It’s time to do some gambling in Sin City as the NASCAR Cup Series heads just outside The Strip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon for 400 miles of 1.5-mile oval racing. This is the fourth race on the Cup Series schedule for 2021 and the first of a shortened West Coast swing that sees the elimination of Auto Club Speedway for this season.
It’s been an unpredictable start to the Cup season as Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and William Byron secured the first three playoff spots with wins in Florida. With 23 races still remaining in the regular season, there are only 13 playoff spots left up for grabs and one could argue that both McDowell and Bell are “bubble busters” that wouldn’t have made the playoffs based on overall points.
The pressure is now on drivers that finish 12-16 in the regular season on a consistent basis and those contenders that have struggled to start 2021.
Two of those contenders that have found little success this season are Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto. The sorta-Team Penske partners sit outside the top 20 in standings with DiBenedetto sitting in 35th behind drivers like Josh Bilicki, Joey Gase and rookie Anthony Alfredo. DiBenedetto’s highest finish in 2021 was last weekend at Homestead where he finished 28th. Blaney’s misfortunes haven’t been all his fault as he was caught in the Big One early in the Daytona 500 and had Aric Almirola slide into him at Homestead. Blaney’s best finish so far was 15th on the Daytona Road Course.
If trends hold, Sunday should be a good day for both drivers as DiBenedetto came runner-up in both Vegas races last year and Blaney has scored a top five in three of his last six Vegas starts.
Kevin Harvick rolls off on the pole Sunday seeking his first win of 2021. He has scored a top-10 finish in four of his last five starts in Vegas and won the spring 2018 race. Harvick is only one of two drivers to score a top 10 in each race this season (Michael McDowell).
For McDowell, he has been the Cinderella of the season so far with his three top-10 finishes. He has the opportunity to match a career high for top 10’s in a single season with a strong run Sunday. He will start fifth.
Byron hasn’t been treated well by Vegas so far in his Cup Series career. He only has one top-10 finish that came in the fall race in 2019. Outside of that, his highest finish was 16th. Last year, he finished 22nd and 25th in Vegas. He will look for better fortunes Sunday as he starts on the front row with Harvick.
Stages for the Pennzoil 400 end on lap 80, lap 160 and the finish on lap 267. There will be a competition caution on lap 25. TV coverage for the race will be on FOX beginning at 3:30 p.m. EST with the Performance Racing Network fulfilling your auditory needs.
Pit stall assignments:
Goodyear tire notes: https://www.jayski.com/2021/03/02/goodyear-fast-facts-las-vegas-6/