Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, NV — February 23, 2020
Who says it never rains in the desert? A lingering storm on Saturday washed out NASCAR Cup qualifying and most of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race. The lineup for the Pennzoil 400 was set by the rule book, using 2019 owner points. Putting Cup series champion Kyle Busch(18) on the pole and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr.(19) on the front row next to him.
However, during pre-race inspections, Busch’s car was found to have a modification to its nose that did not meet NASCAR specs. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin(11), and Christopher Bell(95) were also penalized for the same infraction. All three cars were sent to the rear of the field.
Thankfully Ryan Newman was able to walk out of Halifax Health Medical Center just days after his horrific last-lap accident during the Daytona 500. Newman is not at the track this weekend, he did speak via video to the press in the media center. Recounting the damages he suffered, Newman said no internal injuries or broken bones occurred. He did suffer a head injury the doctors are continuing to treat. Ross Chastain(6) sits in for Newman today in the #6 car.
Last year’s winner, Joey Logano(22), has a fast car again this year and is one of the favorites today. Stages are 80/80/107 laps for a total of 400 miles with fuel mileage requiring a stop around the 60 lap mark.
Truex and Kevin Harvick(4) share the front row after penalties are served, with Harvick taking the lead into Turn 1. The yellow flag was displayed before the field could complete a lap. Daniel Suarez(96) lost power on the start and coasted across the starting line before dropping to the apron. It has been a tough start to the season for Suarez who lost his ride at Stewart-Hass racing to Cole Custer during the off-season. Suarez failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 and rejoins today’s race three laps down after finally getting his car to refire.
Due to the rains yesterday, NASCAR scheduled a “competition caution” after lap 25 for crews to check on tire wear and adjust on the cars. Everyone pitted with most teams taking four tires and a full tank of Sunoco Racing Fuel.
Harvick and Truex again battled for the lead on the restart from the competition caution. Restarts create bunched up racing and three-wide rows behind the leaders as drivers jockey for positions at the drop of the green. Harvick again prevailed as the Ford Mustangs are strong, the Blue Oval is holding down six of the top 10 spots on the field early in the race.
With 14 laps to go in Stage 1, Chase Elliott(9) ran down Harvick and passed for the lead. Elliott held on for the Stage win, Truex passed Harvick for 2nd, and Ross Chastain finished 10th in the Stage while subbing for Newman.
Stage 1 Results
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||9|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
On the restart, Harvick drove back to the front as again three-wide racing stacked up the field behind the leader. As the laps mount up, Harvick’s tires seem to go away quicker than Eliott and Truex. They both passed before the halfway point of the Stage.
Pit stops started at Lap 45, and after the field cycled through pit road the top 5 were Elliott, Truex, Blaney, William Byron(24), and Logano. Harvick fell back to 6th and Kyle Busch worked his way back to the top 10.
Christopher Bell(95) spun coming off Turn 2 and hit the backstretch wall bringing out the caution with just two laps left in the Stage. Locking down the Stage ending points as the green and white checkered flag waved along with the yellow flag.
Stage 2 Results
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||8|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
If racing three-wide was exciting, how about five-wide? With track position so important every position is valuable and the fight to pass widened out across the spacious asphalt of Vegas.
John Hunter Nemechek(38) spun and brought out the caution just after the restart. So they had to line up and do it again. Same thing, five wide. Truex got forced up into the wall and pushed his fenders into the tires. The right front let go and he slammed the wall damaging the entire right side of the car and the caution came out again. Effectively taking Truex out of the mix for the win.
Let’s try it again. This time everyone behaved themselves and its back to racing. With 80 laps to go and positions finally sorted out the top 5 ran as Harvick, Blaney, Logano, Elliott, and Johnson.
Harvick still suffering from tire fall-off, gives up the lead to Blaney with 66 laps to go. Three laps later Elliott bumps his way past Blaney to take the lead. Pit stops began with 59 laps to go, Aric Almirola(10) was the first to pit road opting to make the early stop and see if the fresh tires pay off. Elliott pitted from the lead along with Blaney at 50 to go.
With 47 laps to go, Elliott cut down a left rear tire and spun into Turn 1 clipping the wall with the right rear of his car. Three cars had yet to pit and they trapped the field one lap down. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47), Ryan Preece(37), and Nemechek were the leaders, the rest of the field had to take the wave around to get back on the same lap.
Inspection of Eliott’s tire revealed a broken valve stem was the reason for the tire going down. Something happened to Preece’s car during the pit stop, it stalled and the crew could not get it restarted. They ended up pushing the car to the garage.
Stenhouse and Nemechek led the pack to the green flag, but even with fresh tires, they could not hold onto the top spots. Logano, Harvick, and Blaney passed to pace the field. Elliott restarted one lap down.
With 30 laps to go, Fords led the way. Logano, Harvick, and Blaney made up the top 3. As Harvick’s tires again began to fall off, Blaney moved past into the 2nd spot with 18 laps to go.
Blaney closed the gap on Logano and passed him for the lead 13 laps from the finish. Logano tried to fight back but failed to get back past his teammate. Logano fell into the clutches of Alex Bowman(88) who moved to 2nd with 9 laps to the checkered flag. Last week Blaney pushed Newman to the lead and ultimately into trouble, and finished 2nd to Hamlin. With 6 laps left Newman’s replacement Ross Chastain spun bringing out the caution.
Blaney and Bowman pitted. Logano, Byron, Matt DiBenedetto(21), Stenhouse, Tyler Reddick(8), Austin Dillon(3), and Bubba Wallace(43) stayed out and will lead the field back to the green. Keselowski and Johnson will be the first drivers with fresh tires.
The green waves with two laps to go. Stenhouse pushes Logano to the lead and DiBenedetto works his way up to 2nd as they take the white flag. Behind them, cars bump and begin to spin. The yellow comes out and locks everyone’s finishing position as Logano coasts around to take the checkered flag. Another wild ending and fortunately no one ends up on their roof.
It’s early in the season, still getting off to a good start in the points can help build momentum.
|5||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||66||0|
|Playoff Cut Line|
|17||38||John Hunter Nemechek*||39||0|
|22||19||Martin Truex Jr.||33||0|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
Some interesting observations.
- Matt DiBenedetto sits 8th, Chris Buescher(17) 9th, and Bubba Wallace 10th
- Corey LaJoie(32) is 13th and Nemechek is 17th
- Keselowski is 18th, Kyle Busch 21st, and Truex 22nd
- Kurt Busch is out of the top 25, he sits 29th after 2 races
Results of the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
|3||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||0.857||267|
|20||19||Martin Truex Jr.||9.945||267|
|24||38||John Hunter Nemechek||44.580||267|