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2018 Pennzoil 400 Preview

Race: Pennzoil 400
Date: Sunday March 4, 2018
Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Time: 3:30 pm ET

by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper,

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Kevin Harvick put on a dominating performance and won this past weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Heís put in a lot of work and led and lot of laps, but in the last few years, he has failed to capitalize, so this win was bittersweet for him. Brad Keselowski ended up second, just not quite able to stay ahead of Harvick. It was very clear who had the best car over the weekend. Kyle Busch was hoping to dominate the weekend but came home in a respectable 7th place. The top 5 drivers were rounded out by Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr.

Although Truex didnít have the win that he wanted, he drove his car to the best position possible based on the comparison to the other guys. Harvick and Keselowski just had more speed. There were a multitude of different pit strategies as well, with NASCAR predicting rain shortening the race. Luckily, their predictions were nullified. The race went the full 325 laps, but had it not, the race can no longer be called until 2 or 3 full segments are completed, which is typically longer than the previous requirement of the halfway mark of the race. With all of those different strategies in play, we saw that tires were very important here at Atlanta, with drivers cutting down those right fronts. The wear here is pretty intense because of the speeds into and off of the turns.

This weekend, our west coast swing begins. Drivers are arriving at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Pennzoil 400. This speedway is located in the notorious Clark County. Itís a 1.5-mile asphalt tri-oval. It boasts variable degree banking in the turns anywhere from 12 to 20 degrees. Iíve actually driven on this track, and let me tell you, itís pretty awesome feeling that banking heading into a turn at 160mph+. Overall, weíll see some similarities in that tires are important, but fuel mileage will also be a consideration. Las Vegas doesnít tend to be as detrimental to the tires as other intermediate tracks. Goodyear has provided a solid tire for this track throughout the years as well. Atlanta and Las Vegas both produce some serious speed, and we can expect to see the drivers who excelled at Atlanta propel to the front of the field here at Vegas as well.

The drivers to watch if weíre mirroring Atlanta will most definitely be Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. I feel like Iím repeating exactly what I said last year. It was funny because Kevin Harvick dominated last year at Atlanta as well but managed to throw that win in the toilet. Keselowski brought himself to the front of the pack also. This year, weíre moving to Vegas under similar circumstances, although I feel like Brad is going to show us something here at Vegas. He is one of only a handful of drivers that has won at this track multiple times, with his last win coming in 2016. Penske has the speed and Brad has the momentum coming off a substantially good run last weekend at Atlanta. Although he couldnít hold off Harvick, he was strong and his record is better at Vegas anyway. Hereís a look at your potential winners heading into this weekendís race:

My Pick to Win: Brad Keselowski
Middle of the Road Pick: Clint Bowyer
Dark Horse Prediction: Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney you may ask? With stage points under his belt and a very solid Daytona run, Blaney is nothing to sneeze at on these intermediate tracks. He ran here last year and finished in 7th, ahead of many of the other top picks. Look for Blaney to certainly be a contender. Clint Bowyer is typically a rarity in my picks, at least since last year. With his failure to earn any top 5s on the intermediates last year, itís no wonder that heís a skeptical pick. That being said, his ride at SHR is definitely something that seems to be shaping up well for him. He finished 10th here last year with SHR, but something seems to be clicking a little better so far this year if you watch this team during practice and also in the races. Bowyer finished in the top 5 at Atlanta last weekend and gained a lot of confidence heading into Sundayís race. Look for him to race aggressively to really get up front and show that talent that we know heís got.

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Here are your current top 16 after last week's race:

1. Joey Logano
2. Ryan Blaney
3. Denny Hamlin
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Clint Bowyer
6. Austin Dillon
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Kurt Busch
9. Paul Menard
10. Aric Almirola
11. Kyle Busch
12. Brad Keselowski
13. Kyle Larson
14. Darrell Wallace Jr.
15. Michael McDowell
16. Ryan Newman

The points are still in an interesting state. They are also so fluid at the beginning of the season as there are several different drivers leading stages, getting wins, etc. Into the 4th or 5th week, weíll start seeing a little more consistency. Right now, itís crazy that Logano is the points leader being that we havenít really heard much from him. Donít get me wrong, heís had solid runs, but itís this all over the place points system awarding participation trophies making crazy standings week in and week out. Like I said, though, weíll start to see a little more consistency as things pan out over the next few weeks. This week, look for Keselowski to have the checkers in hand as we gear up for an exciting race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway!

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