Pennzoil 400 (Cup Series) Predictions & Picks

  • Odds are against another first-time winner in the Cup Series this week.
  • There’s a shortlist of drivers who have dominated at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
  • The starting position is critical to success in NASCAR Cup races at Las Vegas.

After running three races in Florida—and three consecutive races in the same state for the first time since 1996—the NASCAR Cup Series headed west for a truncated West Coast Swing. First up is Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motors Speedway, the second straight 1.5-mile intermediate track on the schedule.

Sunday’s race is scheduled for 267 laps (400.5 miles) with stage breaks after 80 and 160 laps. Joey Logano won the first race at LVMS last year. Las Vegas native Kurt Busch took the checkered flag in last season’s September event at the track.

How to Watch Pennzoil 400

Pennzoil 400 Information
What Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup Series race
Where Las Vegas Motor Speedway
When Sunday, Mar. 7, 3:30 p.m. ET
How to Watch FOX

Another First-Time Winner in the Cup Series? Not Likely at Las Vegas

After frontrunners Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano crashed on the final lap, Michael McDowell took advantage and won the season-opening Daytona 500. The victory was his first in the NASCAR Cup Series after 357 winless starts, the second-longest such streak in Cup history. (Michael Waltrip raced 462 times before his first win).

A week after McDowell’s breakthrough win, Christopher Bell got his maiden Cup victory at the Daytona Road Course, giving the series two first-time winners in the first two races for the first time since 1950. William Byron got his second Cup victory last Sunday at Homestead.

The trend of fledgling winners is almost certain to end at LVMS, and for good reason. Twenty-six races at the track have produced no first-time Cup winners. Vegas also is the track of champions. Since 2002, only one driver without an earlier or subsequent series title on his resume has won at the track—Carl Edwards in 2008 and 2011.

So the chances of a breakthrough winner this Sunday are slim and none—and Slim was seen leaving Las Vegas.

Can You Really Count the Number of Potential Vegas Winners on One Hand?

Here’s the most compelling statistic you need to consider when handicapping Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: until Kurt Busch won at his home track last September, a group of four drivers had taken the checkered flag in nine straight races at the 1.5-mile intermediate speedway.

It’s no accident that Kevin Harvick (+600), Martin Truex Jr. (+600), Brad Keselowski (+800) and Joey Logano (+800) are the four top choices for Sunday’s race. In the last 10 races at LVMS, Keselowski has three wins and Harvick, Logano, and Truex two each.

There are mitigating factors that should influence your choices. Harvick starts from the pole, but only one driver has won from the top spot on the grid in 26 races—Kyle Busch in 2009. In the case of Truex, the driver of the No. 19 Toyota hasn’t achieved optimum performance since genius crew chief Cole Pearn left the sport and turned the pit box over to Aussie James Small.

That’s why our money is on Team Penske teammates Logano and Keselowski this week. In a coin flip, we go with Logano, the winner of the last two spring races at the track, even though Logano starts 15th, five spots behind Bad Brad.

Sometimes It’s Where You Start AND Where You Finish the Race

If veteran experience is a predictor of success at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so is starting position. Seven of the last eight winners there have come from top-10 spots on the grid. Historically, the second position—on the outside of the front row—has produced more winners (four) than any other starting spot. Truex, Logano, and Keselowski all have won from P2.

That should also provide hope to William Byron (+1800), who won last week’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, another 1.5-miler. Byron starts to Harvick’s outside on Sunday. It also augurs well for reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott (+900), who has never won at the track. On the flip side, Elliott starts eighth, a position that has never produced a Las Vegas winner.

For those inclined to place a big stack of chips on one number on the roulette wheel—you’re in Vegas, after all—might we suggest No. 24, a starting spot that has, remarkably, produced three LVMS winners. Then again, Chase Briscoe, a Cup rookie who has never won a race in NASCAR’s top series, will start 24th, and you know the deal with the unlikelihood of a first-time winner at the track.

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Reid Spencer

Expert on NASCAR

Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Email: [email protected]