Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, NV — March 7, 2021
So far this year the NASCAR Cup Series has been dominated by the underdogs. Don’t expect that to continue today. The last 12 winners at Las Vegas Motor Speedway have been Cup Series Champions.
Kevin Harvick(4) sets on the pole today with last week’s surprise winner William Byron(24) starting beside him on the front row. Harvick could be the one to put an end to the unexpected winner cycle.
If you’re looking for a mover from mid-pack? Keep an eye on Joey Logano(22). He starts 15th today.
When you win back-to-back races at any track like Logano has done the past two years at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, you’re going to improve your career average. For Logano, those wins have helped make Las Vegas his best track on the circuit statistically as he sports an 8.4 average finish in 15 career starts. In fact, it’s the only track in which he’s made more than 10 career starts where his average finish is in single digits.
Besides his two victories, Logano has 6 top-5 and 10 top-10 finishes at LVMS since joining the circuit in 2009. He had his streak of nine consecutive top-10 efforts end the last time the series visited in September when he finished 14th.
Team Penske has had great success at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and will be looking to extend its years of winning at least one Cup race to four this weekend. Joey Logano is the two-time defending winner of Sunday’s scheduled Pennzoil 400 while teammate Brad Keselowski(2) has three wins at the 1.5-mile track since coming to Ford in 2013. Keselowski starts 10th, Ryan Blaney(12) 26th, and Matt DiBenedetto(21) goes off 30th for the Penske Fords.
Stages for today’s race are 80/80/107. The 267 laps make up 400.5 miles around the 1.5-mile speedway. Logano is the defending race champion, Kurt Busch(1) won here the last time the circuit visited in the fall of 2020. Weather is not expected to be a factor, although hazy, a high of 78 is expected for race day.
Harvick got a big push from Kyle Larson(5) on the start, but by the time they got to Turn 4, it was three-wide for the lead. Byron, who led the last lap at Homestead-Miami, led the first lap today at Vegas. The other two winners this year, Michael McDowell(34) and Christopher Bell(20) are in the Top 10 early.
At the 20 lap point of the race Chase Elliott(9) and Byron jockeyed for the lead with Elliott prevailing. NASCAR scheduled a competition caution for after 25 laps to give crews a chance to adjust on their race cars.
Elliott got trapped in his pit and lost valuable time backing out to escape. Larson was 1st off pit road, followed by Denny Hamlin(11), Martin Truex Jr.(19), Keselowski, and Elliott in 5th. Harvick got together with Erik Jones(43) on the restart causing damage to the #4 Ford Mustang’s left front fender causing a tire rub.
Harvick lost a lot of track position taking care of the tire. Fortunately, the caution came out again on Lap 45 for debris on the track and Harvick was able to pit for repairs. Most of the leaders came in for fresh tires with Larson remaining on the track. Tires were everything last week as the drop-off from fresh rubber was significant. It will be interesting to see how used rubber works in Vegas.
Bubba Wallace(23) stayed on pit road as the race restarted with his crew working on an engine oil leak. At the front, six drivers in two rows, three wide, diced for the lead. Logano ultimately came out on top, he had stayed on the track also making the used tires work.
With 19 laps to go in the Stage, Elliott returned to the top spot. Keselowski made a late charge and passed Elliott for the Stage win on the final lap. Truex edged ahead of Kurt Busch crossing the line to capture the last Stage point.
Stage 1 Results
|10||19||Martin Truex Jr.||1|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Back to racing, Hamlin was the leader off pit road. He was followed by Keselowski, Alex Bowman(48), Blaney, and DiBenedetto. The three Fords got together as Keselowski, Blaney, and DiBenedetto led the field.
Halfway through Stage 2, Larson was back out front. There have been 17 lead changes among eight drivers. With green flag pit stops coming up, that total will grow. When all stops were complete, Larson was the leader. He held on to capture the Stage win.
Stage 2 Results
|8||19||Martin Truex Jr.||3|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Larson led the field back to the restart and held the position until Hamlin returned to the top spot. Elliott got loose off Turn 2 and spun with just under 100 laps to go. He made some contact with Kurt Busch, but both cars were able to continue with minor repairs. Hamlin remained the leader on the restart.
With 87 laps to go, Aric Almirola(10) had a left front tire go down on his Ford Mustang and it shot him up into the Turn 1 wall bringing out the 6th caution of the day. As the intensity picks up every position is challenged, which likely means more yellows will occur in the closing laps.
A portion of the field chose to pit for fresh tires. However, another stop will be required to provide enough Sunoco Racing Fuel to finish out the 400 miles. Hamlin led Truex, Blaney, Byron, and Bell led the pack to the restart.
Truex won the heat race to the top spot, leading for the first time today. Keselowski, who did stop for tires, moved from 14 positions back in the pack to join the race for the lead as Hamlin moved back out front with a push from Larson. Byron and Bell remained in contention as DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch(18) and Jones rounded out the Top 10.
Larson grabbed the lead and drove out to the largest margin of the afternoon. Green flag pit stops began with just over 40 laps to go and Larson gave up the top spot to Daniel Suarez(99) as drivers were on different pit schedules.
Back out front with 30 laps remaining, Larson was never challenged. While not a real surprise, given that Larson has nine 2nd place finishes on 1.5-mile tracks. To grab the victory just 4 races in since joining Hendrick Motorsports, after serving an extended suspension, the win was extra sweet for Larson.
Keselowski finished 2nd, and Kyle Busch got his first Top 5 of the year coming in 3rd. Logano finished 9th. Michigan’s Erik Jones finished 10th for his 1st Top 10 of the year for Richard Petty Motorsports. Kevin Harvick ended up with a disappointing 20th place position after starting on the pole.
Playoff Points Standings
Four races, four winners. How long will that trend continue. Hamlin leads the points with Keselowski in 2nd.
|10||Martin Truex Jr.||131||+43|
|Playoff Cut Line|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||88||-2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Some notable exceptions from the Top 25 include Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto. Both were playoff drivers in 2020.
Next week the west coast swing concludes with a stop in Phoenix.
Results of the Penzoil 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway
|6||19||Martin Truex Jr.||12.471||267|
|11||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||28.561||267|