Pennzoil 400 Preview: The West Coast Swing Continues

Pennzoil 400 Preview: The West Coast Swing Continues

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

With Auto Club Speedway now in our rearview mirror, we stay out west this week and continue with the west coast swing. The NASCAR Cup Series will make their early-season visit to Sin City this weekend for the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The intermediate oval in the Nevada desert hosts the Pennzoil 400 this Sunday afternoon. With this being the first race on an intermediate oval for the campaign, we need to get our notebooks handy. This race, as well as the upcoming event at Atlanta, will be a good example of what we can expect going forward for many of the drivers on similar style ovals. Those who perform well at Las Vegas are set up to run well at upcoming facilities like Atlanta, Kansas, Charlotte and Texas. This style of track makes up a vast percentage (43%) of the ovals that the Cup Series races on, so this 400-mile event will be an early season barometer for what's to come. The drivers that succeed this week will be ones to watch in the coming weeks.

LVMS is the first of our many intermediate ovals on the Cup Series schedule. While the banking and configuration varies a bit from the other cookie cutter tracks, Las Vegas should be a good indicator of what to expect for most of the drivers early in 2023 on these style ovals. Since historical data is so valuable in developing our weekly driver list, we'll take a quick look at these track

With Auto Club Speedway now in our rearview mirror, we stay out west this week and continue with the west coast swing. The NASCAR Cup Series will make their early-season visit to Sin City this weekend for the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The intermediate oval in the Nevada desert hosts the Pennzoil 400 this Sunday afternoon. With this being the first race on an intermediate oval for the campaign, we need to get our notebooks handy. This race, as well as the upcoming event at Atlanta, will be a good example of what we can expect going forward for many of the drivers on similar style ovals. Those who perform well at Las Vegas are set up to run well at upcoming facilities like Atlanta, Kansas, Charlotte and Texas. This style of track makes up a vast percentage (43%) of the ovals that the Cup Series races on, so this 400-mile event will be an early season barometer for what's to come. The drivers that succeed this week will be ones to watch in the coming weeks.

LVMS is the first of our many intermediate ovals on the Cup Series schedule. While the banking and configuration varies a bit from the other cookie cutter tracks, Las Vegas should be a good indicator of what to expect for most of the drivers early in 2023 on these style ovals. Since historical data is so valuable in developing our weekly driver list, we'll take a quick look at these track specific statistics. The loop stats in the table below span the last 18 years of competition at this 1.5-mile oval. Let's take a look at the loop stats for the last 23 races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for some background on the drivers.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Joey Logano8.58672605274,111103.2
Kyle Busch9.51,0062893114,600101.4
Kevin Harvick13.19253886364,692100.8
Martin Truex Jr.10.11,0573343014,44298.1
Ryan Blaney12.4639159802,63497.7
Kyle Larson11.27021912512,50897.3
Chase Elliott18.17002211782,60796.2
Brad Keselowski11.67922913163,31191.8
Denny Hamlin12.99471683593,70090.1
William Byron17.8585128791,83987.8
Alex Bowman18.2604102221,85980.5
Austin Dillon15.050233122,05978.1
Tyler Reddick16.2281464483577.5
Erik Jones19.84724601,56376.7
Noah Gragson11.0544013073.0
Austin Cindric 24.0839829072.7
Christopher Bell22.0264243265872.0
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 19.539937411,33870.5
Aric Almirola21.44833231,90867.4
Ross Chastain21.22016015172465.8

Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been a track of parity for several years. However, we've seen the advantage shift somewhat to Chevrolet teams in the last couple seasons. Chevrolet drivers have won three of the last five events at the Las Vegas oval. Still, all three manufacturers have put a driver in victory lane at LVMS since 2020, so parity still exists. In this event one year ago the Cup Series returned to the Nevada desert and Alex Bowman rolled into victory lane for the first time in his career at the 1.5-mile oval. With Bowman picking up that solid victory, we saw a different manufacturer sweep into victory lane at Las Vegas in the fall installment at the track last October. Joey Logano outmaneuvered Ross Chastain and captured an important playoff win for Ford in his march to last season's championship. So we truly have a pretty good balance between all manufacturer's heading into Sunday's Pennzoil 400. 

However, before we cede the trophy to a Chevrolet or Ford camp we need to realize that contenders will also come from the Toyota stable this weekend. Toyota last won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the fall of 2021 when Denny Hamlin would park his No. 11 Toyota in victory lane at the Nevada race track. Toyota drivers have just two victories of the last seven events at Vegas and are clearly on the back foot. However, as Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell showed at LVMS last season, a strong Toyota team is capable of leading laps and challenging for the win here as well. Anyone can surge at the end of these races with the right pit and race strategy and pull off the upset. Late cautions and overtime finishes open the door to this type of anarchy. The following drivers are our picks for fantasy racing success at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. 

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle Busch – The driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet has enjoyed a good bit of success at his home state track over the years, and while most of that success has come in a Toyota, that should still translate to his new Chevy team. Busch collected a pair of third-place finishes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2021 and he nabbed fourth- and third-place finishes at the track last year in the Next Gen car. The Richard Childress Racing star is a one-time winner at Las Vegas, and he owns 11 Top-5 finishes in 23 starts for a strong 48-percent Top-5 rate. With 311-career laps led at LVMS, he's had his share of strong cars at the 1.5-mile Nevada oval. Busch was in the running to win both his starts at this facility last season, and we believe he'll be a major factor in the outcome once again in Sunday's Pennzoil 400.     

Kyle Larson – Larson won this event two seasons ago, and he challenged for the win in last year's Pennzoil 400 only to finish an impressive runner-up in that 400-mile Vegas battle. The Hendrick Motorsports star owns one victory and three runner-up finishes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so he always seems to be in the running for the win here. Larson cracks the Top-5 at a strong 39-percent rate and the Top-10 at a 69-percent rate at this facility. With over 250 laps led for his career at this track, it's clear that Larson has this place zeroed-in. If Chevrolet hopes to continue their winning ways in Sin City, those hopes will largely ride with Larson and the No. 5 team this Sunday afternoon.

Joey Logano – Logano is a three-time Las Vegas winner (2019, 2020 and 2022) and he always seems to have a strong race car when the Cup Series visits the Nevada race track. With over 500 laps led at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Penske Racing star has had more than his fair share of racing up front here. In this event one year ago, Logano scuffled to a subpar 14th-place finish in the Next Gen car's debut at Vegas. However, the team would learn a lot and rally back to victory lane in last October's South Point 400. The veteran driver cracks the Top 5 at this facility at a strong 37-percent rate and Top 10 at an equally strong 63-percent. Among the many intermediate ovals on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, Las Vegas is one of Logano's best.

Denny Hamlin – In last season's Chase for the Cup playoffs, Hamlin pulled an impressive Top-5 performance in the South Point 400 and challenged for the win at Las Vegas last October. That effort capped what has been a recent power surge for the Joe Gibbs Racing star at this oval. Hamlin has led over 300-combined laps and collected four Top-5 finishes in his last five Las Vegas starts. That's a break with Hamlin's career record at this Nevada race track, but a clear trend going forward. His career numbers at LVMS look pretty pedestrian, but his more recent numbers are off the charts with excellence. We believe this event could be a big early-season highlight of Hamlin's 2023 campaign. 

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Ross Chastain – Chastain just missed the cut for the contenders list this week, but he easily heads up the solid plays group. The Trackhouse Racing veteran led a whopping 91 laps this past week at Fontana before fading late to finish third. It was an impressive performance for the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet. Chastain would be quite impressive at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last season. In his two starts he led a combined 151 laps and finished third- and second-place. Chastain would dominate both those events and narrowly miss victory lane in each. If you're looking for a driver who could upstage some of the bigger names and top favorites in the race field this Sunday in Sin City, Chastain and the No. 1 team are your clear selection. 

Chase Elliott – So Elliott was seemingly flirting with victory lane at Fontana last Sunday until all his efforts to run down Kyle Busch in the closing laps would fall short. The impressive effort was not lost on us though and we continue to have high expectations going forward for the No. 9 Chevrolet squad. The Hendrick Motorsports star should be poised to continue sharpening his sword in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas this weekend. Elliott has five Top-10 finishes in 12-career starts at the track for a respectable 42-percent rate. His start in this event one year ago netted a steady ninth-place finish in last year's Pennzoil 400. Elliott has some things to prove this week, and he won't be short on motivation. 

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star is looking forward to Las Vegas after his 11th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway. Truex and the No. 19 Toyota team have some things to work on, but Las Vegas could be the track that jump starts his season. He's won two races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway since the 2017 season and he's riding a five-race Las Vegas Top-10 streak into Sunday's Pennzoil 400. Truex's last start at the Nevada oval was a strong seventh-place finish in last October's South Point 400. With over 300-career laps led at this Nevada speedway, we're quite accustomed to seeing Truex race among the leaders here. We believe this driver and team will be one of the strong fantasy plays in the Pennzoil 400.

Alex Bowman – The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet has had a good start to the season and he rides into Las Vegas sitting third overall in the driver points. Bowman will look to keep things rolling in Sin City this Sunday. The Hendrick Motorsports veteran qualified fourth on the grid, led 17 laps and finished a respectable eighth-place at Fontana last Sunday. Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been a love/hate affair with this driver and team, however, Bowman hit it big in this event one year ago. He would rise late and overtake Kyle Larson in an overtime finish to grab his first-career Las Vegas victory. Bowman sports just a lowly 27-percent Top-10 rate at this oval, but the reality of his improvement here shows that he has a pair of Top-5 finishes in his last four starts.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Las Vegas & solid upside

Kevin Harvick – The Stewart Haas Racing star had a very encouraging performance last week at Fontana. Harvick led 5 laps and battled to an impressive fifth-place finish in the Pala Casino 400. The driver of the No. 4 Ford has strong career numbers at the Vegas oval, to go along with his two-career victories. Harvick owns an impressive 13.7 average finish over his 27 starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and boasts 13-career Top 10's (48-percent) at LVMS. The SHR star has led 679-career laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so he knows how to dominate at this track. The No. 4 Ford team has a strong Las Vegas reputation to defend this weekend. 

Austin Dillon – Dillon had an impressive drive at Auto Club Speedway last Sunday. He'd come from 28th on the starting grid to forge a strong ninth-place finish. It appears that Richard Childress Racing is rolling strong after Kyle Busch's victory and Dillon's Top 10 in California. The No. 3 Chevrolet team will look to stay hot in Sunday's 400-mile race in Sin City. Dillon has three-career Top 10's at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the most recent coming in last October's South Point 400. The veteran driver rides a four-race Vegas Top-15 streak into this weekend's action. With a career average finish of 15.0 at the speedway, Dillon has always been a consistent performer here.   

Daniel Suarez – Suarez bucked historical trends and turned in a strong performance at Auto Club Speedway last Sunday. The Trackhouse Racing veteran is likely poised to pull a similar feat at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. Suarez doesn't have inspiring career numbers at this 1.5-mile oval, but he did have the speed to qualify within the Top 10 and lead 31 laps last October before finishing just outside the Top 15. We expect the driver of the No. 99 Chevrolet to be even better in Sunday's Pennzoil 400. Considering that Suarez raced among the leaders and collected a Top-5 finish last Sunday in the Pala Casino 400, we have high ceiling expectations for Suarez and his Trackhouse Racing team at Las Vegas.           

Brad Keselowski – The three-time Las Vegas winner looks to keep his strong resume at this oval going in the Pennzoil 400. Keselowski is off to a good start after his seventh-place at Auto Club Speedway last week and comes to Vegas 10th in the driver points. His stats at this Las Vegas facility has been incredibly strong throughout his career. The Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing star has three wins, two runner-up finishes and 12 Top-10 finishes at the Vegas oval. It's for this reason alone that we think Keselowski will be strong this weekend. The driver of the No. 6 Ford has some ground to make up and some room to improve over his struggle-filled 2022 campaign. Keselowski has been a top performer at this track over the years, and he'll get a chance to prove his skill once again. 

William Byron – Byron has some deep fantasy value appeal this weekend for the Pennzoil 400. He was a bit of a letdown at Fontana this past Sunday and that will turn some fantasy racing players off, giving him a bit more value in weekly lineup leagues. Byron posted two good qualifying efforts at Las Vegas last season and he fetched fifth- and 13th-place finishes in those two starts, with the Top 5 coming in this event one year ago. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet now has 10-career Cup starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so the experience is starting to stack up. While his stats aren't eye-popping, we do note that he has two Top-10 finishes in his last four starts at the Nevada speedway.

Erik Jones – The Legacy Motor Club veteran had a bit of a subpar performance at Auto Club Speedway this past week (19th-place), but he'll look to rebound at a much more favorable oval for this driver and team. Jones will turn his attention to a better performance at the Las Vegas oval. Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been a pretty good track for the veteran driver. He has four Top 10's at the Nevada race track, with three of those coming in the last five trips to Vegas. Jones' last start at LVMS last October netted a strong eighth-place finish in the South Point 400. He should be up to the task of challenging the Top 10 Sunday in the Pennzoil 400.   

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week 

Ryan Blaney – While Blaney ran into trouble last week at Fontana, he did have the speed to qualify well and lead 16 laps before his afternoon turned south. The driver of the No. 12 Ford is going to face some head winds trying to rebound this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Blaney had good speed at LVMS last season, but would get into trouble in both events and finish outside the Top 25 in those races. Those disappointments tarnished what has been a pretty good record for Blaney at the Nevada oval. Blaney's Top-10 rate dropped to 62-percent at LVMS after those two swings and misses last season. This driver and team have good potential for the Pennzoil 400, but momentum and consistency right now are not on their side. Blaney is a high risk/reward driver for this 400-mile battle.

Tyler Reddick – The season has not started well for new 23XI Racing driver Reddick. Poor finishes in both the Daytona 500 and at Auto Club Speedway have the young driver and this team on the back foot coming to Las Vegas this Sunday. The thing most will observe about Reddick this week was that he collected one pole position, led 32 laps and grabbed finishes of seventh- and sixth-place last season at LVMS. But remember, those performances came in the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet, the car Kyle Busch is driving now (take note), so those expectations are largely unrealistic for Reddick this weekend. This is a struggling young driver and struggling race team at the moment. It's best to stay clear of Reddick until they can figure things out.

Austin Cindric – The Penske Racing youngster didn't find Auto Club Speedway particularly to his liking and Cindric finished a distant 28th-place last Sunday. To further complicate matters, the driver of the No. 2 Ford didn't perform particularly well in his two Las Vegas starts last season. Cindric would struggle to 19th-place in this event one year ago and return last October to register a much worse 29th-place finish in the South Point 400. All that despite qualifying extremely well for both of those events. Cindric has yet to show us much so far through the first two events of this season, so some question marks linger about where this driver and team are right now.

Bubba Wallace – Wallace has stumbled out of the gates to start the 2023 season. After a crash and DNF at Daytona, the 23XI Racing driver had an engine expire last weekend at Fontana and saddled him with his second consecutive DNF to start the season. Up next is Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the driver of the No. 23 Toyota hasn't exactly had a lot of success at this track either. Wallace has just one Top-10 finish in 10-career starts at this facility (10-percent) and his 24.7 average finish leaves a lot to be desired.  Superspeedway racing is still Wallace's niche until he can get some momentum rolling in his race team. This will likely be another disappointing performance for the young driver.    

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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