Cup Series: Garage Talk Notes for Las Vegas

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The rain soaked Daytona 500 is in the books and now the Cup Series travels to the west coast to play in Sin City. The first race after the Daytona 500 is usually the most unpredictable of the season because we do not truly know what progress each team has made over the offseason. The racing at Las Vegas last year had a lot of long green flag runs with a lot of passing. It should be a good race to watch. The Pennzoil 400 can be seen Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

 

Track Notes

The cars will run the same aero package that was run at Las Vegas last year. The cars will have the 550 HP engines, with the 2” splitter, 8” spoiler and aero ducts. It will be important to focus on the results at the intermediate tracks in 2019 for your picks and not what happened before that. The racing was changed dramatically at these tracks last year.

 

Stats from Two Races at Las Vegas in 2019

Diver Avg. Finish Laps Led Stage Points

Driver Rating

1. Kevin Harvick

3.0

135 35

131

2. Joey Logano

5.0

191 37

127.5

3. Martin Truex Jr.

4.5

32 25

111.5

4. Chase Elliott

6.5

12 14

106.8

5. Brad Keselowski

2.5

17 8

99.6

6. Aric Almirola

10.0

3 12

96.1

7. Kyle Busch

11.0

13 9

95.9

8. William Byron

11.5

27 9

95.2

9. Denny Hamlin

12.5

3 17

92.9

10. Kurt Busch

22.0

23 7

90.6

11. Kyle Larson

10.0

2 10

89.9

12. Alex Bowman

8.5

0 3

87.2

13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

16.0

5 3

85.3

14. Ryan Blaney

13.5

1 3

84.4

15. Austin Dillon

16.0

2 4

79.2

16. Jimmie Johnson

15.0

0 1

74.9

17. Clint Bowyer

19.5

1 0

72.7

18. Erik Jones

24.5

0 7

71.8

19. Ryan Newman

17.0

0 0

64.7

20. Chris Buescher

18.0

1 0

62.7

21. Matt DiBenedetto

21.0

9 0

60.1

22. Michael McDowell

27.0

16 0

52.8

23. Darrell Wallace Jr.

24.5

0 0

52.5

24. Ty Dillon

22.5

0 0

51.5

25. Ryan Preece

26.0

0 0

46.7

* Sorted by Driver Ranking

 

 

 Average DraftKings Points – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2019)

Driver AVG ST AVG FIN AVG Fast AVG

P D PTS

AVG

Fast PTS

AVG

 Led PTS

AVG

F PTS

AVG PTS

Joey Logano

16

5 31.5 +11.0 15.8 23.9 40.5

91.1

Martin Truex Jr 23.5 4.5 27 +19.0 13.5 4 41

77.5

Kevin Harvick

2 3 37.5 -1 18.8 16.9 41 75.6
Brad Keselowski 18.5 2.5 14 +16.0 7 2.1 41.5

66.6

Chase Elliott

10 6.5 22 +3.5 11 1.5 37.5 53.5
Kyle Busch 11.5 11 19 +0.5 9.5 1.6 33

44.6

William Byron

17 11.5 5.5 +5.5 2.8 3.4 32.5 44.1
Alex Bowman 15 8.5 4 +6.5 2 0 35.5

44

Aric Almirola

14.5 10 7 +4.5 3.5 0.4 34 42.4
Ryan Blaney 18 13.5 14.5 +4.5 7.3 0.1 30.5

42.4

Kyle Larson

11 10 8 +1.0 4 0.3 34 39.3
Chris Buescher 27.5 18 0.5 +9.5 0.3 0.1 26

35.9

Ryan Newman

23 17 1.5 +6.0 0.8 0 27 33.8
Denny Hamlin 7.5 12.5 6.5 -5 3.3 0.4 31.5

30.1

M. DiBenedetto

25.5 21 3 +4.5 1.5 1.1 23 30.1
Ricky Stenhouse 10 16 9 -6 4.5 0.6 28

27.1

Daniel Suarez

12 18.5 4 -6.5 2 5.1 25.5 26.1
Jimmie Johnson 9 15 3 -6 1.5 0 29

24.5

Kurt Busch

16.5 22 8 -5.5 4 2.9 22 23.4
Ty Dillon 20.5 22.5 4.5 -2 2.3 0 21.5

21.8

Darrell Wallace

26 24.5 1 +1.5 0.5 0 19.5 21.5
Erik Jones 22 24.5 8.5 -2.5 4.3 0 19.5

21.3

Austin Dillon

5.5 16 6 -10.5 3 0.3 28 20.8
Corey Lajoie 31.5 27.5 0 +4.0 0 0 16.5

20.5

JJ Yeley

36 32 1 +4.0 0.5 0 12 16.5
Parker Kligerman 32 31 3 +1.0 1.5 0 13

15.5

Ross Chastain

35 32 0.5 +3.0 0.3 0 12 15.3
Clint Bowyer 9 19.5 2 -10.5 1 0.1 24.5

15.1

Ryan Preece

20 26 0 -6 0 0 18 12
BJ McLeod 34.5 35 0 -0.5 0 0 9

8.5

Garrett Smithley

34 35 0 -1 0 0 9 8
Reed Sorenson 37 36.5 0 +0.5 0 0 7.5

8

Cody Ware

33 35 0 -2 0 0 9 7
Joey Gase 37.5 38 0 -0.5 0 0 6

5.5

M.  McDowell

13 27 0 -14 0 2 17

5

AVG F PTS = Average Finishing Position Points

AVG PTS = Average DraftKings Points Per Contest

 

 

Driver Notes

Chase Elliott: Team Chevy has a new chassis this year and the team thinks it will have a lot more down-force and be more competitive on the track. After a slow start to the 2019 season, the No. 9 car found speed in the playoffs. Elliott finished 2nd at Kansas and 4th at Las Vegas in the playoffs. Elliott liked his car. He said, “The backend is wagging but it is not as bad as these other cars out here.”

Jimmie Johnson: It is hard to believe but Johnson has not had a top-10 finish at Las Vegas since 2016 (five races). The No. 48 car was decent in the playoffs last year. Johnson finished 11th at Las Vegas, 10th at Kansas and 13th at Homestead. Johnson said, “The splitter is scrapping the track through turns 1 and 2.” Crew chief Cliff Daniels said, “That is an easy fix. Bring it in and we will fix it.” He went back out for final practice and went to the top of the speed chart.

Alex Bowman: Bowman was the most consistent car from the Hendrick Motorsports fleet at the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs last year. He finished 6th at Las Vegas, 11th at Kansas, 5th at Texas and 9th at Homestead. It was the first time Bowman finished in the top 10 in Sin City. After a long run Bowman said,

William Byron: Chad Knaus told Byron in final practice at Las Vegas last year, “Bring it in. I want to try one more thing.” Whatever he did to the car worked. Byron qualified 14th, score Stage points in both Stages, led six laps and finished seventh. Byron really liked his car when he ran by himself but it was tough to hold onto in traffic. Chad Knaus made some adjustments and Byron said, “We still need to work on getting over these bumps.”

Kyle Larson: Las Vegas ranks as the second-best 1.5-mile track for Larson (right behind Chicagoland Speedway). The No. 42 car really ran well in September in Sin City. Larson qualified 15th, scored 11 Stage points, led two laps and finished eighth. A late race pit penalty coast him a top-five finish. Larson made some long runs and said, “I could squeeze some more speed out of it but I am not sure how close you want me to the wall. I think it will be better to save that for Sunday.” The team agreed.

Kurt Busch: You would think the Las Vegas native would be better at his home track but he has had no luck in Sin City. Busch has a 25th-place average finishing position at Las Vegas (ranks 30th best in the Cup Series) and a 90.7 Driver Ranking (ranks 8th best in the Cup Series). The No. 1 car runs well but often finds trouble in the race. Busch was complaining about the rear sliding out from him. He said, “I have no control over it in the corners.”

Kevin Harvick: Harvick lead the Cup Series in Driver Ranking on the 1.5-mile tracks last year, had the best Driver Ranking from the two races at Las Vegas and he had the second best average finish at the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs last year. Harvick finished 2nd and 4th in the two races in Sin City in 2019 and he won one pole, led 135 laps and scored 35 Stage points. To say he was a good pick is an understatement. The No. 4 team was working on their long-run speed. That is what they always do. Harvick waited 10 minutes for the track to rubber up so his practice times were a bit slower than the drivers who went out early. Harvick was working on running different lanes.

Clint Bowyer: Bowyer struggled at Las Vegas last year. He won the pole for the September race but that was the only success he had at the track. The No. 14 car finished 14th in the March race and 25th in September. The No. 14 team unloaded with some speed. Bowyer was 6th fastest after his first run. He said, “I can run the middle and bottom pretty good. Just need a little more stability to run the top.” Bowyer was P2 at the time.

Cole Custer: Custer ran the No. 51 car for Rick Ware Racing at Las Vegas last year. He started 25th and finished 30th. His No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing car will have a lot more speed. Daniel Suarez finished 17th and 20th in his two races at Las Vegas in the No. 41 car last year. Can Custer have more success than Suarez? He won three consecutive poles, score Stage points in every Stage and had a 7.2 average finishing position in his five Xfinity Series races at the track. Custer spent a lot of time talking to Harvick before practice. Both the No. 4 and No. 41 cars had the same setup and ran nearly the same lap times.  

Aric Almirola: Almirola always starts off the season on a hot streak so it may be a good idea to use the No. 10 car in the spring. Almirola finished six consecutive races after the Daytona 500 last year in the top nine. That includes a 7th-place finish at Las Vegas. Almirola started practice with a car that was too free. They loosened up the No. 10 car and Almirola went to No. 3 on the speed chart. At the end of practice Almirola said, “Best car we have ever had here.”

Brad Keselowski: Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been one of the best tracks for Team Penske Racing. Keselowski has been outstanding at this track for a long time. He has finished 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 6th, 5th, 1st, 7th 1st and 3rd in his last nine trips to Sin City. The No. 2 car is almost a lock for a top-five finish Sunday. After a long run with his teammates, Keselowski said, “On a scale of 1-10 (1 being good), we went from a 6 or 7 to a 1 or 2 on the first 5 laps and then it is about a 3 after that. We are close.”

Joey Logano: Logano has had just as much success at Las Vegas as Brad Keselowski. Now he will run the race with Keselowski’s former crew chief, Paul Wolfe. Logano won this race last year. He followed it up with a dominating performance in September where the No. 22 car led 105 laps, score 19 Stage points but got shuffled back to a 9th-place finish. The No. 22 car started practice with the same setup that Logano spanked the field with last year. He went straight to the top of the speed chart.

Ryan Blaney: It should not surprise you that Blaney is another Team Penske driver who has had a lot of success at Las Vegas. He has finished three of his last four races in Sin City in the top 5. Blaney will be paired with the crew chief that won this race last year, Todd Gordon. He knows how to set up a car for this track so that should help Blaney Sunday. Blaney ran in a pack with his teammates and said, “I run better in front. There is a lot of turbulence that jacks up the car in traffic.” The team told his they can make it more stable.

Matt DiBenedetto: The Wood Brothers have a history of running well at Las Vegas with Paul Menard in the car. Will that translate into success with DiBenedetto? It should. DiBenedetto had the 17th-best average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs last year. That was better than Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman. It was also with an underfunded team (Leavine Family Racing). He should have more success with his new team this week. DiBendetto started with the same setup as the Team Penske cars and he went to No. 2 on the speed chart.

Kyle Busch: Busch is going to get a lot of track time this week since he will be running the Truck Series race. Busch usually performs well when he gets some extra time on the track to figure out tire wear. It is surprising that Busch has only been to Victory Lane once at his home track (2009). He finished 19th and 3rd in the two races in Sin City last year. Busch had a list of problems with his car. He said, “It drifts up the track in 1 and 2. The bump knocks the ass out of it. It has some stability in clean air but it gets ruined in traffic.” Adam Stevens told him, “Bring it in and we will fix it up.”

Erik Jones: Las Vegas ranks as the worst 1.-5-mile track for Jones. He has five Cup Series starts at the track and his average finishing position is 22.4. Last year he finished 36th and 13th in the two races. Jones made a long run and said, “I have way to much wheel in it through the corners. I have not been able to hold it wide open yet.”

Denny Hamlin: Hamlin said during his post Daytona 500 media tour, “I am excited to get to Las Vegas to see what we have. That has been one of our worst tracks so if we run well next Sunday, we should really be good all season. Hamlin finished 15th and 10th in his two races at the track last year. Hamlin was having problems with the bumps. He said, “The front is awesome but when I hit the bumps out of turn 1 it screws up the speed through the backstretch.”

Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. has been by far the best driver from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable at Las Vegas. He won the last race at the track in September and he finished 8th last March. How will the loss of crew chief Cole Pearn on top of the pit box affect this team? We will see Sunday. Truex made a short run and said the car was too bouncy. They made some changes and Truex made a long run. He said, “It is tick too tight, but not bad.” Jeff Gordon said during practice, “The No. 19 car does not have much takeoff speed but his car does not fall off at all. He can maintain speed better than anyone on the track.”

Christopher Bell: Bell will be making his first start in the Cup Series at Las Vegas Sunday. He had a lot of success at the track in the Xfinity Series. Bell finished 2nd, 13th, 4th and 2nd in his four races in the lower series at the track. It will be interesting to see how that success translates to the Cup Series. Bell talked a lot with Erik Jones before practice. Both cars had the same setup. Bell made a long run and he said, “The nose is bouncing on the track and making it a handful.”

Tyler Reddick: Reddick won the Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas last year. Reddick got some experience in a Richard Childress Racing car at a 1.5-mile track in the Cup Series last year. Reddick qualified 21st and finished 9th at Kansas last year. It will be interesting to see if this young driver can have this kind of success consistently in the Cup Series. It was no surprise that Reddick was the first car to run the top of the track. He really liked the way the car ran at the top. Reddick reported it was bouncy on the bottom.

Austin Dillon: Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been one of the best 1.5-mile tracks for Dillon. His average finishing position in his nine races at the track is 15th. Last year he finished 20th in March and 12th in September. The new Camaro ZL1 1LE chassis should be faster than what Team Chevy had in 2019. Dillon made a long run and said, “It is too free all around and flat in 1 and 2.”

Ty Dillon: The No. 13 team got off to a horrible start in 2019 and then they moved their entire shop to Welcome, North Carolina to be with Richard Childress Racing. This gave them access to the O.S.S. (Inspection Sytem) to ensure their cars had a good setup prior to arriving at the track. The team had more time to work with RCR and it could result in better finishes in 2020. Dillon was happy with his car. He said, “Wow… great job boys. It needs a little more stability on entry and a little more turn through the center but the best we have ever been here…fore sure.”

Chris Buescher: Buescher really exceeded expectations last year in the No. 37 car for JTG Duagherty Racing. He should be even better with his Roush Fenway Racing team. I am concerned about the RFR cars this week. The team had a lot going on with the accident involving Ryan Newman. It takes total focus to run well in the Cup Series. Will this affect Buescher this week? We will see. Buescher made some long runs and said. “It is way too loose on exit. I feel like it is going to spin out.”

Ross Chastain: Chastain will be filling in for Ryan Newman in the No. 6 car and this is a good chance to get a start from him in good equipment in your One & Done game or the Driver Group Game. Chastain won the Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas in 2018 so he knows his way around the track. Chastain made a lot of long runs and pit road practice. He wanted to get used to the car and get used to the pit signs. He really liked the car. Chastain had a tire go down in practice so the team changed the tires. This left the No. 6 team with one less set of tires than the other teams.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse had a lot of speed at Daytona and it will be interesting to see if the success continues Las Vegas. Chris Buescher was able to finish 13th and 18th in his two races at Las Vegas last year with the team Stenhouse will have this week. I expect similar results from Stenhouse. After a long run Stenhouse reported the car was bouncing all over the track. They made a shock adjustment and Stenhouse said, “It’s sporty.”

Ryan Preece: Preece was a lot better at the short tracks last year than he was on the 1.5-mile tracks. His average starting position at these races was 24.6 and his average finishing position was 23.9. There will be a lot more competition this season with Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick and John H. Nemechek all competing in the Cup Series. After a long run Preece said, “We are way too free.”

 

Favorites to win Sunday: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson

 

Good Sleeper Picks: Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman,  Jimmie Johnson, William Byron, Ross Chastain and John H. Nemechek

 

 

Pennzoil 400 Final Practice Speeds

 

Pennzoil 400 Final Practice 10-Lap Average Speed

 

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