NASCAR Las Vegas Preview: Hotshots or Hot Seat

The NASCAR West Coast Swing begins this weekend as the series rolls into Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS).  The Pennzoil 400 race action on the 1.5-mile intermediate speedway will be televised on Fox at 12:30 p.m. PT, Sunday, March 4, so let’s set the table of who to watch, or watch out for.


Ryan Blaney (starts 1st): has finished in the top 7 in his last two starts at LVMS and starts on the pole for the Pennzoil 400.  Blaney has a strong 12.0 average finish last 12 races at 1.5-mile tracks dating back to 2017 season.  Moreover, Fords continue to show raw speed early in the season, sweeping the top 3 positions in Atlanta, as well as the top 3 qualifying spots at LVMS.

Kevin Harvick (starts 2nd): has three top 10 finishes in last five Las Vegas starts with Stewart-Haas Racing, including a 2015 win.  He has a career average finish of 14.2 in past ten LVMS races, including five top 10s.  Expanding to all recent intermediate tracks, he has ten straight top 10 finishes.

Martin Truex Jr (starts 4th): emerges ready to pick up where he left off last year with domination on the core intermediate tracks; Truex has nine straight top-5 finishes on the intermediates, with six wins.  Truex led 150 laps on his way to collecting the checkered at LVMS in 2017 and will surely be in the mix.

Kyle Larson (starts 5th): finished second last year at LVMS as one of four runner-up finishes at intermediate tracks in 2017.  Look for Larson to be bad fast, as he was quickest in preseason testing and runs right over the Vegas bumps with confidence, banking on his adept dirt track skills.

Brad Keselowski (starts 8th): has won twice in the past four years and has five straight top 10 finishes at LVMS.  At Atlanta, Keselowski finished second for his eighth top 10 in the last 12 races on intermediates tracks.  Keselowski participated in the preseason Las Vegas tryout and was third quickest in the sunrise session.

Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford, captured the pole for the Pennzoil 400 (Photo:Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Joey Logano (starts 10th): has four straight top-10 finishes at LVMS, as well as the best overall career average finish of 10.0 among active drivers.  Logano heads to Vegas with the energy of the being the points leader.  Although he has not yet won at LVMS, Logano should not be discounted.

Hot Seat

Jimmie Johnson (starts 14th): is riding a winless drought of 25 races, the longest of his Cup career (we should all be so fortunate).  Although Johnson has won four times at Las Vegas, all those checkered flags were collected in the prior decade.  Extending back to last season, Johnson has finished 27th or worse in last five races.  Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are searching for the right magic with the new Cup car, which is lighter and less powerful, as compared to when Johnson was dominant in the earlier years of his career.  Of course, LVMS is exactly the track where Johnson could break out and surprise the field, but the new Camaro body will likely take several more races to sort out.

Kurt Busch (starts 3rd): is a Las Vegas native, but LVMS has been anything but a hometown advantage.  Busch has a 25.0 career average finish over the past ten races (his sorriest of any track), with a best finish of 9th.  Busch admits that he feels the pressure when he comes back home to LVMS.  Sometimes a track gets control of a driver’s mindset; Busch needs to relax and let the race come to him, especially since the Fords appear to have the raw speed.

Clint Bowyer (starts 11th): is riding momentum into LVMS after finishing third last weekend at Atlanta.  That finish, combined with Bowyer’s 15th place at the Daytona 500, places him 5th in the early season standings.  However, he has an average finish of 21.0 over his past five races at LVMS.  Bowyer’s career winless streak has extended to 187 races, and his consistency from race to race makes him a sketchy bet for this fast 1.5-mile oval.


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