tools 400, expect a typical showing out of Matt Kenseth on Sunday in Las Vegas (average finish of 11.7).

7. Jeff Gordon - Starts 12th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

I'm giving Gordon the nod in 7th due to the fact that the Hendrick Chevys are all so fast this weekend and he has been good at Las Vegas over his career (six top 5s in fourteen starts). He was 9th in ten-lap average during Happy Hour and Gordon was 16th on the overall average speed chart, which is actually pretty good for him. Jeff has five finishes of 6th or better in the last seven races at Las Vegas, and as long as he doesn't run into any trouble during the race, I see no reason why he can't make it six of the last eight.

8. Mark Martin - Starts 13th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

I can't stress enough how good of a choice it is to pick the drivers with momentum early in a new season. Every year it seems like one or two drivers gets off to a hot start and is a great pick for the first month or so. Mark Martin is that driver right now. He had a great car in Phoenix last week and grabbed a second top 10 and the same is true for his car in Sin City this weekend. Mark was 2nd on the ten-lap average chart in Happy Hour and ranked 9th on the overall average speed chart. He's been consistent in his fourteen career starts at Vegas, with an average finish of 13.1, and he finished 4th here in the 2010 event. I don't think Martin will get a top 5 this weekend, but I don't see any reason why he won't go 3-for-3 in top 10s this season. This track type is typically where MWR excels, too.

9. Clint Bowyer - Starts 5th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

This is a weekend that I will call a "prove it" event for Clint Bowyer. He found success here with his old ride (four top 15s in six starts) and is on a streak of three straight. This 5th-place qualifying effort by Clint is by far his best at this track, and I'm expecting at least a top 10 out of him this weekend--if his team doesn't make a mistake.  His crew chief seems to think they have a top 3 car, though, right behind Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart (click here for that tweet). Clint, who is new to Twitter, also weighed in on his Toyota, saying, "ole girl is pretty quick!". He was 30th on the average speed chart but the #15 looked good to me, and they ran a limited number of laps (58) so that could explain the low ranking. Bowyer never made a run of ten consecutive laps in either practice session on Saturday, which is concerning a bit, but with the way this MWR stable looks this weekend, I have a feeling he was just experimenting all day.

10. Joey Logano - Starts 4th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

Sliced Bread has had a really consistent weekend and it looks like he'll start the season 3-for-3 in terms of top 10s. Joey continued his good qualifying efforts in Las Vegas up with his 8th-place speed on Friday (he'll start 4th, though), and before his 23rd here last season, Logano had good race efforts here as well: Joey finished 13th in his first start here and backed that up with a solid start-and-finish 6th place two years ago. The #20 ended up 6th on the ten-lap average chart in Happy Hour and was 7th on the same chart in the second practice. Joey was 22nd on the overall average speed chart but that doesn't worry me too much. As I said before, pick 'em while they're hot in the beginning of seasons.

11. Greg Biffle - Starts 9th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

I'm ranking The Biff this low and putting him in the Medium Risk category right now because of the possible engine problems that they found at the end of Happy Hour. I believe that the #16 is still a contender for a top 5, but it's a red flag when teams are uncertain whether or not they're going to switch engines. Biffle was 2nd on the average speed chart, but like many Roush-Fenway drivers, he ran a limited number of laps. If his engine lasts, expect Greg to give you at least a top 10 and maybe a top 5. His average finish at Las Vegas is 14.8, with five top 10s in eight career starts here. Biffle always has good cars in Sin City but sometimes he doesn't achieve the finishes to show for it.

12. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Starts 2nd – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

Dale Junior was really not on my radar at all going into this race weekend, but with this 4th-place qualifying effort and solid practice speeds, he's definitely caught my attention. Dale was 6th on the average speed chart, and with Kyle Busch going to the rear for an engine change, Earnhardt will start on the outside of the front row for Sunday's event. I'm not going to over-react and give him the win, though. He hasn't finished worse than 16th at Las Vegas since joining Hendrick Motorsports, and his best finish in that span was 2nd (in 2008). What worries me is that Junior hasn't had a driver rating better than 92.9 in the last three races, despite posting two top 10s as well as a qualifying effort of 4th two years ago. I'll give him a shot at a top 10, but it'd be surprise me to see the #88 anywhere near the front at the end of the Kobalt Tools 400.

13. Martin Truex, Jr. - Starts 6th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

The entire Michael Waltrip Racing stable is looking great (against my predictions) and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Truex get a second straight top 10 at Las Vegas on Sunday. However, we all know how he (and this team) is at finishing races, so I'm going to put Martin in 13th going into Sunday. Although Truex's practice speeds were nothing to be happy about (31st on the average speed chart), with how fast his teammates are, I don't think this team will have a problem tweeking things before the Kobalt Tools 400 to find some more speed in the #56 Toyota. In six career starts at Las Vegas, Martin Truex, Jr. has just one finish outside of the top 20.

14. Carl Edwards - Starts 21st – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**

At this ranking, Cousin Carl is going to be Low Risk for obvious reasons, but I don't understand where the speed is in the Roush-Fenway Fords this weekend. I don't doubt that Edwards and the #99 crew will be able to get him up front, but taking into account how his season has started, I'm not extremely confident in picking him until he gets a couple good runs under his belt. As you probably know, Carl won this race last season, and he's always one of the best on the cookie cutters. It will be interesting to see if Bob Osbourne is listed in the crew chief notes tomorrow morning and what he says about the car. The last time that Edwards started outside of the top 20 at Las Vegas, he finished 26th (in 2006). I wouldn't put too much stock in Carl's 4th-place ranking in the average speed chart.

15. Kurt Busch - Starts 8th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**

I'm sure the elder Busch brother will be gunning for a good finish in his hometown, and the #51 Chevy looks to have some power under the hood. He laid down the 6th-fastest lap in Happy Hour and Kurt ended up in 13th on the average speed chart. He'll start in the top 10, but I wouldn't expect a finish near there for Busch. A top 15 is definitely possible, though, as long as this pit crew is on top of their game on Sunday. Remember, Landon Cassill started and finished 12th at Michigan last year in this car. For obvious reasons, Kurt would be a risky pick on Sunday.

Special Note: I really think Aric Almirola could have a good run this weekend in Las Vegas. I understand that people want to save his starts in Yahoo!, but he has the chance of getting a top 10 this week with some luck, in my opinion. The #43 Ford looks fast, and remember he finished 4th at Homestead in 2010 while driving Kasey Kahne's old #9 ride. Another sleeper I'm looking at is the previour driver of that #43, A.J. Allmendinger. That team found something in Happy Hour and could steal a top 10.

Those To Avoid For The Kobalt Tools 400:


Juan Montoya - I'm not sure why you would want to pick JPM after he couldn't even complete a lap in practice without hitting the wall, but in case you saw his average speed rank, I'll go ahead and say it: avoid this guy like the plague. Before his 3rd-place run in this race last season, Montoya's best finish at Las Vegas was 19th in four starts. His team mate says he has a great car, but I don't see either of them having a good run on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin - I'm saying avoid Hamlin going into the race simply because I think that there are too many better picks than him this week. It wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Darian Grubb tweak this Toyota to a top 15 (or even top 10) car by the end of the 400 miles on Sunday, but I want my drivers to have some speed going into the race. Hamlin starts 17th on Sunday, and if he's really struggling early on, I could see him going down a lap early if there's a long green flag run to start the race. He was 19th out of 19 cars in Happy Hour in ten-lap average speed.

Ryan Newman - I just see nothing on paper that makes me think The Rocketman will be anything more than a top 20 (at best) car on Sunday. His average finish here is 17.6 and Newman posted just the 18th-best speed during qualifying, which will go down as the third-worst effort of his career in twelve attempts. He finished 5th here last season but that has been Ryan's only top 10 at Vegas since 2007. His 33rd-place ranking on the average speed chart is not very impressive. Newman was 16th in Happy Hour (out of 19 cars) in terms of ten-lap average.

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