Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, NV — September 15, 2019
After all the hype, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs start tonight under the lights a Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Just 16 drivers in the 39 car field have a chance to claim the Championship. That number will be reduced to 12 after the first round concludes on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, September 29th.
Bet on the likelihood of one of those 16 drivers entering victory lane with the checkered flag in hand after 267 laps or 400 miles of racing. Stages at Vegas are 80/80/107 laps and Brad Keselowski(2) was last year’s winner. Whoever pulls off the victory tonight automatically advances to the next round.
One the Pole
Clint Bowyer(14) sits on the pole with a speed of 178.926 mph. It has been 431 races since the driver of the Stewart-Haas Ford Mustang started a race from the top spot. The always colorful Bowyer spoke about winning his first pole in 12 years. “Yeah, well, it used to be that you got a check. I don’t even think the pole pays anything anymore, I don’t know. I got a flag! I didn’t even get a beer. This is the Busch Light Pole Award and there was no Busch Beer out there.”
Daniel Suarez starts on the front row beside Bowyer. In a testament to the strength of Ford Performance, Stewart-Haas Racing swept the top four spots with Kevin Harvick(4) third and Aric Almirola(10) fourth.
Bowyer and Suarez raced side-by-side for the first lap with Bowyer edging ahead at the start-finish line. Suarez moved out in front after bumping Bowyer while side drafting. Behind the two leaders, the pack fanned out racing 4 and 5 wide.
Kyle Busch(18), the playoff point leader hit the wall on the backstretch 5 laps in. Noticeable damage brought him into the pits for a two-tire change and to straighten the fenders so thy would not rub the new tires. Busch lost two laps getting service in the pits.
The remainder of Stage 1 was relatively uneventful. Bowyer faded with an ill-handling race car. Still, the other three Stewart-Haas cars remained near the front. Pit stops shuffled the field and Joey Logano(22) worked his way from the 22nd starting position to the front and won the Stage driving away. Four Ford Mustangs led the field under the green and white checkered flag.
Stage 1 Results
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||3|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
Logano and Harvick led the field back to the green flag. After the wild restart position swapping concluded. Logano was at the point, with Harvick four seconds back.
Erik Jones, enjoying a solid run early, had shifting problems trying to get up to full speed. His crew was unable to address the problem on pit road and Jones took the car to the garage for a lengthy repair.
Just like last year, an issue in race one of the playoffs took Jones out of contention to advance to round two. It’s likely he will need a win in either of the next two races in order to stay in the championship hunt.
Logano led most of the Stage until the final laps. Martin Truex Jr.(19) closed to Logano’s bumper and made the pass as Joey got trapped by lapped traffic. The Stage win carries with it a playoff point in addition to the 10 Stage points. Driver’s are well aware of the importance of every single point, it could mean the difference between advancing and being eliminated at the end of a three-race playoff round.
Stage 2 Results
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||10|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
During Stage ending pit stops Kyle Larson’s(42) crew made a critical error. The crewman assigned to catch tires rolled to the pit wall extended too far and touched the pavement on pit road. They were penalized for too many men over the wall, sending Larson to the rear of the field for the restart.
The Final Stage
The restart for the final stage was crazy. William Byron(24) and Ryan Blaney(12) got together damaging the fenders on both cars. Tire smoke trailed from both cars. Byron’s tire blew bringing out the caution.
On the following restart virtually the same thing happened. Kurt Busch driving at the top of a four-wide scramble for position got pinched by Chase Elliott(9) and wrinkled a fender. Busch’s tire lasted for two laps and blew sending him into the wall. His car was damaged beyond repair and he became the first car out.
The caution for Kurt’s wreck allowed his brother Kyle Busch to un-lap himself from time spent in the pits repairing his issues when he brushed the wall early in the race. Joey Logano got into Daniel Suarez, damaging the front end of what had been the fastest car on the track. After leading 105 laps Logano was taken out of contention for the win as cars were slowing for a caution.
The action settled down on the next restart and Harvick went back into the lead. Truex, Brad Keselowski(2), Blaney, and Bowman made up the top 5.
Final Pit Stops
Green flag pit stops began with 37 laps to go. As cars came down pit road for service Matt DiBenedetto(95) inherited the lead. After losing his ride 2 weeks ago it was announced this past week that DiBenedetto would drive the Woods Brothers Ford Mustang in 2020 as current driver Paul Menard was retiring at the end of the year.
When pit stops cycled through, Harvick was back in the lead. Truex, Keselowski, Elliott, and Blaney followed. With 20 laps to go Truex passed Harvick for the top spot and began to open up a small margin. If the race stays green it’s unlikely anyone will catch Truex.
Truex held on for the win and automatically advances to the next round of the playoffs. Harvick finished second and gained enough points to almost assure advancement as well.
It was Truex first win since Sonoma in June. Harvick finished 2nd, Logano was able to salvage a 9th place and regular-season points champion Kyle Busch could only manage 19th as the handling on his car went away over the final laps.
The biggest loser after Vegas was Erik Jones, 26 points below the cut line is a tough gap to overcome. Kurt Busch’s last-place finish put him in elimination danger as well. Ryan Newman is only six points behind Aric Almirola who sits on the bubble.
Kyle Larson (+17), William Byron (+13), Ryan Blaney (+12), and Alex Bowman (+10) cannot afford a bad race next week at Richmond or the following week at Charlotte where the first cut of the playoffs will happen after the Roval.
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||2082||Advanced||35|
|Round 1 Cut Line|
Ford Mustang Drivers*
Results of the South Point 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||—||267|
|2||4||Kevin Harvick (P)||4.173||267|
|3||2||Brad Keselowski (P)||6.344||267|
|4||9||Chase Elliott (P)||6.600||267|
|5||12||Ryan Blaney (P)||9.086||267|
|6||88||Alex Bowman (P)||15.381||267|
|7||24||William Byron (P)||19.865||267|
|8||42||Kyle Larson (P)||24.531||267|
|9||22||Joey Logano (P)||24.839||267|
|10||6||Ryan Newman (P)||25.261||267|
|13||10||Aric Almirola (P)||29.577||267|
|15||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||30.256||267|
|19||18||Kyle Busch (P)||-1||266|
|25||14||Clint Bowyer (P)||-1||266|
|26||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-2||265|
|36||20||Erik Jones (P)||-13||254|
|39||1||Kurt Busch (P)||-80||187|
P = Playoff Driver