The NASCAR Cup Series travels across the country this week to begin round two of the playoffs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Usually the playoffs are filled with the 1.5-mile tracks but there are only three of them on the schedule this year. It has been a long time since the Cup Series competed in Sin City, but we should still be able to learn something from the Pennzoil 400. Here are my race notes from the last race at Las Vegas…
Race Rewind: Pennzoil 400 (2020)
Las Vegas 2020
– The Track: Qualifying was rained out so the field was set by the 2019 Owner’s Points. There was a competition caution on lap 25 because of the rain on Saturday. That caution mixed up the field and allowed some of the drivers who started in the back to gain some valuable track position. Goodyear brought a softer tire and it caused the tires to wear out fast in the race. There were 6 cautions in the race (not counting the competition caution and the Stage cautions). Stage 1 did not have any cautions for accidents or car failures. The only caution in Stage 2 occurred with 2 laps left in the Stage when Christopher Bell hit the wall. Most of the cautions accorded in the final Stage.
Ross Chastain spun out with 6 laps to go. That completely changed the finishing order of this race. Some cars stayed out on very old tires while other cars came in for fresh rubber.
– The 10 drivers who looked the best in the race: Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. (Until his pit road problems).
Stage / Race Results
|1. Chase Elliott||1. Chase Elliott||1. Joey Logano|
|2. Martin Truex Jr.||2. Ryan Blaney||2. Matt DiBenedetto|
|3. Kevin Harvick||3. Martin Truex Jr.||3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
|4. Ryan Blaney||4. William Byron||4. Austin Dillon|
|5. Joey Logano||5. Joey Logano||5. Jimmie Johnson|
|6. William Byron||6. Kevin Harvick||6. Bubba Wallace Jr.|
|7. Kyle Larson||7. Jimmie Johnson||7. Brad Keselowski|
|8. Alex Bowman||8. Kyle Larson||8. Kevin Harvick|
|9. Jimmie Johnson||9. Alex Bowman||9. Kyle Larson|
|10. Ross Chastain||10. Kyle Busch||10. Ty Dillon|
– Joey Logano started 5th and he took the early lead. He was passed by Kevin Harvick on lap 14. Logano was complaining that his car was too loose. Paul Wolfe worked on it and Logano gained spots after each stop. Logano had the best car at the top of the track. Logano took the lead with 37 laps left in the race. He held off runs from Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney to go to Victory Lane.
– Brad Keselowski was not as good as his teammates in the race. The average running position for the No. 2 car was 9.9. Keselowski came in with 55 laps left in the race to get fresh tires. The new rubber allowed Keselowski to run in the top 10 and finish 7th in the race.
– Matt DiBenedetto did not stand out as one of the top drivers in the race but the No. 21 team continued to work on their car and avoid mistakes to finish in the 2nd position. He really benefitted from the late caution from Ross Chastian.
– Kyle Busch was awarded the pole because the field was set by the Owner’s Points from 2019, but the No. 18 car had to start in the back since Busch wrecked his primary car in practice. It took until the end of Stage 2 before the No. 18 car showed signs of life. He never was fast enough to run in the top 5 though.
– Kevin Harvick started 2nd and he took the lead on lap 14. Harvick was able to lead 53 laps in Stage 1 before he was passed by Chase Elliott on lap 67. Harvick had the best car early in the run. He led a race-high 92 laps, but he could not hold off the cars with the long-run speed.
– Martin Truex Jr. had one of the best cars on the long runs. He spent most of his time in Stages 1 and Stage 2 running in the 2nd position. Truex came out of the pits 1st after the Stage 2 break but the team did not get all of the lug nuts tight so he had to come back to the pits. Truex fell from 1st to 22nd because of the mistake. He got into the wall on lap 177 and it crushed the right-side of his car. Truex finished 20th.
– Chase Elliott had the best car on the long runs. He started 10th and he slowly worked his way to the front. Elliott took the lead on lap 67 and won Stages 1 and 2. He led 70 laps in the race (2nd most behind Kevin Harvick). Elliott got a flat tire with 46 laps to go and hit the wall. It ruined what might have been a trip to Victory Lane.
– Ryan Blaney had one of the best cars at the top of the track. He spent most of Stage 1 and Stage 2 running in the top 5. Blaney took the lead to start the final Stage. Blaney led 19 laps in the race. Blaney had the 2nd best car at the end of the race. He pitted with 5 laps left and lost all of his track position. He may have won the race if his team did not decide to pit.
– Kyle Larson was really loose early in the race. Larson had a good car on the short run. Larson would gain 3-4 spots on the restarts and then lose them over the run. He still spent a lot of time running in the top 10. Matt Kenseth will be driving this car Sunday night.
– Alex Bowman started 12th and he spent a lot of time running in the top 10. He really liked the long-run speed that the No. 88 car had in the race. His car was a rocket in the final Stage. He used the high-line to pass a lot of the cars running in the top 10. He raced his way up to the 2nd spot with only 6 laps left in the race. The late caution allowed the cars with fresh tires to pass him on the final lap.
– Clint Bowyer was not happy with his car. They trimmed out the car so they would have speed. They thought the track would tighten up throughout the run and that was not the case. The car was “stupid loose” and Bowyer finished 12th.
– Denny Hamlin started in the back for failing inspection. He only went from 38th to 24th by the end of Stage 1. He complained about the car being too tight for most of the race. Hamlin gutted out the poor handling car for a 17th place finish.
– Aric Almirola looked like one of the best cars in practice but that speed did not transfer to the race. His average running position was 15.24. Almirola had a hard time running in the top 10 because his car was way too loose. He finished 21st.
– Jimmie Johnson started 18th and he was moving up to the top 10 until a slow pit stop dropped him to 22nd. Johnson was still able to drive through the field and finished 9th in Stage 1. He raced his way into the top 5 in Stage 2. Johnson had a fender rubbing a tire in the last Stage but it did not cause any damage. Johnson was able to hold onto to it for a 5th place finish.
– William Byron reported a vibration in Stage 1. The team said they did not get the lugs tight on the stop after the competition caution. Byron was able to manage the vibration and finish 6th in Stage 1. Byron was running in the 5th position with only 20 laps in the race. Ryan Blaney got into his fender on the last restart and caused both drivers to drop through the field. Byron finished 22nd. His car had top-10 speed all day.
– Austin Dillon started the race with a tight race car. They worked to loosen him up throughout the race and with 75 laps to go Dillon said, “It is nearly perfect now.” Dillon looked like one of the best drivers at the top of the track and he did a good job saving his tires for the end of the race. Dillon finished 4th.
– Ty Dillon had his normal race at Las Vegas. The track ranks as one of his best 1.5-mile tracks. Dillon had a 20.11 average running position in the race. The No. 13 was not in the conversation of good cars for most of the race but when the checkered flag was waived, Dillon was in the 10th spot.
– Ricky Stenhouse Jr. used fuel mileage to try and gain track position. When every other car pitted on lap 118 in Stage 2, Stenhouse stayed out and led 30 laps. The No. 47 team used the same strategy in the final Stage. Staying out on the old tires allowed Stenhouse to finish 3rd.
– Tyler Reddick tried to use the same strategy as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He stayed out in Stage 2 and was hoping to catch a caution. He was forced to pit on lap 137 and gave up all of the track position he gained. Reddick was the best rookie in the race. He started 25th and finished 18th.
– Christopher Bell did not have a good day. He spent most of his day running outside the top 20 and almost spun out on lap 112. Bell finally lost control of his car on lap 160 and smacked the wall. His car had a lot of damage. Bell finished 33rd.
– Cole Custer took his rookie lumps in the race. His average running position was 26.74. He had a hard time getting his car to run inside the top 20.
– Ross Chastain filled in for Ryan Newman. The car had all of Newman’s setups, but Chastain was able to run well in the race. He finished 10th in Stage 1 and the No. 6 ran most of the race in the top 15. Chastain spun out with 6 laps to go and it completely changed the finishing order of the race.
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