Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas

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.

As the first 1.5-mile track on the 2022 schedule, this weekend’s trip to Sin City will also give teams another data point to look at as they work to get the Next Gen cars dialed in over the course of the season.

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 6, 2022

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

2021 Spring Winner: Kyle Larson – No. 5 Chevrolet (Started third, 103 laps led)

2021 Fall Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (Started sixth, 137 laps led)

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

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Las Vegas:

  1. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 102.5
  2. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 102.5
  3. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 101.1
  4. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 100.2
  5. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 100.1
  6. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 98.7
  7. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 98.3
  8. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 96.0
  9. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 89.3
  10. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 84.2

From the Driver’s Seat

“Turns one and two at Las Vegas Motor Speedway are high speed corners and the bumps have always been something that you work on your car to get through to make speed,” said Austin Dillon. “The faster your car can go through there without having to unload and get the feel back in the front tires has always been an issue. The person that can skip through them the best usually runs really well.

“At Las Vegas Motor Speedway it’s an entry issue, unlike last week at Auto Club Speedway where it was an exit issue. At Auto Club Speedway, you’re leaving the corner with wheel in the car. I think the bumps at Las Vegas will be challenging this weekend, just as they always are.

“Although truthfully, from the simulator work I’ve done to prepare for the race, the bumps were not as upsetting as they were at Auto Club Speedway. The Auto Club Speedway bumps were pretty accurate to our sim. We were busting loose across those bumps. So, I’m hoping that it’s accurate again, as far as the bumps in Las Vegas not being as much of a problem as they were in Fontana.”

Last Time at Las Vegas

The two races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway featured two drastically different races, but ultimately the driver that led the most laps was the driver in Victory Lane at the end of the day.

In the spring race last February, Kyle Larson was the dominant driver throughout the day, leading six times for 103 laps and pulling away to a 3.156-second victory over Brad Keselowski

The victory was Larson’s first driving for Hendrick Motorsports and kicked off his 10-win march toward the 2021 Cup Series championship.

“That win was really special for us,” Larson recalled. “It was our first win as a team and meant a lot to a lot of people on this team – some visiting Victory Lane in the Cup Series for the first time. But I also know how much it meant to Rick and Linda (Hendrick) because the paint scheme was similar to what [their late son] Ricky ran. It’s an honor to drive for them and to drive this car with this scheme that means so much to so many.”

Meanwhile, in September, Denny Hamlin didn’t have quite as clear a path to victory when he won to punch his ticket to the next round of the Playoffs. After leading 137 laps, Hamlin had his mirror full of Chase Elliott in the closing laps, with the 2020 series champion drawing ever nearer as the laps clicked away.

But Elliott would run out of time to catch Hamlin by the time the checkered flag fell, as Hamlin beat Elliott to the line by .442-seconds to snag the win.

“It’s another track we can cross off the list,” Hamlin said. “There was a point here where I never thought I would even sniff a victory. We found a setup and — I shouldn’t say ‘we’, I didn’t do anything. The team has found a setup that has worked with my driving style. I know that me and Chris really work hard on trying to shore up any deficiencies that we have or I have as a driver.

“I go to work on it, the team goes to work on what they need to give me to go fast. I try to give them the best information that I can. They take that information, they put their brains together and they come up with something that works.

“Really the last two years they’ve really changed the game for me at this racetrack. Again, it means a lot to cross off Las Vegas as a track that we won at now.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, March 5

  • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (1:30 pm to 2:05 pm – FOX Sports 2
  • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (2:15 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 6

  • 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.