Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – LAS VEGAS, NV – In the spirit of the “numbers game” that characterizes the Las Vegas area hosting NASCAR’s three national series this weekend, here are some jackpot trends and statistics to consider as NASCAR starts its three-race western swing (#NASCARGoesWest) with the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson is the most successful driver at the 1.5-mile speedway with four wins – the last in 2010 – six top-fives and nine top-10 finishes and he also tops the series in driver rating (112), laps led (582), laps running in the top-15 (76.7 percent), fastest laps (445) and quality passes (496) at the track.
Johnson (four) and Brad Keselowski (two) are the only two series drivers with multiple Las Vegas wins. And Johnson would sure like to summon that positive precedence as his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team hopes to avoid what would be a career-long winless streak at 26 races.
Despite the impressive Johnson statistical superiority, current points leader Joey Logano actually boasts the best average finish at Vegas (10.0), however the Team Penske driver has never won at the track. He finished runner-up to his teammate Brad Keselowski in 2016 and was fourth last year.
Johnson’s former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, who now drives the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet has won more pole positions (three) at Vegas than anyone and also has a track best two runner-up finishes here – most recently in 2013.
There are only five former winners in Sunday’s race and last week’s Atlanta winner Kevin Harvick joins Johnson as two of only four drivers to have won at Las Vegas as reigning Cup champions. It’s a feat current champ Martin Truex Jr. sure would like to accomplish. This is the race that essentially launched Truex on his title-winning trajectory in 2017 — one of seven trophies he earned on 1.5-mile tracks en route to the big Monster Energy Cup hoist at the season finale.
Custer’s Series Debut
This weekend marks the Cup debut for Xfinity Series championship contender Cole Custer, 20, who will drive the Rick Ware Motorsports No. 51 Ford on Sunday. He joins Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola in making his first Cup start at the famed 1.5-mile speedway.
“I’m excited to see what we can do,” said Custer, who drives the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford fulltime in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
“There’s definitely a lot of information you have to take in during the week to prepare yourself for everything that’s going to happen. But I think it’s definitely interesting to learn something new and try to make yourself better.
“It’s definitely going to be eye-opening to race with all those guys,” said Custer. “Every single guy out there can drive a race car at a high level so I think it’ll be eye-opening in the race to get a feel for what it’s like to race 30 guys that are in really fast cars and can take advantage of it.”
“I’m looking forward to working with the team and seeing what we can do.”
Only two weeks into the 2018 season and veteran Elliott Sadler is back where he feels most comfortable – leading the Xfinity Series championship standings. The four-time championship runner-up has not won a race at this week’s venue, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but he has back-to-back eighth-place finishes in his last two races here. He finished fifth in 2013 and his top showing was a third-place after qualifying on the pole in 2012.
Sadler’s JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Chevrolet is the only car to have completed every lap of Xfinity Series racing to date.
As Sadler has come to expect, his toughest competition comes from within his JR Motorsports team. And this year that includes rookie Tyler Reddick, who won the Xfinity season-opener at Daytona Beach two weeks ago and is the only JRM driver with a victory at Las Vegas – his coming in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016.
Two Of A Kind
The Camping World Truck Series will be making its Spring debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – a place the series has traditionally visited later in the season for a NASCAR “standalone” show.
Judging by the history of the truck races, Vegas fans can expect to be thrilled with high action and the possibility of a first-time track winner. Christopher Bell became the 11th different winner in as many races last Fall in a Victory Lane that’s crowned drivers from Travis Kvapil (2007) to Nelson Piquet (2012) to John Wes Townley (2015).
Another former winner to keep an eye on this weekend is Las Vegas native Kyle Busch, who is entered in all three NASCAR national races, but making his first truck start at his hometown track since 2001. Busch is the only NASCAR driver to sweep three national series races in a weekend – doing it twice at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.