Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: South Point 400 at Las Vegas Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The second round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs gets underway with a trip out west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the running of the South Point 400.

While the Cup Series has already run on the 1.5-mile track earlier this year, it will be a vastly different environment the 12 championship contenders are walking into on Sunday, not only weather-wise, but also with the absence of fans due to the ongoing COVID-19 precautions.

The 267-lap race will be crucial to the second round of the Playoffs, with wild card races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval looming large over the next two weeks. 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 remainder of the postseason.

Points leader Kevin Harvick will start from pole, with Las Vegas native and defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch alongside. The remainder of the top-10 includes Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, and Denny Hamlin.

By the Numbers

What: South Point 400, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 30 of 36

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

When: Sunday, September 27, 2020

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

2020 Spring Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started fifth, 54 laps led)

2019 Fall Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota (Started 24th, 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. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 105.2
  2. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 104.8
  3. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 102.8
  4. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 100.4
  5. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 97.3
  6. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 97.2
  7. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 96.3
  8. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 95.4
  9. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 94.8
  10. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 82.2

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:

  1. Kevin Harvick – 3067 points
  2. Denny Hamlin (-19)
  3. Brad Keselowski (-32)
  4. Joey Logano (-45)
  5. Chase Elliott (-46)
  6. Martin Truex, Jr. (-51)
  7. Alex Bowman (-58)
  8. Austin Dillon (-62)
  9. Aric Almirola (-62)
  10. Kyle Busch (-63)
  11. Clint Bowyer (-63)
  12. Kurt Busch (-66)

From the Driver’s Seat

“It’s crazy to think how far things have evolved since we went to Vegas earlier this year,” said William Byron. “It was just the second race of the year and before everything changed with the pandemic. That race, we had a lot of speed even though everything was still new and fresh for the year. We had a fast car and we just have to continue that when we get Vegas this weekend.

“The track definitely does change, even with a slight change in temperature. We’re used to going to Vegas at the beginning of September when it’s still really hot. I think being closer to the end of September it will have started to cool off a bit. That will make it unique for us, especially with the late start time Sunday. This race is going to have some different elements that everyone will need to overcome.”

Last Time at Las Vegas

With only four laps left in regulation, a late caution threw a wrench in Ryan Blaney’s quest to take home the victory in the February 23 running of the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

A decision had to be made with 30-some odd laps on the leaders’ tires, pit for fresh rubber or stay out and try to hold off the pack for the win. Blaney and a number of others chose the former, while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano took the latter option, ascending to the lead as the race was pushed into overtime.

Logano got the push he needed on the final restart to take over the lead for good, escaping the chaos behind him. Matt DiBenedetto was able to move into second after contact with William Byron, with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Austin Dillon in third and fourth, respectively.

Jimmie Johnson, the first of the cars to have pitted for fresh tires, moved up to fifth on the restart.

Logano still led after taking the white flag when a multi-car crash broke out, bringing the race to an end and handing him his second straight win in the Las Vegas spring race.

“There was a little confusion, but it worked out really well,” Logano said. “A lot of cars stayed out and that was key to that move.  Winning the Pennzoil 400 with the Pennzoil car, this is huge.  It means a lot to be able to do this two years in a row winning this race.

“I’m proud of the effort everybody here behind me did today.  They prepared a great car and executed the race perfectly and that’s what we wanted.  We fought hard and tried to keep every spot we possibly could and then ultimately, oh man, being able to pull it into Victory Lane here.”

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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.