NASCAR Barometer: Logano Gives Penske Consecutive Wins

NASCAR Barometer: Logano Gives Penske Consecutive Wins

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Joey Logano battled teammate Brad Keselowski in the final laps of Sunday's Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to win the second consecutive race for Penske Racing and the first of his title defense. The Ford-powered machines were fast from qualifying on Friday through the race on Sunday. Kevin Harvick started from pole and led the most laps in the race, but the Penske teammates were the ones able to make the right chassis adjustments to finish the distance out front.

NASCAR's full implementation of the new rules package was also a disappointment. The racing was not nearly as close as many were expecting, and the multisecond leads fans thought would be a thing of the past at tracks like Las Vegas were again the norm. Harvick dominated the opening segment, and the number of lead-lap cars from segment to segment was roughly the same as the races we've seen at the track in the past. The unknown of this new era of racing might be more of a known than fantasy players would have expected, which could mean throwing away past track statistics is not the way to go when choosing lineups. That means at Phoenix this week we should expect Kevin Harvick to be the favorite before the track opens for the first practice.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – The Penske Racing early-season strength continued in Las Vegas. The team spent its time in practice focusing on race setup, which paid dividends when Logano won the second stage

Joey Logano battled teammate Brad Keselowski in the final laps of Sunday's Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to win the second consecutive race for Penske Racing and the first of his title defense. The Ford-powered machines were fast from qualifying on Friday through the race on Sunday. Kevin Harvick started from pole and led the most laps in the race, but the Penske teammates were the ones able to make the right chassis adjustments to finish the distance out front.

NASCAR's full implementation of the new rules package was also a disappointment. The racing was not nearly as close as many were expecting, and the multisecond leads fans thought would be a thing of the past at tracks like Las Vegas were again the norm. Harvick dominated the opening segment, and the number of lead-lap cars from segment to segment was roughly the same as the races we've seen at the track in the past. The unknown of this new era of racing might be more of a known than fantasy players would have expected, which could mean throwing away past track statistics is not the way to go when choosing lineups. That means at Phoenix this week we should expect Kevin Harvick to be the favorite before the track opens for the first practice.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – The Penske Racing early-season strength continued in Las Vegas. The team spent its time in practice focusing on race setup, which paid dividends when Logano won the second stage of Sunday's race. He then worked his way forward to pass then leader Kevin Harvick, and held off teammate Brad Keselowski in the final laps to earn his first win of 2019 and the second in a row for Penske. The season is starting well for the defending champion, and if Penske can maintain its momentum, the team looks very hard to beat in the near future. Logano had one Phoenix win back in 2016 and crashed out of the race there last fall but could likely be considered one of the favorites this week.

Brad Keselowski – It is exceedingly difficult to win back-to-back races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, but Keselowski just about pulled it off last week in Las Vegas. The Penske driver overcame a stomach illness two weeks ago to win in Atlanta and then narrowly missed pulling off a last-lap pass on teammate Logano last weekend in Las Vegas. It was an impressive weekend overall for Penske as the organization focused on race setup early on Friday, which gave it the edge needed to come out on top on Sunday. In Phoenix, Keselowski has nine top-10s and six top-fives from 19 career starts. The early season seems to be a battle among the Fords, and Penske has the edge.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick won an unremarkable first stage in Sunday's Pennzoil 400 with a comfortable three-second gap over Kyle Busch's Toyota. NASCAR's new rules package did nothing to stunt the former champion's early-race dominance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the team couldn't keep up with the adjustments necessary to hold off the charging Penske teammates. It was still a very good day for Ford and Harvick with the most laps led, but he will be anxious to convert his speed each week into a win as soon as possible. This week could be the time, too. Harvick has dominated at Phoenix with nine total victories including this race last season and is certain to be a favorite for this week's win.

Kyle Busch – After winning two races prior to Sunday's Monster Energy Cup series race, Busch's Sunday didn't get off to the greatest start. Despite finishing second, he finished the first stage more than three seconds behind Harvick and suffered a speeding penalty on pit road in the second segment that proved to be too much to overcome. He found his way back to the lead lap before the final stage began, and thus started his climb up the finishing order. That march stalled in the final laps, and Kyle only made it up to third. He will now head to Phoenix still looking for a way to overcome all of the Ford contenders. He has two Phoenix wins, including the Can-Am 500 last fall.

Kurt Busch – Despite never winning at Las Vegas, Busch had an afternoon to remember on Sunday. His new ride at Chip Ganassi Racing is paying off with early results, and Sunday's performance at Las Vegas was one of his best in recent memory. He finished fifth and spent more than 20 laps at the front of the field. After the race, he said he and the team are working on getting the car to handle to his liking in all conditions, and when they find that balance, the wins look like they will begin to come. Kurt has one Phoenix victory with seven top-fives and 18 top-10s from 32 career starts, and his early performances with his new team suggest another top finish this week.

DOWNGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Blaney was not able to recover from early pit road trouble in Las Vegas. The Penske driver should have had the equipment to contend at the front of the field, but he struggled to rejoin the lead lap after falling behind early. While his two teammates battled for the lead in the final laps, Blaney found himself outside of the top 20, which is a disappointment for fantasy owners who most likely expected him to finish inside the top 10. Blaney seems slower to get 2019 started than his garage-mates, and that means fantasy players might want to avoid him for the next few weeks. Blaney has two top-10 finishes from six starts at Phoenix and both were earned back in 2016. He finished 16th and 34th at the circuit last season.

Ryan Newman – NASCAR's newest rules package failed to produce the close racing many were hoping for, and Newman may have been one of the casualties of that disappointment. The Roush-Fenway Racing driver should have been facing a more level playing field in Las Vegas, giving him the opportunity to use his skills in traffic to muscle his way forward on the leaderboard. Instead, with less than 25 laps remaining, Newman found himself two laps down to the leaders. Newman has two past Phoenix wins with a pair of 11th-place finishes at the track last season. Another 11th-place run this week would be a surprise after seeing the usual suspects trounce the field again last week in Las Vegas.

Daniel Suarez – Despite racing his way to the lead early in Las Vegas, Suarez was unable to depart the track with a top finish. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has turned in a strong start to the new partnership, but he faded in the final stages of Sunday's Pennzoil 400. Suarez will have ups and downs as he gains his footing with his new team, but Sunday should have been an opportunity for him to continue riding his early wave of momentum to another top-10 finish. Instead, he now must turn to Phoenix and figure out how to return to form. Suarez has two top-10s from four Phoenix starts, with both of those coming in the spring race, however.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson's nice start to the 2019 season in Daytona has faded quickly in the weeks since. He won the Shootout and finished ninth in the 500 before two finishes outside of the top 15 the following two weeks. He was the first car one lap down in Sunday's Pennzoil 400 and was never a factor in the race despite qualifying ninth. Hendrick Motorsports has been behind since Daytona and clearly has some work to do in order to score some top finishes. Fantasy players will wonder if this is more of what we've come to expect from the No. 48 in recent years. Four Phoenix wins proves Johnson is capable of running at the top, but it may be wise to take a wait-and-see approach to selecting him for fantasy lineups this week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Richard Childress Racing – After being fastest out of the gate in Friday's sessions at Las Vegas, the Richard Childress Racing teammates weren't able to contend on Sunday. The Chevrolet-powered team had a terrific start to the weekend by topping practice, but that early pace failed to materialize in Sunday's race, with both Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric finishing off of the lead lap. Both drivers have shown flashes of speed this season but haven't yet converted it into race pace. That lack of ability to deliver results in the race makes them risky fantasy plays until they are able to find more consistency throughout the race weekend. Hemric finished second there last year in the Xfinity series, while Dillon finished eighth in the fall Cup race.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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