TRACK: Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5 mile oval) DISTANCE: 267 Laps – STAGE 1: 80 Laps, Stage 2: 80 Laps, FINAL STAGE 107 LAPS, 400.5 Miles)
This will be the 29th time the Cup Series has visited the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 25 of those would have come in March as the sport added a playoff race there in 2018. But, Vegas has become a track that has produced a ton of lead changes lately with the last five featuring at least 20 including six of the last seven overall.
Ford has been the most dominant team on the 1.5-mile track with 13 wins in 28 tries but were shutout a year ago.
Over the past five NASCAR Cup Series seasons, the spring race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been a precursor to how the rest of the campaign will go.
In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. led 150 of the 267 laps in the Cup race en route to a dominating victory. He’d go on to win seven more times that season including the championship as well.
In 2018, Kevin Harvick won his first of eight trips to Victory Lane in the March race in Vegas as he led 214 laps that day. No one won as many races in 2018 as Harvick.
Joey Logano won the next two spring races and would march to fifth in the final standings at the end of the year in 2019 and the Championship 4 in 2020.
Kyle Larson won last year and won the title too later. The entire top six of the finishing order last spring took up six of the eight spots into the Round of 8 last postseason.
Does that change this year since there’s been so much parity from the new Next Gen car? We had eight different teams represented in the top 10 of the Daytona 500 and nine more last week in Fontana.
Furthermore, out of 20 combined top 10 spots available the last two weeks, only one driver has scored a top 10 in both races – Aric Almirola (5th, 6th). 19 drivers have a top 10 already this season and 10 drivers have top fives with no one having a top five in each race combined.
That’s opened the door.
A lot of Green Flag Racing?
Fontana proved that this car is a handful to drive. We saw several spin outs in practice, qualifying and the race itself. With the same format back this weekend in Vegas, does that mean we’ll see a similar race weekend?
The thing is, this race has been run under mostly green flag conditions. Last year saw 89% of the race run under green flag conditions. 2020 saw nine cautions, but three were for stage breaks or a competition caution while the others were for single car incidents. The 2019 race saw two caution flags fly — both for stage breaks. In the race in 2018, we saw only four cautions fly for just 29 laps. The spring race has been tame in nature lately.
Usual Suspects Should Win….Should..
Over the last 12 Cup races in Vegas, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin have combined to win 11 of them.
Also, Penske, SHR and JGR/Furniture Row have won the 12 of the last 14 Vegas races. The last non team of them to win other than Kurt Busch’s triumph with Chip Ganassi Racing last Fall and Kyle Larson’s (HMS) last spring? Roush/Fenway Racing (Carl Edwards) in 2011.
Stage 2 Success
Here’s a strange but true stat, the second stage winner at Vegas has won seven times and was fifth in another in nine tries. 2020 was the only outlier when Chase Elliott swept both stages in the spring race but cut a tire in the end. Kurt Busch snuck up and stole a win in the Fall race. That’s 4 of the last 5 races this stage produced the race winner too.
This is the first track on the schedule that has multiple tracks that you can compare it to. The closest would be the Kansas Speedway. It’s a track you can take two tires on or even gamble by taking no tires if a late race pit stop should occur.
He won last spring and had a fast car last Fall. Larson is coming off of a win in Fontana too.
Martin Truex Jr.
He has three straight top six finishes on this track including eight top eight’s in his last nine there overall.
He has 10 Top-10 finishes in his last 12 Vegas starts and was fifth last week.
Another good driver here. Harvick had three Top-4 finishes in a four race span before being eighth, 10th, 20th and ninth in his last four. Harvick, was seventh in Fontana after starting in the back.
He has a top 10 finish in all but one start at Vegas since Penske went to Ford’s in 2013. He won the Fall race in 2018. He was second and third respectively in 2019 and seventh and 13th in 2020, with a runner-up and seventh last year. Now he’s with his own team at RFK Racing. It’s too early to tell what happens so I have him as a sleeper.
He has eight Top-7 finishes in his last 10 starts in Vegas.
He finished seventh in the playoff race in 2019 and restarted the Spring race in 2020 on the front row before contact cut his tire on the overtime restart. He was eighth last year in this very race too. But, this has been a tough start to his season. Byron, was 38th in Daytona and 34th last week so he needs a good result.
Worth a look. He was seventh last year. Like Byron, he’s had a terrible start to the year. He’s last in points after being 34th and 36th respectively.
He swept both Xfinity races there in 2020 and was 14th during last year’s playoff race. He was third in the Daytona 500 and 16th last week despite leading some laps and being a top five car early on.
Who To Fade?
Prior to a runner-up in last year’s playoff race, Elliott had just two career top fives on this track with his last three finishes being 26th, 22nd and 13th respectively. He has five finishes of 22nd or worse there too.
2 of his last 4 Vegas starts he had a top six. His other six finishes were outside the top 10 too. His finishes this season? 24th and 25th respectively.
Busch, won the 2020 Fall race but that happened due to some luck and was just his second top five in his last 18 Vegas starts. He was 19th and 8th last year.
His last five finishes in Vegas as 13th, 21st, 17th, 38th and 19th respectively. However, he is the only driver with a pair of top 10’s in both races this season though too.
Joey Logano’s spring win in 2020 was the first time that a Cup winner was under the age of 30 in any of the previous 42 races run at the track. Kyle Larson was the only other one to do so last year at 28 years of age. Do we see a third straight spring race winner under the age of 30?
22 of the last 24 Cup races in Vegas resulted in a past champion winning. The only non title winner to have won at Vegas? Carl Edwards (twice) and Denny Hamlin (September 2021).