The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is in “Sin City” Las Vegas this weekend for the Pennzoil 400, and it’s shaping up to be a great race. We’ve seen during the Truck and Xfinity races that track position can be really important here–especially being out front–and you can expect similar situations in the Cup race on Sunday. Las Vegas Motor Speedway offers some pretty good on-track action (for a 1.5-mile track) and this race will be a great indicator for how the first half of this season is going to go. Compared to last week, tires won’t be as important, which can be good or bad depending on your personal point of view. Either way, we probably won’t see another dominating effort like we did at Atlanta last weekend–I’m expecting three or four drivers to lead quite a few laps on Sunday.
Ryan Blaney led a Ford-powered brigade during qualifying on Friday and will lead the field to the green for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 with last week’s winner, Kevin Harvick, alongside. The full starting lineup can be found by clicking here. There were then two practice sessions on Saturday, although it should be noted that the final practice is really the only one that was relevant. Many drivers referred to the morning session as a “throwaway” because it was so cold. Anyway, you can find the practice speeds here: Practice #2 — Happy Hour and, of course, you can read our in-depth practice notes here: Practice #2 — Happy Hour.
Final Top 25 Rankings for Las Vegas
1. Martin Truex, Jr. – Starts 4th – DraftKings Price: $10,500
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Now that we got Daytona and Atlanta out of the way, it’s time for the “real” season to begin. This weekend’s Pennzoil 400 is the first event at a ‘typical’ 1.5-mile track–meaning, one that is very similar to the others that make up the majority of the Cup Series schedule–so that means it’s time to find out whether or not this #78 team’s domination is going to remain for another year. In this race last season, Martin Truex, Jr.’s stat sheet show domination, but don’t forget that he had to get around Brad Keselowski with a couple laps remaining in order to get the win. Still, Martin led 150 of the 267 laps that day, and also swept the Stages. Truex also had a near-perfect driver rating in that race (147.6). This weekend, the #78 team had a scare in qualifying with an equalized tire, but that didn’t stop Truex from qualifying on the second row. And as far as practice speeds go, the #78 Toyota was 10th-fastest in the second session before ranking 3rd-fastest in Happy Hour. Truex had the 3rd-best ten-lap averages in both of those sessions. One thing I particularly like about the #78 team this weekend is the fact that they don’t make many changes during the race as far as their setup, and with the way these new pit road rules are, that can be a definite advantage on Sunday by saving some time on pit road.
2. Kevin Harvick – Starts 2nd – DraftKings Price: $10,300
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Martin Truex, Jr. is still the king of the 1.5-mile tracks, but the gap to second is closing fast. In addition to the dominating effort at Atlanta last weekend, let’s not forget that Kevin Harvick had an average finish of 3.8 in the Playoff races at this track type last season, and looking at the loop data, the #4 Ford was right there with the #78 Toyota; Harvick actually averaged more fastest laps on 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs than Truex (47.4 to 46.6) while Truex got him on average laps led (88.8 to 56.6). As far as Las Vegas Motor Speedway specifically, though, Harvick is a previous winner (2015) and has finished 9th or better in three of the last five events at this track. This weekend, “Happy” is starting on the outside pole and looks to have another hot rod here in the desert: he was 4th-fastest in Practice #2 with the best ten-lap average, and then ended up 14th and 2nd on those two charts (respectively) in Happy Hour. Simply put, Kevin Harvick is once again a contender this weekend, and I only have one concern: his car seems to be set up for the long run specifically, and a late caution could easily keep him out of victory lane.
3. Kyle Larson – Starts 5th – DraftKings Price: $9,800
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
After a very disappointing showing by Chevrolet at Atlanta last weekend, the manufacturer once again fell short this weekend at Las Vegas by only having two cars in the top 13 during qualifying on Friday. In both instances, though, Kyle Larson was the top guy, and he looks to have a great car to race with on Sunday. Four of Larson’s five career Cup Series wins have came on 2-mile race tracks, and while he’s never won at a 1.5-mile venue, it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. As far as Las Vegas Motor Speedway goes, Kyle finished 2nd in this race last season after starting 5th, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he had a very similar result here on Sunday. Larson has had a hot rod since the #42 team took it off the truck, and he tested here a few weeks ago and seems to have found something. Now he just has to find a way to get ahead of Truex and Harvick when the checkered flag waves on the Pennzoil 400.