Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – LAS VEGAS, NV – Conceding the weather conditions may vary between this week’s spring race weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the track’s inaugural Playoff race date coming in September 16, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers still remained confident Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube (at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM) would serve as a good reference point for the all-important return trip this Fall.
Speaking with the media Friday morning prior to opening Monster Energy Series practice, Kyle Larson was confident and optimistic that this #NASCARGoesWest stop would absolutely benefit the playoff drivers down the road.
“I think anytime you race at a track whether it’s cool or hot it relates,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said, noting he didn’t expect the different seasons to be a huge factor.
“I mean there is definitely some added importance to this race with it being in the Playoffs. I mean hopefully we have a strong race and if not, you know what you need to go back and work on to be better when you come back here later in the year to benefit your Playoff run.
“Not that this race when it was just a stand-alone event or one race wasn’t important, but anytime you can race at a track that you are going to come back at in the final 10 it’s got some added importance to it.”
As was Larson, veteran Kevin Harvick was a playoff driver in 2017 and has qualified for NASCAR’s Championship 4, in three of the last four years resulting in a series championship in 2014. This season’s Playoff slate has a decidedly new look including for the first time, that vital Playoff opener at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It will be the first time the Monster Energy Series teams have competed in Vegas later than the March springtime date. And the veteran Harvick said he expects the additional race date to affect the importance of this weekend for his Stewart-Haas Racing organization and others.
“I think the thought process of knowing you are coming back here for a second-time is definitely a good thing, and definitely something that is relevant for us as we go through the weekend,” said Harvick, who won last Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“The progression of the year is always so drastic. By the time we come back in September and you look at the downforce and things the car makes at that time compared to the beginning of the year, if you look at what we raced here last year compared to what we will race today is all progression of the year.
“Coming back here, I think that direction will still stand and you will do some things different. Every track has its own trends and quirks about it that you want to have written down and noted. It is an important weekend to make sure you have a firm understanding of the direction of this particular race track knowing you are coming back for the Playoffs. It will be different.”
Driver Ryan Blaney agreed, saying his No. 12 Team Penske Ford team would definitely consider this race a good reference point for the Fall event. But, he said that’s really true anywhere the series races twice – postseason implications or not.
“You try to learn every bit you can,” Blaney said. “You put it in your notebook. Even if the track is different you learn something or you don’t. The more and more you can build up your notebook and knowledge of things the better.
“We pay attention to every track whether we go there once or twice, Playoff or non-Playoff race. You try to get more knowledge. It is a little different coming back here but I think it won’t change that much. It will be fairly similar to how it is now.
“There might not be 30 mph winds,” he said. “But we will pay close attention to it like we do every week.”