Pennzoil 400

NASCAR America: Turning Point in Las Vegas Cup race

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For the third week to start the season, NASCAR America’s “Turning Point” examined what happened on pit road.

This time it involved Kyle Busch.

The moment came on Lap 129 when Busch pit from the lead. In the process he locked up his brakes and was caught speeding.

Busch returned to the track a lap down in 24th.

While Busch quickly returned to the lead lap and eventually the top 10, he managed to only finish third as Joey Logano beat Brad Keselowski for the win.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver attributed part his issue to a new brake package.

“These teams they’re so smart,” Dale Jarrett said. “Whether it was Daytona in trying to use the smaller brake package and things like that, I’m sure that’s something they were looking at, just trying to make every effort that they can to make these cars faster. It’s something as a driver that he hadn’t really had that situation before and tried to get a little bit too much in that situation.”

Busch’s miscue opened the door for Logano’s win.

Watch the above video more, including a discussion on Logano’s battles with Kevin Harvick and Keselowski.

 

Gambling with strategy pays off for Kurt Busch at Las Vegas

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When it comes to gambling and race strategy, Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the perfect venue for Kurt Busch and crew chief Matt McCall to do both in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400.

The pair chose to stay out at the end of Stage 2 and grabbed the lead for a total of 23 laps, from Lap 164 to 168 and again from Lap 170 to 188, ultimately leading to a fifth-place finish.

It was that strategy that resulted in the older Busch brother earning his second-best career finish – in 14 tries – at his home track and the best since he finished third at the 1.5-mile oval in 2005.

We made one adjustment and I got really tight in traffic, and then our pit strategist was saying if we stay long on the second stage, then we can stay out,” Busch said. “So, we worked that.

“It played out where we got clean air and it completely changed the complexion of the car. And that’s what we have to do. When we’re in clean air, the car is like this (pointing down to simulate downforce). When we’re in dirty air, the car is like that (pointing upward, when downforce goes away).

“I’ve got to get it to where its balanced evenly. But it gave us a lot to learn from today and I’m really proud of everybody to get a top five. Hometown track, Star Nursery (one of Busch’s original sponsors when he began racing) on board. It gave me chills at one point, but I’m like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get the job done.’ ”

After finishing 25th in the season-opening Daytona 500, Busch has back-to-back top-five finishes: third last week at Atlanta and fifth at Las Vegas, making him the highest-finishing Chevrolet driver in each of the last two races.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s other driver, Kyle Larson, has yet to finish in the top five and has placed 12th in the last two races.

“I’m really happy with two top fives to start the year,” said Busch, who moved up to 10th in the Cup standings, 38 points behind series leader Logano. “We are playing it smart. We haven’t had any penalties, and we will just keep chipping away at it. So, good day for our Chevy, I think we might be top Chevy again.”

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What drivers said after Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas

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Drivers had quite a bit to say after Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, particularly about the new aero package.

Check out their comments:

Joey Logano, winner: “What a great car. What a great weekend for Mustang to get a win, playoff points and stage wins. And Mustang also won down (in Supercars) down in Australia, so pretty proud of that. We’ve got to figure out qualifying better, but the racing part, the cars were fast, we showed it last weekend and were able to show it again this weekend. Couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

Brad Keselowski, finished 2nd: “I’d like to have had one more lap. It was a good battle. We were both fighting really hard for the top. It seemed to really come down to what the lapped cars were going to do. If the lapped cars screwed the leader, then the second-place guy would get a really good run and that just kept happening over and over. First Joey got hosed by a lapped car and I got by him. I got hosed by a lapped car and he got by me. It was definitely a good battle.”

Kyle Busch, finished 3rd: If we didn’t have the speeding penalty on pit road, we would have won this race, but the guys gave me a great piece and we were certainly fast there at the end. We were running some of them leaders down and closing in on them running 31-flats and once I got within the vicinity of them, I just stalled out to 31.40s and couldn’t go any faster in order to gain on them anymore. I would try to go low, they would go low, try to go high and they go high and it’s just an air game. Very frustrating, but overall we had a really fast car – the M&M’s Camry was good and driver threw it away.”

Kevin Harvick, finished 4th: “Our Jimmy John’s Ford was too tight the second half of the race. That’s two weeks in a row we’ve gotten tighter as the race goes on. We’ve done a great job of getting in the game, being way off at the start of every practice for the last two weeks. Just a huge credit to our Jimmy John’s team for everything they do to this Ford Mustang. Got to thank everybody for that and we’ll keep plugging away. We’ll work on our car.”

Kurt Busch, finished 5th: “We made one adjustment and it got real tight in traffic. If we stay long on the second stage, we can stay out, so we worked that. It played out to where we got clean air but it completely changed the complexion of the car. When we were in clean air, the car (points down). When we’re in dirty air, it’s like that (points up). I’ve got to get it to where it’s balanced evenly. But it gave us a lot to learn from today and I’m real proud to get a top five today. We’ve got two top fives to start the year but we know we have some more work to do.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 6th: “It was a battle. It was fun. You couldn’t give up any track position. If you slipped up and a car got a run on you, you did everything in your power to hold them off. I did that to other people and people did it to me. So it was a tough battle out there. We got off a little bit there in the middle part of the race. The first part of the race, we were really, really good. Our Mustang was as good as what we thought it was in practice. What we had there translated over to the race. I think we were a top five on long runs. Struggled a little bit to get going. Looking forward to building off that. (Almirola) and I had a heck of a battle at the end. That’s how hard you have to drive to pass people.”

Aric Almirola, finished 7th: “We have a lot of learning to do, but overall a good day for a Smithfield Ford team. We saw a lot of similarities from Atlanta where we’re good on the short runs and fall off on the long runs. Everyone at Stewart-Haas is working hard to make our cars as competitive as can be, and we’ll get there. Right now, I think we’re a fourth- to eighth-place car, and we have some work to do if we want to win.”

Martin Truex Jr., finished 8th: For whatever reason, that last restart to begin the third stage, we just got really tight for some reason. But the car was really good before that. Especially in long runs. We had probably a third, fourth or fifth-place car. In the long runs, we were the best car and then it just completely jumped the fence and went tight. We made some good adjustments on the last pit stop and gained more spots. It was just too tight at the end. (Coming through the field is) insanely tough. You have to hope other guys run different lanes than you. It’s hard to follow through the corners. You have to be a half-second quicker than they are to be able to stay in line against them in the corners. It’s really tough once you get a few laps on your tires.”

Chase Elliott, finished 9th: “Definitely a lot better than last week (finished 19th). There were times throughout the day where we were better than that. That run there at the end was one of our worst of the day, I thought, which is never a good way to end it. So, just needed to finish a little stronger and I think we could have been maybe a few spots better. I don’t think we had anything to win, but could have maybe grabbed a few more spots there. Really important to have track position and hard to pass at times. You had to be really good and really think about your passes to get them done. The really fast guys could do it, so it’s not impossible, but definitely have to think through that a little bit.”

Denny Hamlin, finished 10th: We had a couple tough pit stops that set us back and we just weren’t fast enough to maintain from there. It seemed like we had about a fifth-place car, but we would come in and lose three or four seconds and then some guys would jump us and then it would put me behind some other cars. It’s just so tough to pass once you get strung out that you have to maintain your track position and we kind of struggled with that. Then we lost the balance there at the end. (The aero package was) about what I expected. The restarts were super exciting and you’re able to kind of dice around and put yourself in good positions and then once it gets strung out with all the on-throttle time, it seems like the bottom lane is the place to be and then if you’re second you can’t run the bottom either because the wake is so big. It’s kind of a catch-22 and it will work really, really good at some tracks. Other tracks it won’t, but overall, I don’t know how tight the field was there, but it definitely seemed like it strung out.”

Kyle Larson, finished 12th: “We fought as much as we could there throughout the race. Just tough when you don’t get any cautions or anything like that. I felt like our car was really good on the long runs. Just the short run, I mean, I felt okay on the short run too, I just didn’t have speed. So, we will have to work on that, but all in all we finished 12th the last few weekends and we should have been a lot better than that. That is positive. We have good handling race cars and just got to get a little bit faster is all and clean up pit road a little bit. You know on my end, I think, I probably messed the guys up a little bit. I just didn’t come in the pit stall hard enough and I think they jumped over too soon. Just got to clean up some things I’m doing, but the cars are decent.”

Chris Buescher, finished 13th: “That was a solid day for our Natural Light Naturdays Camaro ZL1. We were a little bit loose to start the run, but the car would come to us as the run went on it would come to us and we had decent speed to gain positions. The guys worked really hard all weekend and it’s a good start to our west coast swing.”

Clint Bowyer, finished 14th: “That was a tough afternoon for us. We made a lot of changes throughout the weekend, but we fought tight most of the race. We trimmed our car out and got it a bit better, but it was tough to pass today, real tough. We have a lot of work to do, but Phoenix next week will be better.”

Austin Dillon, finished 20th: “We had a really fast Dow Silastic Silicone Elastomers Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 throughout the weekend. We raced as high as second in Stage 1 even though we were battling a loose-handling chassis and lacked grip. During the first round of pit stops, we were penalized for having an extra man over the wall when one of the crew guys slipped and had a hand touch pit road. The penalty put us one lap down and altered our race strategy slightly, but we were able to take the wave around at the Stage 1 break and get back on the lead lap. After pitting under green in Stage 2, we were posting the fastest laps of everyone and went to work on regaining track position. We stayed out a little longer than everyone else during green-flag pit stops in Stage 3 and ended up leading a few laps. Unfortunately, the car’s handling became much too tight in the final Stage. I think we had a top-10 car, just never got the track position we needed. We ended up 20th and definitely learned a lot about this new package.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 17th: “We had a good Haas Automation Ford Mustang on the long runs, but we didn’t have the short-run speed today. I felt like we had a top-10 car, but once we lost a little track position it was hard to get back up there. Overall though, from Friday’s practice to Saturday’s practice we made improvements on the car, so our communication is good and the guys are able to adjust on the car to help me. We’ll move on to Phoenix next week, which is one of my best tracks.”

Ryan Blaney, finished 22nd: “A really frustrating day for our Menards/Pennzoil team. We had a really good car but just couldn’t overcome the unscheduled pit stop early in the race. I hope this is the end of our bad luck and we have a good run next week in Phoenix.”

Daniel Hemric, finished 23rd: “We just missed it a little bit today with our No. 8. Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, with this new package. I couldn’t go through the corners like I needed to at the start of the race, which set us back and caused us to fall down a lap. (Crew chief) Luke Lambert and the team didn’t give up though and we kept fighting and working on our Camaro. It started to come back to me towards the end of the race, and I was able to carry gas into the corners better than I could at the start of the day. We just ran out of time to really make anything up. I’m confident in this team’s ability to bounce back from this. We know what we need to work on and will regroup to get back after it at ISM Raceway.”

Ty Dillon, finished 29th: “There is still a lot left to learn with this new package. There is no doubt about it. Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 is showing speed in practice and in qualifying. As we continue to run with this package, we will be able to make it all come together during the race. We want to have the advantage over the field, so we will keep grinding at the shop and at the track to learn everything we possibly can about the new rules package. I’m proud of this team’s hustle here in Las Vegas, and I’m excited to turn our focus to Phoenix.”

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Kyle Busch comes up two spots short of Las Vegas sweep after penalty

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Kyle Busch admitted that he “certainly screwed up” his team’s day and his shot at a Las Vegas weekend sweep Sunday when he was caught speeding on pit road in the middle of Stage 2.

Busch, who won Friday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race and Saturday’s Xfinity race, finished third Sunday.

The mistake came on Lap 129 when he locked up his brakes while entering the pits from the lead.

“Coming to pit road there, we tried a different brake package for us this weekend,” Busch told Fox. “Trying to make up time, and in order to get a bigger jump on the guys behind me coming to pit road there, just ruined it for us, and we had to come from the back.”

After he served the pass-through penalty, Busch returned to the track a lap down in 24th but ahead of Joey Logano. So when Logano cycled back into the lead on Lap 150, it put Busch back on the lead lap in 19th.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was in 16th for the Lap 168 restart after the Stage 2 break, and he was in 10th 10 laps later.

“I think we passed the most cars today, so I think we were the most impressive today but doesn’t matter because we don’t have a trophy,” Busch said.

While Busch said “we would have won this race” if not for the penalty, the Las Vegas native put some blame on the new rules package, which made its full debut Sunday with aero ducts.

“The cars don’t have any speed,” Busch said. “You’re wide open just trying to suck off of any cars that you can that’s in front of you and get a draft, and I was running 31 (second) flats when I was chasing those leaders down, and then once I got there I stalled out to 31:40’s because the wind was just so bad behind those guys that you couldn’t corner anymore.  You couldn’t maneuver.  I couldn’t run low.

“If they ran low, I couldn’t run high … so you’re always trying to figure out which way to go.”

Despite being winless through the first three races, Busch leaves Las Vegas ranked fourth in points as the the only driver with three top 10s.

He finished second at Daytona and was sixth at Atlanta.

NASCAR will race next weekend at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix, where Busch won last November.

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Results, points after Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas

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Joey Logano held off a last-lap charge from teammate Brad Keselowski to win Sunday’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He beat Keselowski by 0.236 seconds to earn his 22nd career Cup win.

The top five was completed by Kyle Busch, pole-sitter Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.

Logano led 86 of 267 laps, including the final 24. The race was slowed by only the two cautions for stage breaks.

Click here for the full race results.

Points

With his victory Sunday, Logano joins Denny Hamlin and Keselowski in qualifying for the playoffs.

Logano (133 points) leads the standings.

He is followed by Harvick (-2), Hamlin (-6), Kyle Busch (-12) and Keselowski (-18).

Click here for the point standings.