Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, NV — March 6, 2022
The NASCAR Cup Series makes its first start of the year on a mile and a half speedway from Las Vegas in the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube. It will be interesting to see how the Next-Gen car performs on the mid-sized tracks that are a staple of the circuit.
Action-packed racing was the goal for the NASCAR Cup Series Next-Gen car and through the first two races of the 2022 season, it has passed the eye test. But what’s even more encouraging, is that the statistics are backing up the great on-track competition that the fans have come to expect at a NASCAR event.
The 2022 Daytona 500 produced 104 green flag passes for the lead, becoming just the fifth 500 to eclipse the 100 GFPL mark since the inception of the Loop Data statistic in 2007.
Auto Club Speedway also had some great action in race two of the series. The Wise Power 300 produced the third-most lead changes (32) in the NASCAR Cup Series at Auto Club Speedway all-time; behind 2014 (35) and 2008 (33). The race also tied the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series race for the sixth most green flag passes for the lead at Auto Club Speedway with 33 GFPL.
All eyes will be on the Hendrix teammates that feuded last week after a Kyle Larson block sent Chase Elliott into the wall and out of contention at Auto Club Speedway.
Inspection problems again send several cars to the rear of the field for the start today. Kevin Harvick, Elliott, Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland, and Josh Billicki all suffered multiple inspection failures and were relegated to the back of the pack to start the race.
After posting a win in the Daytona 500 and a 12th place finish at Fontana, Austin Cindric leads the Cup Series points standings. Team Penske’s Ford Mustangs hold three of the top four spots with Joey Logano in second and Ryan Blaney in fourth. The Fords of Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Chase Briscoe and Aric Almirola sit in the Top 10. Brad Keselowski, in his first year with Roush Fenway Keselowski racing, sits in 10th.
Joey Logano has two career victories at Las Vegas Motor Speedway(LVMS) and those wins have helped make the track his best statistically on the circuit. Logano sports an 8.8 average finish in 17 career starts, including ninth and 11th place finishes last season. 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 11 top-10 finishes at LVMS since joining the circuit in 2009.
Christopher Bell(20) won his first career cup pole and will start on the front row today. Tyler Reddick(8) was supposed to start beside him but had trouble with the steering system on his vehicle and after swapping out parts Reddick moved to the rear also. Larson takes his place on the front row.
Another contender, Kyle Busch(18), wrecked in practice and must start at the back after his crew made repairs by swapping components to a backup car
Stages for the 400 miles and 267 laps are 80/85/102 laps. NASCAR scheduled a competition caution for after 30 laps to give drivers and crews a chance to check tire wear. Bell led every one of them after the green flag dropped.
Ryan Blaney(12) and Denny Hamlin(11) beat Bell off pit road to lead the pack back to the green flag on the restart. But, Cole Custer(41) spun on the first lap when the race went green, bringing out the caution again.
Next restart, same story, only with Alex Bowman(48) on the front row next to Blaney. This time Austin Dillon(3) caused the caution getting into Justin Haley(31) as the cars entered the backstretch. Dillon checked up causing Kyle Busch to spin.
The Next-Gen car seems to be very slippery on low tire pressures that accompany tire changes on pit stops. Adding to the proverbial “cautions breed cautions” saying.
After getting past the first lap of a restart, on the third try to get back racing, Bowman, Blaney, and Hamlin staged a three-way battle for the lead. Hamlin prevailed while his teammate Martin Truex Jr. moved up to join the fight.
With 17 laps to go in the Stage, Reddick went around unassisted in Turn four bringing out the caution again. Everyone but Kurt Busch(45), Corey LaJoie(7), and Custer came to pit road to get fresh rubber for the sprint to the green and white checkered flag. The new Goodyears won out as William Byron(24) and Bowman quickly ate up the trio on older tires. Bowman passed his teammate for the Stage win as fresh tires took all 10 Stage ending bonus points.
Stage One Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Michael McDowell(34) and Brad Keselowski(2) sit at the point bringing the field back to green for the restart in Stage 2. McDowell did not pit and Keselowski only took two tires on his stop to gain the track position. They were able to hang with the front of the pack and Keselowski actually led for a few laps before being passed by Hamlin.
Just 13 laps in Chase Briscoe(14) was trying to avoid McDowell, whose tires had begun to fade. Briscoe got loose and tapped Daniel Suarez(99) who spun hitting the wall hard on the front stretch. Suarez exited the cockpit without serious injury, the car was not as lucky and had to be towed to the garage.
The two-tire strategy did not work out well for Keselowski as he lost traction and spun in Turn Four after just 23 laps of Stage Two. Unfortunately, Blaney got caught up in the incident and crushed the front of his race car badly, sending his Ford Mustang to the garage. Keselowski returned to the track, albeit two laps down to the field.
Ross Chastain(1), Larson, Kyle Busch, and Hamlin fought for the lead as Elliott lurked in fifth. Larson had a big bobble and almost lost it at the front of the pack, scrambling the running order as cars took evasive action.
Austin Cindric(2) and Briscoe both spun off Turn Four with 31 laps to go in the Stage bringing out the eighth caution of the race. The yellow allowed drivers to pit for fuel just prior to beginning green flag stops. Cindric lost a lap as a result of the incident and Briscoe had to take his ride to the garage.
Bell got caught in the spin cycle just a few laps later and the caution displayed again. With teams going through so many tires there were few takers on pit road. Racing resumed with 18 laps to go featuring Larson and Elliott on the front row for the restart. Chastain inserted himself between the two as laps wound down to under 10 to go.
Chastain, the driver from the first-year team of Trackhouse Racing, caught Larson and passed for the lead earning the group that bought out Chip Ganassi Racing their first-ever Stage win.
Stage Two Results
|6||19||Martin Truex Jr.||5|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Chastain held the lead off pit road after Stage ending pit stops. With the “choose rule” in play this weekend Kyle Busch joined him on the front row. The extra laps in the Final Stage could prove to be the difference depending on how teams manage their pit stops and the new tires they have remaining.
Low tire pressure spins could also impact the running order as drivers jockey for the ideal spot to carry them to the end of the race.
Busch hung with Chastain on the restart, they drove three laps side-by-side until Chastain finally pulled out front and reestablished the lead. As drivers settled into line, Elliott, Larson, and Martin Truex Jr.(19) rounded out the Top Five.
Green flag pit stops, the first of the day under full race speed conditions, began with 55 laps to go. Chastain pitted with 49 laps to go and most of the leaders followed him in. Before the cycle could be completed, Hamlin spun and stalled out on the apron of the track. NASCAR had to display the caution to push the #11 car back to pit road, apparently with transmission problems as Denny complained he had no gear in the car.
The caution was a big break for Kyle Larson who was caught speeding on pit road. He would have had to come down pit road and likely lost a lap to the field. Under caution, he will just have to start at the rear of the field.
Kyle Busch held the lead at the time the yellow came out, Chastain was second and they made up the front row when the race restarted with 41 laps to go. With Busch in the preferred starting position, he quickly pulled ahead of Chastain before the less experienced driver could mount a challenge for the top spot.
What is remarkable about the fact that Busch held the lead is the fact his car was essentially built from a backup chassis and parts taken off his primary car that was wrecked in Saturday’s practice session.
Truex worked his way into second as Chastain’s car seemed to be slightly off from the blistering pace he had set in leading 83 laps on the afternoon. With 20 laps to go Truex had reeled in Kyle Busch and for the third time in three races, it appeared teammates could battle it out for the win over the closing laps of the race.
Truex took the lead with 12 laps to go as he dove underneath the #18 car. Busch immediately crossed over and drove under Truex to recapture the lead. Truex continued to test the bottom of the track pulling up each time on the bumper of Busch as they exited the corners.
With three laps to go, Erik Jones was in position for another Top 10 finish when it appeared something broke in the suspension of his race car and he slammed the outside wall off Turn Four resulting in the 12th caution flag of the race.
All the leaders came to pit road to get fresh tires for the overtime restart. Larson, Bowman, and Byron took just two tires and exited pit road as the three leaders. Kyle Busch was fourth, Chastain fifth, and Treux sixth. The choose rule resulted in Larson and Bowman on row one, Busch and Byron on row two, Chastain and Truex on row three. They all raced side-by-side to the checkered flag where Bowman pulled ahead for the win.
|1||Kyle Larson||113||In Win|
|2||Austin Cindric*||103||In Win|
|3||Alex Bowman||80||In Win|
|4||Martin Truex Jr.||107||+38|
|NASCAR Playoff Cut Line|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||69||0|
*Ford Mustang Driver
Results of the Pennzoil 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway
|8||19||Martin Truex Jr.||0.887||274|
|21||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||7.079||274|