The green flag drops on the opening round of the NASCAR Playoffs today from Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The South Point 400, the first of 3 races in Round 1, will be hotly contested as temperatures in Vegas are expected to reach 100 degrees by race time.
Byron, Michigan native Erik Jones(20) sits on the pole after posting a speed of 188.121 mph. Joey Logano(22) joins him on the front row. The first 11 qualifying positions were taken by playoff drivers. In total the title contenders filled 16 of the top 18 spots.
Jimmie Johnson(48) and Austin Dillon(3) start 17th and 18th. Two drivers who may not make it out of the first round. Alex Bowman(88), another suspected 1st round casualty, starts 9th.
A driver scoring a win in Round 1 automatically advances to Round 2. Expect that to be a significant factor in closing lap battles as Kyle Busch(18), Kevin Harvick(4) and Martin Truex Jr.(78) are expected to advance barring a total collapse in the round.
Playoff Points Standings
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||2035||4|
*Ford Fusion Drivers
Jones led the pack into turn one, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch ran him down and passed Jones who settled into third. Just prior to green flag pit stops beginning at lap 36, Harvick drove to the front. Truex Jr. was also hanging around the top 5, as the “Big 3” began to assert themselves.
Stages are 80, 80, and 107 laps for The South Point 400 with each segment requiring at least 1 pit stop. After 60 laps Truex Jr. took the lead. With 10 laps to go in Stage 1, the Big 3 were in the top 4.
Truex Jr. held on to win the Stage. Harvick finished second. Kyle Busch finished in 6th as Chase Elliott(9) passed him coming to the green/white checkered flag.
Stage 1 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
On lap 147 Harvick lost a right front tire and hit the Turn 1 wall. Erik Jones could not avoid him and ran into the back of Harvick’s car. Harvick had accumulated 50 playoff points going into this race. Jones just 5. It will put Jones in a difficult position with 2 races to go.
Brad Keselowski(2), going for his third win in a row, used fast pit stops to take and maintain the lead late in Stage 2. Kurt Busch(41), and Truex Jr. followed him across the line. If Keselowski can win the South Point 400, it will be the 500th win for Team Penske in all forms of motorsport.
Stage 2 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
The Final Stage
The intensity really cranked up in the final stage of the race. It was almost unreal the number of playoff contenders that encountered difficulty during the last 100 laps of the race.
On Lap 213 Chase Elliott could not avoid the car of Jamie McMurray(1) who spun directly in front of Elliott entering Turn 3. The resulting damage eliminated both cars from the race.
With 38 laps to go, Kyle Busch’s car turned sideways coming out of Turn 4 and slid towards the infield grass. Busch managed to somewhat straighten the car and keep the front splitter from being torn apart. He was able to continue after repairs on pit road by his crew.
With 24 laps to go Denny Hamlin lost control in almost the same spot as Kyle Busch. The difference, Hamlin slid sideways into the grass and completely destroyed the front end of the race car ending his day.
A caution for debris on the track with 9 laps to go bunched the field for a late restart. The tight racing for position triggered an incident that damaged Kurt Busch’s car and his chances at a top finish.
While all this was going on Keselowski battled Kyle Larson for the lead. The final restart came in a NASCAR Overtime shootout. Ultimately prevailing for his 3rd victory in a row Keselowski gave Roger Penske his 500th team win in dramatic fashion.
Hamlin and Jones are in the biggest danger. Point differentials of 19 and 20 points are a daunting task to overcome. Of course, if Saturday night at Richmond Raceway turns into a demolition derby like Las Vegas things will be wide open for the Roval at Charlotte.
Despite finishing 39th, Harvick sits in 4th position. He is 32 points above the cut line where Alex Bowman sits. Without the 50 playoff points earned during the regular season, Harvick would be 14th in the standings. In the company of Hamlin and Jones, 18 points below the cut line.
|Position||Driver||Points||Behind||Cut Line||Playoff Points|
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||2087||Leader||In||36|
Results of The South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
|3||78||Martin Truex Jr.||1.331||272|
|30||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-21||251|
Playoff Driver’s in Bold