We knew that the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season would be different from most, but this has been crazy. William Byron won last week’s Dixie Vodka 400, so the three race winners before the calendar flipped to March were Byron, Christopher Bell, and Michael McDowell. McDowell even racked up his third straight top-10 finish at Homestead-Miami!
We’ll see if status quo returns this week with the Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A smattering of fans will flock to the desert to check this one out in-person as we have a second straight race on a 1.5-mile track.
Betting NASCAR sure looks like a challenge here so far, but we’ll do the best we can to help you out with Sunday’s race at LVMS. Odds come from MyBookie Sportsbook.
|Martin Truex Jr||+550|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr||+5000|
|Darrell Wallace Jr||+6600|
Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are up at the top of the board again, but up is down and west is east so far for this NASCAR season. We’re three weeks in a lot of the big-name drivers have to be disappointed with how this season has started off. Even last week, Chris Buescher won Stage 1 on a 1.5-mile track. If NASCAR wanted parity, it has happened.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The tri-oval superspeedway northeast of the iconic Las Vegas Strip hosts two events per year. This is a standard 1.5-mile oval with progressive turns ranging from 12 to 20 degrees. This is usually a pretty straightforward race run at high speeds. In fact, the 2019 race was the first to go without a caution outside of a competition caution since 2002 at Talladega.
Last year’s race took 2:58:11 and was the longest race since 2009 in the Pennzoil 400. This is a quick one and usually becomes a follow the leader type of event. That speaks to the track and how comfortable a lot of drivers wind up being here.
Michael McDowell won the Daytona 500. Christopher Bell won the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253. Now William Byron has won the Dixie Vodka 400. Denny Hamlin is still the points leader by 20 over Kevin Harvick because he has three stage wins and two top-five finishes, but it has certainly been a fascinating start to the season. Hamlin’s 47 stage points are 18 more than Joey Logano, who is third in points. McDowell is fourth, with only four stage points.
At least some things remain the same. Hamlin and Harvick are the only drivers with two top-five finishes. Harvick and McDowell are the only ones with three top-10 finishes. Certainly it makes sense with Harvick, but McDowell, the 36-year-old driver with Front Row Motorsports, had 12 top-10 finishes TOTAL in 360 races over his first 13 seasons. Honestly, good for him, though probably not great for bettors.
Chase Elliott sits fifth in points. There are a ton of races left to go, but with three of the 16 automatic playoff spots already decided, watching the standings matters more than ever.
Last Time Here
The last visit here was the South Point 400 in the playoffs. That September 27 race was won by Kurt Busch in NASCAR overtime. Matt DiBenedetto actually ran second in the extra laps. Denny Hamlin was third and a consistent factor throughout the race with a Stage 1 win and a second in Stage 2. Alex Bowman and Martin Truex Jr. also both ran well, with a top-five finish at the end and points in both stages.
Eleven different drivers led a lap and there were 20 lead changes overall. The race was a longer one by Las Vegas standards at more than three hours with seven cautions over 36 laps.
The last time here for the Pennzoil 400, Joey Logano won, but Chase Elliott won Stage 1 and Stage 2. Logano ran fifth in both stages en route to his second consecutive win in this race. Truex was in the top three in the first two stages before finishing 20th.
Sin City Slackers & Successes
The sample size is a bit smaller here, as Las Vegas Motor Speedway just added the second race in 2018. Up until that point, the drivers were only here once-a-year. Brad Keselowski leads all active drivers in wins with three in his 15 starts. He also has seven top-five finishes and 10 in the top 10 out of 11 lead lap finishes.
Truex, Harvick, and Logano have two wins each, with Logano’s two coming in this race in 2019 and 2020. Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch are the only other active drivers with victories. Kyle and Harvick have seven top-five finishes to tie Keselowski for the most. Harvick has the most top-10 finishes with 12, but also the most starts with 23.
Ryan Blaney doesn’t have a win here, but has three top-five finishes and six in the top 10 in his nine starts. Kyle Larson has the exact same stat line. This has actually not been that great of a track for Hamlin, who is winless and only has three top-five finishes. He has finished in the top 10 in eight of 18 starts.
Chase Elliott is something of a laggard here as well with two top-five finishes in eight starts. He’s only finished on the lead lap four times in those eight races. Prior to last year’s win, Kurt only had eight lead lap finishes in 21 races.
There is more and more urgency with each passing race because the playoff berths are already dwindling with guys that you wouldn’t expect to win races. Kyle Larson had a speedy car last week at Homestead-Miami and seems a little more comfortable behind the wheel. He’s not a bad pick this week.
I’ll also be looking at Truex, who ran third last week, won here in the 2019 fall race, and ran well in both Vegas races last year.
Coverage of the Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube will be at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday March 7.