Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Up to Speed: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

Viva Las Vegas!

After spending the first two weekends of the 2018 season in the southeastern United States, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series packs up and heads west for the first leg of the West Coast swing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Sunday’s running of the Pennzoil 400.

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.

In true Las Vegas fashion, over the last nine years, we have seen eight different winners at the track. Will that trend continue this weekend or will we see a repeat winner? 400 miles on Sunday will tell the tale.

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 4, 2018

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

2017 Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota (Started second, 150 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 – 112.0
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 102.9
  3. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 99.3
  4. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 96.8
  5. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 96.3
  6. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 91.2
  7. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 90.9
  8. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 90.5
  9. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 89.0
  10. Kasey Kahne – No. 95 Chevrolet – 88.3

From the Driver’s Seat

“Vegas will be a fast-paced race,” said William Byron. “The weather looks like it’s going to be pretty cool, so the biggest challenge for us will be keeping up with the racetrack and making sure we can keep our pace up as the run goes because it’s probably not going to be a quick falloff with the tires – definitely a lot different than what we just saw in Atlanta.”

Last Time at Las Vegas

Brad Keselowski looked to be well on his way to a third victory at Las Vegas when the Cup Series rolled into town last year, but a mechanical failure in the closing laps opened the door for Martin Truex, Jr., passed him for the lead with two laps to go and never looked back en route to his first win of the season and first win on the 1.5 mile track.

“It was a gift,” said Truex. “We’ve been on the other side of that plenty of times. This is the first one where we’ve kind of had it go our way. I can’t say enough about everyone on this team. They made a lot of changes last night and we said go for it, and they did. I’m really proud – this is the first victory for the 2018 Camry and to be out here on the west coast – this is a big one for us!”

While Truex was celebrating his win and sweeping all three stages, chaos was breaking out behind him.

As Keselowski was dropping back with a wounded car after losing the lead, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano both dove low under Keselowski’s ailing Ford through Turns 3 and 4 on the last lap, making contact with each other that sent Busch’s Toyota spinning down across the entrance to pit road and dropping him to a 22nd place finish.

A noticeably angry Busch emerged from his No. 18 Toyota and confronted Logano after the race, leading to the two drivers getting into fisticuffs before being separated by Logano’s pit crew. Logano was the first to be pulled out of the fray unscathed, but Busch was still restrained by Logano’s crew and came away with a cut on his forehead that left blood running down his face by the time all was said and done.

“There wasn’t much talking, just a lot of swinging,” said Logano. “Just racing hard there at the end with our Pennzoil Ford and Kyle and I usually race well together, usually never have any issues. He tried to pin me down into the corner underneath Brad and we about crashed on entry. I was still trying to gather it up by the center and I was going to spin out so I was trying to chase it up, but he was there. Obviously, nothing intentional, but he thinks that. I don’t know, we’ll move on.”

When asked if any of the punches thrown landed on him, Logano responded with a grin, saying: “None to me.”

“I got dumped. Flat out just drove straight into the corner and wrecked me,” said Busch. “That’s how Joey races, so he’s going to get it.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, March 2

  • MENCS Practice (2:00 pm to 2:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Qualifying (7:15 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, March 3

  • MENCS Practice (Noon to 12:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (2:30 pm to 3:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 4

  • 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.