We hoped to see a clearer picture after the Wise Power 400 last week in California, but that appears to have been wishful thinking. From the moment the cars hit the track until the final spin of the race with the checkers in sight, the Next Gen car proved to be unpredictable – and that impacts everyone's ability to handicap the race.
New cars have bugs. Things break and it takes a while to figure out where the weak links are. That is true for the designers of the parts and pieces as well as for the team. With each passing week, teams will figure out how to make this work and as they do, handicapping will become more accurate and predictable.
Bettors and players need to be a little patient, not only with the handicappers, but with themselves. In the coming months, NASCAR will visit two 1.5-mile tracks, a 1-mile flat track, a road course, two short tracks, and a dirt track before returning to the second superspeedway event at Talladega Superspeedway in late April. There are a lot or curve balls waiting to be pitched, so settle in and keep your eye on the ball.
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1. Kyle Larson
Larson can easily win back-to-back this week because he is the victor of the last two similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track races at Texas and Kansas in addition to his Auto Club win.
2. Ryan Blaney
Team Penske has had some ups and downs in the first couple of weeks, but Blaney ran well. Last year at Vegas, he was one of three drivers who swept the top five.
3. Denny Hamlin
In his first 17 attempts at Las Vegas, Hamlin scored only two top-10s. In the last three races, he's swept that mark and won the most recent race.
4. Chase Elliott
Elliott most likely feels as if he has something to prove. His mistake early at Auto Club put him deep in the pack, but he made his way to the front in time to battle for the win before getting blocked into the wall.
5. Kyle Busch
Last week in California, Busch may have been guilty of trying too hard. He spun early and it took a long time to recover, but he has 11 top-10s in his last 12 similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track races to recommend him.
6. Martin Truex, Jr.
This is a good time for Truex to rebound after tagging the wall last week in Auto Club. Six of his last nine Las Vegas attempts ended in top-fives with a pair of victories in 2017 and 2019.
7. Kevin Harvick
When Harvick crashed early in the week at Auto Club and rolled off from the back, our confidence was shaken. It took all race, but commentators finally said, "Where'd he come from?" at the end of 400 miles.
8. Austin Dillon
Dillon was one of several surprise contenders in the Wise Power 400. If he challenges for a top-10 this week, it won't be, however, because his worst effort on this track type last year ended in a 14th.
9. William Byron
He hasn't been flawless on 1.5-milers and one of Byron's worst finishes on them last year came at Vegas (18th), but seven of nine events ended in top-10s.
10. Joey Logano
We're going to be cautious regarding Logano this week because he had only two top-10s and no top-fives on "cookie-cutter" tracks last year.
11. Austin Cindric
Cindric made two starts on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks last year and finished 22nd at both Atlanta and Kansas.
12. Tyler Reddick
Reddick was on his way to a breakout performance last week at Auto Club until he cut a tire. His 1.5-mile record in 2021 showed six top-10s in nine starts, so hopefully he'll pick up where he left off.
13. Brad Keselowski
Just as his strong Daytona 500 run built momentum, an accident that was not of his making at Auto Club can stall it.
14. Chris Buescher
After scoring three consecutive top-10s in the middle of the season, Buescher earned only one more top-15 in his last four similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track starts.
15. Alex Bowman
Bowman was hit-or-miss on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks last year and after starting 2022 with a pair of mid-20s results, we are not entirely certain what to do with him.
16. Kurt Busch
When Busch brought his 'A' game to the 1.5-milers last year, he was solid and his single win came at Atlanta. He was all or nothing at Vegas, however, with a 19th and an eighth.
17. Christopher Bell
Bell ended 2021 on a high note on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks with three top-10s in his last four starts. Unfortunately, he was uneven enough at the start to warrant caution.
18. Daniel Suarez
Suarez was one of our dark horse picks for most of last week, but were still surprised to see him challenge Larson for the win in the closing laps of the Wise Power 400.
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19. Michael McDowell
No one will anchor a team with McDowell this week, but it will pay to note that only one of his 2021 1.5-mile results ended outside the top 25 and that was offset by a seventh at Homestead.
20. Chase Briscoe
He didn't earn any top-10s on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks last year, but Briscoe showed some promise with a worst result of 23rd and an average of about 19th.
21. Bubba Wallace
It will take a race or two before we know if a lesson was learned by Wallace at Auto Club last week after getting impatient in a tight pack of cars.
22. Daniel Hemric
While racing full-time in 2019, Hemric showed promise at Vegas with a pair of top-10 starts. He faded outside of the top 15 at the end, however.
23. Aric Almirola
Strictly by his 2021 numbers on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, Almirola should be a little lower in the rankings, but in his last full season he is performing a little better than expected.
24. Ross Chastain
Chastain was generally strong on 1.5-milers last year, but he was moderate at Vegas with a pair of 23rd-place results.
25. Erik Jones
Jones had a legitimate shot at winning the Wise Power 400 last week and should be watched closely in the mini-practice at Vegas. Still, his 1.5-mile efforts last year left a little to be desired.
26. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Stenhouse got off to a promising start on "cookie-cutter" tracks last year with top-15s in four of his five races; two of his last four ended in the 30s, however, and he should be considered a mid-pack pick.
27. Cole Custer
It seems like a long time since Custer won the 2020 Kentucky race and finished seventh in Kansas. In 12 races since, he's averaged a result of about 20th.
28. Harrison Burton
Promise unfulfilled: Burton's first two results with the Wood Brothers should have ended in finishes better than the 30s.
29. Ty Dillon
There is still not a lot to go on where Dillon and his new team are concerned, but last week's 17th-place effort at Auto Club suggests a direction for this team.
30. Todd Gilliland
Player and bettors can afford to be patient where Gilliland is concerned because there have been so many strong dark horses this year.
31. Corey LaJoie
He may not be the first driver who comes to mind on this track type, but in 2021 LaJoie earned two top-20s and another pair of top-25s on similarly-configured, 1.5-milers.
32. BJ McLeod
McLeod's best finish at Vegas came in 2018 when he was 28th. Since then, he's mostly been in the low-30s.
33. Justin Haley
Haley's first six attempts on 1.5-milers last year ended in top-30s with a best of 26th. His last three efforts were outside that mark, but this is a new team with a new outlook, so don't stop paying attention.
34. Garrett Smithley
Smithley made seven starts in nine similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track races last year with a best of 24th at Texas and an average of 31.3.
35. Cody Ware
All nine of Ware's similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track starts last year ended in the 30s, but keep an eye on this team regardless because they are making small steps of improvement.
36. Josh Bilicki
Drivers can surprise you in Modern Day NASCAR. Bilicki almost cracked the top 25 last fall at Texas, but his average finish on this track type in 2021 was in the mid-30s.
37. Greg Biffle
Biffle is listed as the driver of the No. 44 on NASCAR's entry list. Before leaving the series in 2017, he had two top-fives and six top-10s in 13 starts.
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