Kevin Harvick was in his own zip code during Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading 214 laps and winning both stages en route to his 39th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, his 16th for Stewart-Haas Racing. The win, his second in two weeks, also ushered him into elite territory – becoming the fourth driver to win 100 races across the Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck series, behind Richard Petty, David Pearson and Kyle Busch.
Coming in second was Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch at his hometown racetrack, followed by Kyle Larson for Chip Ganassi Racing, as all three manufacturers were represented in the podium spots. In fourth was Martin Truex Jr. and rounding out the top five was Ryan Blaney.
Especially late and on restarts, there was a lot of side-by-side racing for position on the track, and for the second week in a row, the race was fairly calm when it came to accidents.
The NASCAR branch of the Team Penske organization has been operating off and on since 1972. There isn’t much they haven’t done yet. But for the first time in the team’s history, three Penske cars finished in the top 10 in the same race, as Blaney was fifth, Brad Keselowski was sixth and Joey Logano was seventh. All three also scored points in both stages.
Coming into Sunday’s race at his hometown racetrack, Kurt Busch‘s career average finish at LVMS was 21.8. He snapped loose on lap 183 and hit the outside wall nose-first, inadvertently collecting Chase Elliott and finishing 35th. That brings his average finish through 17 tries at LVMS down to 22.5. He has a win at Phoenix, but that was 13 years and four teams ago, and last year’s races in the desert brought results of 25th and 21st.
Paul Menard notched his second top 10 of the 2018 season with Sunday’s ninth-place run. That gives him an average finish this year of 10.7, and his 10th place in the standings would solidly give him a playoff berth if they started right now. He also scored bonus points in both stages.
At Daytona, Chevrolet drivers led 20 laps. At Atlanta, Camaros led 17 laps. At Las Vegas, they led zero. That means Chevrolets have led about four percent of the (by my count) 799 laps run so far in 2018. Fords have led 84 percent of the laps, meaning the remaining 12 percent of the time, Toyotas were in front.
Michael McDowell looked like he was going to follow up his ninth-place Daytona 500 run with a top-15 placing at Las Vegas, qualifying 15th and being one of only four drivers to lead double-digit laps, before his engine blew up and relegated him to a 37th-place finish. His Front Row Motorsports teammate David Ragan finished 23rd, a good result for this improving team. Ragan was likely going to be a contender in the Daytona 500 until his engine exploded; so while the results haven’t quite been as good as they could have been, Front Row might be able to sneak one of their drivers into the playoffs.
Daniel Suarez had a very bad day. He was one of the victims of pit gun failure this week (Bryan Gable has more on that), then later was caught speeding on pit road. He finally was able to run decently at the end of the race, only to have his car dehydrate, forcing him into the pits and dooming him to a 26th-place finish. His average result so far this season is 26th, slightly worse than his average finish this time last year.
Paint Scheme of the Week
It’s got to be the No. 19 of Daniel Suarez this week in Coca-Cola colors. And not just because I’m a Diet Coke-aholic. The font and the can design are simple and classic, and they both look amazing on a race car, too. And there are absolutely zero problems with brand recognition for casual fans. Coke is both extremely patriotic and American – which fits NASCAR’s main demographic – and international, which fits nicely with Suarez’s Mexican heritage. Can this be on the track more often, please? The current series of Coke commercials debating the merits of various burger/pizza/tailgating options are pretty good, too.
Up next for the Cup Series is the TicketGuardian 500 at the newly-renamed ISM Raceway. It’s Phoenix. Obviously you have to pick Harvick, since he’s won there eight times, finished in the top five 14 times and 19 times posted a top 10, with an average result of 9.7. Also, he’s absolutely crushed the field each of the last two weeks. If you wanted to be adventurous, you could take Jimmie Johnson or Ryan Newman, the only other drivers to win there multiple times, but neither are setting the world on fire so far this season. It’ll be the final race for the track in its current configuration, so things might change when November rolls around. The race will begin on Sunday, March 11, around 3:30 p.m. ET with TV coverage on FOX.
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