The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes its annual pilgrimage to Sin City this weekend as the series rolls into Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The 1.5-mile speedway has hosted 20 Cup races since 1998 and boasted 12 different winners. Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers (and all drivers total, for that matter) with four wins.
The Cup Series enters this weekend with Ford riding a seeming tsunami of momentum with their dominance in Atlanta last weekend, and if qualifying at Las Vegas is any indication, they appear to have no intentions of loosening their proverbial chokehold on the competition. In Friday evening qualifying, Ford parked eight cars in the top-12 spots, including the entirety of the top-3.
With that said, lets see if we can’t narrow down who may have the best chances in of claiming Vegas glory in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube:
RYAN BLANEY (#12 Pennzoil/Menard’s Ford): Blaney appears to be in a recent surge to become one of NASCAR’s hottest wheelmen, and a new ride with Team Penske seems to be adding some weight to that mantra. Blaney starts from the pole on Sunday, and though he only has three previous start at Las Vegas, he may have something to be optimistic about. He has two top-10 finishes and an average start of 15.7 with an average finish of 10.7.
KEVIN HARVICK (#4 Jimmy John’s Ford): Harvick just might be the most feared man in the NASCAR garage right now. After a dominant performance and win at Atlanta last week (which he did seemingly with relative ease), Harvick unloaded in Vegas prepared for this weekend to go exactly as last weekend did. He was quick in practice and parked his Ford on the outside pole. This could spell bad news for the competition, considering that in 17 Vegas starts, Kevin has one win, four top-5’s (23.5%) and seven top-10’s (41.2%), with an average start of 19.6 and an average finish of 14.8.
KURT BUSCH (#41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford): The Las Vegas native has yet to taste victory at his home track, and to be perfectly honest, his numbers are quite abysmal. In 16 starts, he has only garnered one top-5 (6.25%) and four top-10’s (25.0%). To make matters worse, of the 4,185 laps he has completed, he has only led 85 (2.04%) of those. He has only finished on the lead lap seven times. But the most astounding stat of them all, is that he has an average start of 9.4 with an average finish of 21.8. This isn’t all gloom-and-doom though, Kurt has been hot as of late, and after being quick in Friday practice, he qualified in the 3rd position.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR. (#78 5-Hour Energy/Bass Pro Shops Toyota): Las Vegas is where Truex began his mile-and-a-half reign of terror in his 2017 Championship campaign. Though he hasn’t shown an abundance of speed in the first two races of the season, he did qualify in the fourth spot for Las Vegas. In 12 starts, he has one win (8.33%), two top-5’s (16.7%) and four top-10’s (33.33%). He has led 158 of the 3,221 laps he has completed (4.91%) and has an average start of 16.1 and an average finish of 13.2. Given his performance on this style of tracks last season, this is one driver that the historical numbers may not matter on, he will assuredly make his presence be known on Sunday.
BRAD KESELOWSKI (#2 Discount Tire Ford): Qualified eighth, Keselowski may have one of the biggest stakes in the Vegas outcome. He comes in to the weekend with nine starts at Las Vegas, two wins (22.22%) with four top-5’s (44.44%) and six top-10’s (55.56%). He has completed 2,345 laps, of which he has led 188 (8.02%). With an average start of 9.8 and an average finish of 15.4, it is evident that in Las Vegas, Brad is either out front, or in the garage area. Expect him to be a factor on Sunday.
JOEY LOGANO (#22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford): In terms of percentages, Logano’s stats almost mirror those of teammate Brad Keselowski (minus the wins): nine starts, zero wins, three top-5’s (33.33%) and five top-5’s (55.56%). With 2,420 laps completed, he has led 171 circuits (7.07%). Just like Keselowski, when it comes to 1.5-mile ovals, Joey is very much feast or famine.
KYLE BUSCH (#18 M&M’s Toyota): The younger brother Busch comes to the family home track with much different numbers than older brothers. In 13 starts, he has one win (7.69%) and five top-5’s (38.46%) as well as six top-10’s (46.15%). He has led 230 of his 3,075 completed laps with an average start of 9.5 and an average finish of 14.2. Toyota has some work to do to truly be competitive with the Ford’s (though they don’t seem to be as far behind as the Chevrolet’s) but put money on the fact that Kyle won’t go down without a fight. If anyone not in a Ford is going to win, Kyle Busch would be a safe bet.
JIMMIE JOHNSON (#48 Lowe’s for Pro’s Chevrolet): The undisputed king of Las Vegas. Johnson falls into the textbook definition of “Number Don’t Lie.” In 16 starts, Johnson has amassed four wins (25.0%), six top-5’s (37.5%) and 9 top-10’s (56.25%). Of his 4,259 laps, he has led a whopping 595 (13.97%, nearly twice as much as his nearest competitor). He boasts an average start of 12.6 and an average finish of 10.9. It would be easy to just declare Johnson the hands down favorite to win right now, and just be done with it, but there’s a catch: Johnson is in the midst of the worst season start of his career with crashes at Daytona (well, three of them actually) and Atlanta, and again, Chevrolet struggled last week at Atlanta, and those woes seem to continue this week in Vegas. Johnson clocked at a respectable 14th starting position in qualifying, but unless something turns around for Chevrolet between now and start time on Sunday, look for Johnson to be an “also-ran.”