Weekend Preview: #NASCARGoesWest Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Chevrolet, talks with crew chief Chad Knaus during practice for the NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 10, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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.”

Familiar Face

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.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube

The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

The Date: Sunday, March 4

The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 80),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on lap 267)

What To Watch For: Defending race winner Martin Truex Jr. started his 2017 Monster Energy title run scoring the first of his eight-trophy haul in this race. … Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is looking for his first victory since Dover, Del. last year. His current winless streak of 25 races matches the longest of his decorated career. … Champion points leader Joey Logano has never won at Las Vegas and it’s a familiar story atop the standings. Seven of the top-10 drivers in the points standings have not won at the track. Last week’s Atlanta winner Kevin Harvick, Truex and Kurt Busch are the only drivers among the top-10 with Vegas trophy hardware.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Boyd Gaming 300

The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

The Date: Saturday, March 3

The Time: 4 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 3:30 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

What To Watch For: Three different Team Penske drivers have won the last six Xfinity Series races and another – Ryan Blaney – will contend this weekend in the No. 22 Ford Mustang to make it four. … Veteran Elliott Sadler has taken over the series points lead but is still looking for his win at Las Vegas. … The track has had nine different winners in the last nine races – the longest such streak in the series.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Next Race: Stratosphere 200

The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

The Date: Friday, March 2

The Time: 9 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 8:30 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 201 miles (134 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 30),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on lap 134)

What To Watch For: This truck race – the first time the series has raced at Las Vegas in the Spring – gives the track its first NASCAR triple-header weekend. …Christopher Bell won the last race here in September to become the 11th different winner in as many Vegas races. … Kyle Busch is entered in all three national events this weekend but hasn’t competed in the truck series in his hometown since 2001.

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