Column By: SHANE CARLSON / RPW – LAS VEGAS, NV – The field never had a chance against Kevin Harvick last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He put on a driving clinic and took the kids to school at the same time.
As much as Harvick dominated, it was just his second Cup win at Atlanta, and his first since his epic win in 2001 when he drove a rebranded No. 29 to victory. It was also a good day for the Ford contingent in general, scoring the top three positions.
Shifting into Las Vegas, the track surface is completely different than the surface in Atlanta one week ago. Las Vegas Motor Speedway features smooth asphalt, which creates less wear on the tires. With such limited tire falloff, watch for all sorts of differing pit strategies, especially as the race wears on.
Another unique feature of Las Vegas is the restarts. In Friday’s truck race, the restarts were a great opportunity for drivers to advance their position as rapidly as possible, so it contributed to three and four-wide action once the green flag dropped. Expect to see the same in the Cup Series race on Sunday.
The grind is just beginning for these drivers, and the best way to relieve the pressure of a long season is to punch a ticket to the playoffs as soon as possible.
My Pick to Win is…
No. 22 Pennzoil Ford Fusion
Can you believe this guy’s rookie season was 2009? And he’s only 26. He’s not really a young gun anymore, but he still has a lot of tread left on the tire. Anyway, Las Vegas is one of Logano’s best tracks. In nine starts, Logano’s average finish is 10.0, with three top-fives and five top-10s. He is yet to win on the 1.5-miler, but there’s a good chance his 29-race winless streak ends Sunday.
Sunday, March 4
3:30 PM ET
Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube
Radio: Performance Racing Network
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
- Denny Hamlin: Two top-fours to start the season, and he’s led more than 20 laps in each race. Hamlin seems to be the strongest out of the Toyota camp so far. Last Week: 4
- Ryan Blaney: The driver of the No. 12 Penske Ford matched his car number with a 12th-place run last weekend, the third of three Penske cars. He won the pole for Sunday’s race, and looks like he’s in for a good day. Last Week: 2
- Austin Dillon: Dillon admittedly said he was tired from the Daytona 500 media tour he endured after winning the season’s biggest race. After a poor 25th-place qualifying effort, he clawed his way through the field to finish 14th. Last Week: 1
- Joey Logano: Logano finds himself on top of the standings by way of being the only driver with two top-10s in the season’s first two races. He’s had a lot of good luck in Las Vegas, and all signs point to him running well in Sin City. Last Week: 5
- Aric Almirola: Happy to put Daytona behind him, he is beginning to show what he’s capable of when in good equipment on the intermediates. He was mixing it up inside the top-10 last week, and finished 13th. Last Week: 10
- Clint Bowyer: Bowyer fans should have hope. It seems Bowyer is confident is his cars, something that’s been lacking for a couple years now. SHR as an organization seems to be more well-rounded this year and fielding competitive cars for all four drivers. It’s just a matter of time until Bowyer gets himself a win. Last Week: Not Ranked
- Martin Truex Jr.: Truex struggled for the early portion of the race last weekend, something that never happened to the No. 78 group last season on intermediates. But, like champions do, Truex and his team dug deep to rally for a fifth-place run. Last Week: Not Ranked
- Paul Menard: It was a ‘meh’ day for Menard, as he finished 17th in Atlanta. Outside of his third-place finish in 2014, Las Vegas has not been a great track for Menard. Last Week: 6
- Kyle Larson: Larson was ninth last week, his highest finish of the season so far. Larson should race well on Sunday due to the amount of grip in the racetrack, which will allow him to run next to the wall. After winning in Vegas on Saturday, he’s confident he can get back to Victory Lane on Sunday. Last Week: Not Ranked
- Kurt Busch: He’s qualified really well so far this year, and that has translated to battling at or near the front of the field. Busch rebounded from a disappointing Daytona 500 to finish eighth last week. Last Week: Not Ranked