Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

After a thrilling race in Southern California last weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series will make the trip up Interstate 15 to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this week, with Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 marking the second leg of the West Coast swing.

Las Vegas began its life on the NASCAR circuit as a 1.5-mile oval with 12 degrees of banking in 1998, but following the 2006 running of the race, the track underwent a massive reconfiguration that saw progressive banking put in place with the new banking ranging from 18 to 20 degrees.

After baking in the Nevada sun for the past 15 years, the track surface has come into its own recently and will provide the drivers with yet another challenge when the green flag drops on Sunday.

The 1.5-mile tracks were the bread and butter of the Cup Series last year with the Next Gen car and this year should be more of the same, with Las Vegas suited well for the racing the new car provides.

Sunday’s race, however, will not feature a familiar face in the field, as it was announced on Friday evening that 2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott suffered a leg injury while snowboarding and will have to sit out the weekend after undergoing surgery. Xfinity Series regular Josh Berry will take over driving duties in Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet this weekend.

“Chase’s health is our primary concern,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “He’s spoken with several members of our team and is understandably disappointed to miss time in the car. Of course, he has our full support, and we’ll provide any resources he needs. We hope to share another update later this weekend.”

By the Numbers

What: Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 3 of 36

Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Las Vegas, Nevada (Opened: 1998; Reconfigured: 2007)

When: Sunday, March 5, 2023

TV/Radio: FOX, 3:30 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.5-mile D-shaped oval

Banking: 20 degrees in turns; 9 degrees on straightaways

Race Length: 267 laps, 400.5 miles

Stage Lengths: First stage – 80 laps, Second stage – 85 laps, Final stage – 102 laps

Pit Road Speed: 45 mph

Pace Car Speed: 55 mph

2022 Spring Winner: Alex Bowman – No. 48 Chevrolet (Started 13th, 16 laps led)

2022 Fall Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started fifth, 32 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch (196.328 mph, 27.505 seconds – 03/04/2016)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Las Vegas:

  1. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 103.2
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 101.4
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 100.8
  4. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 98.1
  5. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 97.7
  6. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 97.3
  7. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 96.2
  8. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 91.8
  9. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 90.1
  10. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 87.8

From the Driver’s Seat

“I don’t really put any extra emphasis on it to run well there,” Las Vegas native Kyle Busch said. “I’ve done that in years past and it’s always bit me because I’ve always tried too hard at the home track in order to win there and put too much emphasis on it that it gets me in trouble, so I just go in there and treat it like any other race just let the race kind of come to me. We work on the car and make it better throughout the day in order to be there at the end to be fast.

“I enjoy Vegas and it’s been a fun place over the years. I liked it a lot more when it was flatter but since it’s gotten some age on the banking track now it’s been pretty fun. You get to move around, and you can run all the way up to the wall and run that high line.

“Vegas is a place that I always feel like I’m close, you know, but it sucks because it’s like close but no cigar. It’s kind of frustrating with that just a little bit. I try to always run well there; do a good job and we have been able to do that. I just have been locked out of being able to win there.

“I feel like we had two wins there in the last two years that the finishes just turned into top-fives so that’s just a little frustrating. It’s nice to go to a track that you can run well and have confidence going into.”

Last Time at Las Vegas

Three laps.

That was all Ross Chastain needed to punch his ticket to the championship race last Fall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet was unable to hold off Joey Logano down the stretch and had to settle for a second-place finish in the South Point 400.

Chastain was quick all day long, starting from 11th place and leading on four different occasions for a race-high 68 laps led.

On the final restart with 16 laps to go, Chastain ascended to the lead over Chase Briscoe and pulled away to a lead of more than a second, but behind him, Logano was putting his fresher tires to use, slicing through traffic on his way toward the lead.

After taking over second place, Logano set his sights on Chastain, the win, and a berth in the Championship 4, but Chastain was not going to go down without a fight.

With six laps to go, Logano caught Chastain with a huge run down the frontstretch, but each time Logano tried to get around him, Chastain threw the block, but as they battled side-by-side through Turn 4 passing a lapped car heading to three laps to go, that was the opening Logano needed to eventually pass him and pull away for the win.

“We’re racing for a championship! Let’s go!” Logano shouted.

“Man, what a great car. Penske cars were all fast. All of them were really fast today. Oh, man, all you want to do is get to the Championship 4 when the season starts and race for a championship, and we’ve got the team to do it. I don’t see why we can’t win at this point.

“Things are looking really good for us, awesome Pennzoil Mustang, this bad boy, and man, just a lot of adversity fought through the last 50 laps or so. I thought we were going to win and then we kind of fell out and then had the tires, and racing Ross was fun. He was doing a good job air blocking me, and just trying to be patient, and eventually I was like, I’ve got to go here. Just great to win out here in Vegas again, and it means so much getting to the championship.

Meanwhile, Chastain had to live to fight another day, with him eventually punching his ticket to Phoenix with his banzai move at Martinsville a couple of weeks later.

For our Tootsie’s Chevy, that was all we had,” Chastain said. “There was a clear difference in tires there, so we fully believed that we could hold him off and win the race on the tires we had, and Joey did a good job of getting through the field.

“At the end there, I hope I’m racing that guy for a really long time, and for our Tootsie’s Chevy and everybody at Jockey and Worldwide Express, Advent Health and the Moose, like we’ve been saying all year, this is the arrival of Trackhouse, and I wouldn’t want to be doing it with anybody else.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, March 4

  • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (1:35 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (2:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 5

  • Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube (3:30 pm – 267 laps, 400.5 miles – FOX)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.