Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has been visiting Las Vegas Motor Speedway for more than two decades, but this weekend’s race at the track is likely one of the most anticipated at the facility in years with the introduction of the new aerodynamic package that will make its full debut on the 1.5-mile track.

Though the new package was rolled out for the first time last week in Atlanta, it wasn’t the full package that includes the aero ducts in the front end of the car, which are designed to direct air out the front wheel wells and create a bigger wake for the following car to be able to draft with.

About a month ago, several teams had the opportunity to test with the full package at the track, and the result was that cars were running much closer together in what resembled the kind of racing we normally see at Daytona and Talladega.

Whether that is what we’ll see on Sunday remains to be seen, but there are sure to be a lot of eyes glued to this race to see how everything will play out.

By the Numbers

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

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

When: Sunday, March 3, 2019

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 two stages – 80 laps each, Final stage – 107 laps

Pit Road Speed: 45 mph

Pace Car Speed: 55 mph

2018 Spring Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started second, 214 laps led)

2018 Fall Winner: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (Started 13th, 75 laps led)

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

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Las Vegas:

  1. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 106.7
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 102.6
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 100.4
  4. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 98.9
  5. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 95.6
  6. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 95.0
  7. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 94.9
  8. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 94.7
  9. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 89.8
  10. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 88.6

From the Driver’s Seat

“I think we are going to see two totally different races,” Daniel Hemric said of the difference between last week and this week when it comes to the new package. “Atlanta, I think, is going to lean itself to the old fashion mechanical grip and the car has really got to be in the race track good to hang on and have good drive ability and race ability.

“When we get to Vegas, I think speed is going to transition a lot and it’s going to be funny to see how everybody chases it versus drive ability. We saw a good amount of trade off one way or the other at the Vegas test and that separates those two 1.5-miles substantially. So, it’s going to be fun who can hit on it and who doesn’t and then watch everybody try to get by any given weekend if they do miss it to figure out how to manage to get the best results they can.”

Last Time at Las Vegas

For the first time last fall, Las Vegas hosted its second race in a season and its first Playoff race, which turned into a war of attrition.

Bad luck befell several of the championship contenders on a scorching hot day in the Nevada desert, with Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones eliminated early after Harvick blew a tire and slammed the Turn 1 wall, Chase Elliott was caught up in a similar crash later in the race, and Denny Hamlin spun to bring out a late caution that changed the entire complexion of the race.

On the ensuing restart, all of the drivers were trying to get everything they could get and just ran out of enough real estate as several drivers wound up bouncing off of each other or the wall. Some of them were able to continue on as if nothing had happened, while Hendrick Motorsports drivers Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson, as well as Clint Bowyer sustained enough damage to warrant a visit to pit road.

A final multi-car crash with two laps to go in regulation pushed the race into overtime, setting up a two lap shootout between Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson for the win and an automatic pass into the next round of the Playoffs.

In the end, it was all Keselowski, as he beat Larson back to the finish by 1.276 seconds to claim the victory – his third straight on the season.

“I didn’t think it was ever gonna end,” Keselowski said.  “I was worried about running out of gas there at the end.  I know the fans can hear on this microphone and I want to say thank you to everyone who braved 100 degree heat all day.  You guys are the real heroes. I get paid to do this. You guys pay to watch and thank you for doing that. Thank you for coming out today and tolerating the heat.

“We’re so glad to be able to win and get in Victory Lane again with the Autotrader Ford. What a special day for 500 wins for Penske, three in a row here, first win in the Playoffs.  There are too many storylines for me to get it all right, but we’re very thankful and very proud for all of them.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, March 1

  • MENCS Practice (3:05 pm to 4:00 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Qualifying (7:40 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, March 2

  • MENCS Practice (11:30 am to 12:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (2:30 pm to 3:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 3

  • MENCS 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.