The 2023 NASCAR season is winding down. The playoffs head west to Las Vegas for the first race in the Round of 8. As always, trust the data but also trust your eyes. Here are the best bets for the NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is the final traditional intermediate track remaining on the calendar. It’s been almost a whole calendar year since the circuit circled the 1.5-mile oval in the desert. This race is capable of chaos, but like most intermediate-track races, it leans towards regular racing with chalky results.
Race Winner — South Point 400 at Las Vegas
William Byron +550
The playoff standings reset at Las Vegas. Byron is comfortably sitting on top of the leader board, but this is no time to rest on his laurels. In fact, if his 2023 achievements mean anything, then he’s the favorite at Las Vegas. Byron won the most recent intermediate-track race (Texas). He won at the quasi-intermediate tracks in Darlington and Phoenix in the spring. More importantly, Byron won at this very track back in March.
Kyle Larson +450
William Byron won at the intermediate tracks in Texas and Las Vegas. Kyle Larson led the second-most laps in both races. At Las Vegas in the spring, Larson was cruising to the win, but a caution on lap 264 of 271 cost him the win. At Texas, Larson led from lap 143 to lap 246. That was when he wrecked while battling for the lead on a restart. Larson has the talent, the car and the motivation. The track is in his pocket, too. Larson has one win, six podiums and nine top-10 finishes in the last 11 Las Vegas races.
Race Winner — South Point 400 at Las Vegas
Denny Hamlin +550
The Round of 12 was a sleepy round for Hamlin. He didn’t do much, but that wasn’t necessary. It was a survival round, and he survived Talladega and The Roval. The championship-less veteran should be wide awake and wired in Las Vegas. His car should be hooked up, too. Three of the eight remaining playoff drivers are Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. The Toyotas are fast (half of the remaining drivers are in Toyotas).
Reset the last round and zoom out. Hamlin has the second-best Dietrich Data score this season (a comprehensive statistic that measures every single lap). His 0.77 trails William Byron by a single hundredth of a point. Hamlin was nearly perfect with a 0.97 at Texas. He earned a 0.94 in the two intermediate-track races leading up to Texas (Darlington and Kansas). JGR has figured out the intermediate-track package. Bristol implemented the same package this season, and Hamlin won the Bristol night race.
Alex Bowman +3500
This pick is a little out there, but selecting only playoff drivers makes for poor copy. Time to spice it up. Bowman is extreme, but he’s not an insane spice. The taco’s taste is still present. This isn’t a long shot hot take that’s so insane that the seasoning sends someone to the urgent care.
Bowman drives for Hendrick, and those Chevys are fast. Bowman finished third at Las Vegas in the spring race, and he stole a win at Vegas in the spring of 2022. The crafty thief could snatch another this weekend. The playoff drivers have to be conservative in the first race of the Round of 8. That is especially true for the final laps of the race. The opposite is true for Bowman. As witnessed — and predicted — last week, the non-playoff drivers have an edge when chasing wins. They can forfeit points and gamble on winning. Unconventional pit strategies are in play for these drivers. A two-tire call at the end could turn this race on its head.
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