NASCAR Playoffs Las Vegas Review
The opening race for the first round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is now behind us, and it provided quite a bit of drama and entertainment to last us for the rest of this round. Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway proved to be a lot more intense and eventful than the race held back here in March. At least 11 of the 16 playoff drivers encountered issues at some point during Sunday’s 267-lap race.
The first stage was rather calm and routine, save for a couple of minor incidents, the first of which involved playoff driver Ryan Blaney brushing the wall after minor contact with fellow playoff contender Aric Almirola. The other incident involved one of the top Chevy contenders, Kyle Larson, as he was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop with a flat right-front tire. Meanwhile, defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. went on to win Stage 1
The issues for playoff drivers really began to pick up in Stage 2, when at lap 149, Kevin Harvick, the winner of the Vegas spring race, cut a tire while running in the top 10 and crashed, collecting polesitter and fellow playoff contender Erik Jones in the process. Harvick was openly critical of the tire compound Goodyear brought to this weekend’s race after the accident. Nonetheless, the accident only dropped Harvick to 4th in points, well above the cutoff line (12th), but for Erik Jones, it dropped him to 15th, 19 points behind the cut line for the next round. Brad Keselowski, who won the last two races of the regular season, proceeded to win Stage 2.
More issues emerged for playoff drivers in Stage 3. Playoff contender Chase Elliott was an innocent victim with nowhere to go when Jamie McMurray cut a tire and crashed in front of him at lap 213. Elliott was complaining of shoulder pain on the team radio after the crash, but tests at the infield medical center indicated no significant injury. However, the crash dropped Elliott to 14th in the playoff standings.
JGR teammates and playoff drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin both spun off turn 4 on laps 234 and 248, respectively. Busch sustained no damage during his spin. Hamlin wasn’t as lucky, however, as the front end of his FedEx machine dug into the infield grass, ripping the front splitter off the car and ending his day. Hamlin now sits dead last (16th) in the playoff standings, 20 markers behind the cutoff.
The remaining playoff drivers for Hendrick Motorsports, Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson, made contact with fellow playoff driver Kurt Busch late in the race with under 10 laps to go. The contact wound up causing both to have tire issues, with Johnson’s incident also putting playoff driver Clint Bowyer in the wall. Meanwhile, Busch would have another problem, getting caught up in a multi-car crash near the end of the race.
In the end, it was the Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney that put on quite the show in the second half of the race, with Keselowski winning his 3rd consecutive race in the blistering heat of the Vegas desert, punching his ticket into the next round of the playoffs. Playoff drivers swept the top 7 spots, with positions 2-7 occupied by Larson, Truex Jr., Logano, Blaney, Almirola, and Kyle Busch.
Keselowski is on a roll now, but if anyone can make challenge him, they’ll get a shot at the action track, Richmond Raceway, this Saturday night!