By David Morgan, Associate Editor
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend to kick off the 2019 edition of the Playoffs. 16 drivers enter this final stretch of the season, but only one will emerge as champion.
Every race from here on out is crucial on the path toward the title, even Sunday’s South Point 400. A misstep here could put the championship contenders in an early hole or if they find success, propel them on a more positive trajectory through the postseason.
Under the Nevada sun, anything can and will happen. After all, it’s Vegas, baby!
By the Numbers
What: South Point 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 27 of 36
Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Las Vegas, Nevada (Opened: 1998; Reconfigured: 2007)
When: Sunday, September 15, 2019
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 7:00 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
2019 Spring Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 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:
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 104.6
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 103.7
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 102.5
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 101.6
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 96.1
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 95.7
- Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 93.3
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 91.3
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 90.2
- Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 87.5
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
- Kyle Busch – 2045 points
- Denny Hamlin (-15)
- Martin Truex, Jr. (-16)
- Kevin Harvick (-17)
- Joey Logano (-17)
- Brad Keselowski (-21)
- Chase Elliott (-27)
- Kurt Busch (-34)
- Alex Bowman (-40)
- Erik Jones (-40)
- Kyle Larson (-40)
- Ryan Blaney (-41)
- William Byron (-44)
- Aric Almirola (-44)
- Clint Bowyer (-45)
- Ryan Newman (-45)
From the Driver’s Seat
“So, now we start our Playoff stretch and I’m excited to go to Vegas,” said Bubba Wallace. “It’s a fast track. It’s smooth. It’s fun, it provides some interesting characteristics with the tunnel-bump, through (Turns) 1 and 2 and how far the groove moves up from top to bottom. You’ve got some options there and it’s starting to become a little bit more racy than in years past.
“It’s Vegas. And, I like going to Vegas. It’s beautiful out there. But the time of year we go the second time is so hot. That race last year was 100 degrees outside. Luckily, it’s a dry heat. But for a person who likes Vegas and wants to have a little fun on Sunday, it’s a good time.”
Last Time at Las Vegas
In the first full-fledged race with the new 2019 aero package, the gloom and doom projections of a chaotic race turned into a battle between Team Penske teammates down the stretch to take home the victory.
With the only two cautions being the stage breaks, it came down to Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski settling the race amongst themselves.
On lap 240 of 267, Keselowski passed his teammate in traffic, but four laps later, Logano responded in kind, by powering back by him to retake the top spot.
Though Logano was able to lead the way for the remainder of the race, Keselowski didn’t make it easy on him, hounding him for the lead lap after lap as the checkered flag grew near.
It was only when Logano put the block on Keselowski off Turn 4 on the last lap that the win was certain for the defending Cup Series champion.
“That was more intense than I wanted it to be,” Logano said. “Just — you know, there’s been plenty of times here where we’ve led a lot of laps, and by the stats this is probably our best racetrack or close to it, and we’ve never won. That’s the most important stat to have. Usually something happens the last run and Brad gets a little better, and for some reason his last pit stop they make a good change and he becomes the fastest car and he wins, and he’s done that here plenty of times.
“I looked in the mirror, like oh, my gosh, this is happening again, I can’t believe it. He was able to get by me, and I was like, I hope this doesn’t happen, I can keep trying to get in front of him again, and was able to get a run on a lap car and be able to work down into the corner and be able to clear him.
“But I burned my tires off so bad trying to get back in front of him that I was just working so hard inside the car trying to maintain the gap. I was in good shape and then I caught a lap car and he went up into the top lane, which is where I was running, and I followed him right in there, like oh, no, and I just lost a ton of time and then brought Brad close enough to where he can catch a draft off of me to close up the rest of the gap, and I thought, man, good thing this thing is 400 miles.
“I just told the PENNZOIL people, let’s not make this race any longer, that was just the right length. 405 would have been a little bit too long. It is cool, though, I remember sitting up here on this stage when they announced PENNZOIL was going to be the sponsor for this race and how important it was for me to win this thing. So it’s cool to be able to deliver for them.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, September 13
- MENCS Practice (4:35 pm to 5:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Final Practice (7:30 pm to 8:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Saturday, September 14
- MENCS Qualifying (4:05 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Sunday, September 15
- MENCS South Point 400 at Las Vegas (7:00 pm – 267 laps, 400.5 miles – NBC Sports Network)