NBC Sports Power Rankings: Joey Logano takes top spot from Denny Hamlin

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Move over Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano is coming through.

By virtue of his win Sunday in Las Vegas, Logano replaces Hamlin atop this week’s NBC Sports Power Rankings.

Eightteen drivers received votes from NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Joey Logano (37 points out of 40): Bounced back from a DNF at Daytona to earn a gifted win at Las Vegas when the top two cars pitted late, allowing Logano to move to the lead and keep it. Last week’s ranking: unranked.

2. Kevin Harvick (34 points): Pitted before final restart, which likely cost him a chance at a top-five finish (he wound up eighth). Still, with top-10 finishes in the first two races (one of only two drivers to do so), Harvick is off to a strong start. Last week: 6th (tied).

3. Ryan Blaney (29 points): Late pit call cost him the win and a top 10 (finished 11th), but maybe there’s some solace in being atop the Cup standings heading to Fontana. Last week: 3rd.

4. Chase Elliott (24 points): Even though he finished 26th at Las Vegas, Elliott led 70 laps and won each of the first two stages. Including Daytona, he’s led nearly 100 laps in first two races. Now all he has to do is finish off a race with a win. Last week: 9th.

5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17 points): One of the biggest surprises this season. The move to JTG Daugherty Racing is agreeing with him. Led 24 laps at Daytona before late-race wreck and 30 laps at Vegas, finishing third. Definitely someone to keep an eye on. Last week: unranked.

(tie) 6. Denny Hamlin (15 points): After his win at Daytona, struggled through a rough day at Las Vegas, finishing 17th. Last week: 1st

(tie) 6. Kyle Larson (15 points): One of two drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of first two races. Looks to add to one win and two runner-ups in six Cup starts at Fontana on Sunday. Last week: 4th.

8. Matt DiBenedetto (14 points): Earned second-place finish in his second start for Wood Brothers Racing. Could he bring the organization it’s 100th Cup win at Fontana? Last week: unranked.

9. Jimmie Johnson (13 points): Finished fifth at Las Vegas (as well as being fastest in final Cup practice there). Has six career wins at his home track in Fontana. Can he make it seven on Sunday (which would break a 97-race winless streak)? Last week: unranked.

10. Alex Bowman (7 points): Showed some impressive speed late before being shuffled back to 13th place after last caution. Last week: unranked.

Others receiving votes: William Byron (3 points), Bubba Wallace (3 points), Austin Dillon (2 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Chris Buescher (2 points), Clint Bowyer (1 point), Chase Briscoe (1 point), Johnny Sauter (1 point).

Decision to pit or not dramatically altered Las Vegas Cup race

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Crew chief Todd Gordon apologized to Ryan Blaney for pitting from the lead before the final restart in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I should have left you out,” Gordon radioed Blaney after the race. “My gut told me to. I didn’t. My bad.”

Instead of celebrating a victory, Blaney walked away with an 11th-place finish. It was his teammate, Joey Logano, who celebrated after not pitting.

A caution on Lap 262 for Ross Chastain created consternation among crew chiefs on pit road and dramatically altered the finish of the season’s second race.

With a two-lap shootout for the win expected once the caution car collected the field and cars pitted, crew chiefs were left to decide if to pit for tires or stay out and gain track position.

For some, the crew chief’s decision worked brilliantly.

  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who did not pit, finished third for his best result at Las Vegas and JTG Daugherty Racing’s best performance at Las Vegas.
  • Austin Dillon, who did not pit, placed fourth for his best result at Las Vegas.
  • Jimmie Johnson, who pitted for two tires, was fifth, scoring his first top five since the rain-shortened race at Daytona in July.
  • Bubba Wallace, who did not pit, placed sixth, marking his best result on a 1.5-mile track.
  • Ty Dillon, who pitted for four tires, was 10th for his first top-10 on a 1.5-mile track.

Here is how the results changed in the final five laps:

When the caution waved for Chastain’s spin, Blaney led.

This was the running order:

  1. Ryan Blaney
  2. Alex Bowman
  3. Joey Logano
  4. William Byron
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Matt DiBenedetto
  8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  9. Kyle Larson
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. Kyle Busch
  12. John Hunter Nemechek
  13. Tyler Reddick
  14. Denny Hamlin
  15. Austin Dillon
  16. Martin Truex Jr.
  17. Chris Buescher
  18. Erik Jones
  19. Ty Dillon
  20. Bubba Wallace

Blaney and Bowman both relinquished their spots at the front of the field to pit.

Logano stayed out and moved from third to first.

Crew chief Paul Wolfe said he understood why some pitted but felt the decision not to pit was worth it for he and his team.

“The tires were wearing some,” Wolfe said. “Obviously, that’s why we saw a lot of guys pit from the lead. It seemed like the left-side wear was more accelerated than what we we’ve seen in the past. I think that was making guys favor wanting tires, but really, still, the falloff, if you looked at the start of a run to the end, it wasn’t extreme.

“In practice we were out there on older tires … and seemed to re-fire and have decent speed. It was kind of what we talked about. If you can get to the front row and get the clean air, it’s worth the gamble. Obviously we had a lot of cars behind us. I felt pretty good as long as he executed the restart. The guys on [new] tires weren’t going to catch you in two laps. There just wasn’t enough time.”

Byron also stayed out and moved from fourth to second.

Harvick gave up fifth to pit for four tires, Keselowski relinquished sixth to pit for two tires.

DiBenedetto stayed out and moved from seventh to third. Stenhouse also did not pit, going from eighth to fourth for the restart. Larson gave up ninth to pit for four tires. Johnson gave up 10th place to pit for two tires.

As the field lined up to take the green with two laps to go, the lineup was (with the top seven cars not pitting):

  1. Joey Logano
  2. William Byron
  3. Matt DiBenedetto
  4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  5. Tyler Reddick
  6. Austin Dillon
  7. Bubba Wallace
  8. Brad Keselowski (first car to pit; two tires)
  9. Jimmie Johnson (two tires)
  10. Martin Truex Jr. (two tires)
  11. Erik Jones (two tires)
  12. Ryan Blaney (four tires)
  13. Kevin Harvick (four tires)
  14. Alex Bowman (four tires)
  15. Kyle Busch (four tires)
  16. Kyle Larson (four tires)

Having six cars between he and the first car that had stopped for tires helped Logano.

“A lot of cars stayed out and that was key to that move,” Logano said.

A crash after the leaders took the white flag to begin the last lap, ended the race and left many of those who had pitted seeing their hopes for a strong finish end.

Blaney was stuck and couldn’t move up before the crash, finishing outside the top 10 in a race he looked as if he’d win before Chastain’s caution.

“It was just a crappy situation,” Blaney said. “We fight our butts off to get the lead there from third and get it.  I had a good shot of holding the 88 off. I thought we could have once we got in clean air I thought our car was pretty decent. The caution came out and we pitted, some guys didn’t, some guys took two and we just end up getting absolutely destroyed with people not knowing how many cars were to the outside of them.  It’s easy to look back on it and say we should have stayed out.  That’s a tough call for Todd Gordon in his position, but I’ve got to thank him for giving me a really good car.”

Bowman also placed outside the top 10 after he appeared to be headed for a runner-up finish and maybe a chance to challenge Blaney for the lead.

“Dang it,” Bowman said in a video he posted on social media after the race. “Man, we had such a good car there at the end. Obviously running down (Blaney) pretty quickly, at least looking at a second-place finish, if not battling for a win there.

“Our car was so good and caution came out and we read it just a little bit wrong, so bummer that we didn’t get the finish that we probably deserved, but, at the same time, I’m just so proud of my guys. We had such a good race car today. We made it better all day. Obviously had it rolling there at the end. … Obviously bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win, but it’s part of it.”

While Blaney and Bowman lamented their results, others were more fortunate.

“Luckily, we got the outside (on the final restart),” Austin Dillon said. “Our teammate (Reddick) was doomed on the bottom. The bottom (lane) just seemed to lose spots all day unless you were the leader.”

Said Wallace of the decision not to pit: “It was just a good gamble.”

This is how they finished (and if they pitted before the final restart/positions gained or lost from final restart):

  1. Joey Logano (did not pit/maintained lead)
  2. Matt DiBenedetto (did not pit/gained one spot)
  3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (did not pit/gained one spot)
  4. Austin Dillon (did not pit/gained two spots)
  5. Jimmie Johnson (pitted for two tires/gained four spots)
  6. Bubba Wallace (did not pit/gained one spot)
  7. Brad Keselowski (pitted for two tires/gained one spot)
  8. Kevin Harvick (pitted for four tires/gained five spots)
  9. Kyle Larson (pitted for four tires/gained seven spots)
  10. Ty Dillon (pitted for four tires/gained 10 spots)

What drivers said after Las Vegas

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Here’s what drivers had to say about their performance in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Joey Logano – winner: “Boy, we fought hard for this one today.  Man, what a battle between Blaney and I and Chase Elliott and (Martin Truex Jr.) earlier in the race, and then to see this finish with Matt finishing second is great day for Wood Brothers and for Team Penske. Man, nothing like winning the Pennzoil 400 in front of this amazing crowd with this awesome yellow car right here in the front.  Man, this is a huge win, and nice to kick off the season with a W.

“[Was the push from Stenhouse on the final restart the difference?] Yeah, it really was. You get a good start like that, and I watched him, he pushed me and then he shoved me ahead, which was great, and then the block on the 24, that was the winning move, I was able to get down in front of him and then be able to separate myself a little bit from the field. Clean air was going to be key with old tires. If I got swallowed up by a couple cars, I was just going to fall backwards really quick. Being able to get that clean air, secure that. Man, this is great getting back in Victory Lane.

“[It’s your first win with Paul Wolfe as your crew chief, one to remember] Yeah, it really is. He’s done such a great job, and it’s been fun getting to know each other, and with the whole team. The pit crew was amazing today. I think we gained a spot every time at least. Proud of the effort that everyone has put in over the offseason, to come out here the start of the West Coast Swing and get one of those cool stickers right next to my name on top of this car.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished 2nd: “This is all just too surreal. Tough to be that close, but, hey, this is only the second race of the season. So it was the strength of this team. It’s so cool to have the backing of all the people that allow me to drive this thing.  It took so many people, Motorcraft, Quick Lane. To be driving this iconic car is so cool, Menards and Paul, I know you’re watching at home and proud and I can’t thank everyone in that whole family for this opportunity for it.

“Power under the hood is always good. I’m proud to have that Roush Yates power under the hood. This whole team, Greg Irwin, all of them, we were covered. It wasn’t pretty at the start, but, man, they did an excellent job. So happy to be working with this team, the fans. Thank you all so much. The journey has been pretty cool.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 3rd: “Brian (crew chief Brian Pattie) is just really good at calling races, and he apologized for that one (bad pit call). That one backfired on us that second run. We got good track position, and then we stayed out a little too long and gave up that track position. So then we were fighting kind of all race to get it back up, and he went long again, and it paid off with the caution. Our Kroger Camaro was good. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but we know what we need to work on now, and it was cool to get a good solid run in this Camaro for everybody at JTG Daugherty Racing. Got to thank Hungry Jack, NOS Energy Drink and everybody that works on this car. So far so good. Two weeks, we’ve been fast this week, we weren’t bad this week, and we know what we need to work on, and I know Brian and the boys will tune it up.”

Austin Dillon – finished 4th: “We just needed some track position. Everybody is just really close. You can tell by how many cars are on the lead lap at the end of these races; it’s nuts. NASCAR did a great job to get these cars where they are. It is crazy racing out there. We saw those guys hit pit road. We were running the same lap times at the beginning of the tires to the end, so that was our best move. Luckily, we got the outside. Our teammate was doomed on the bottom. The bottom just seemed to lose spots all day unless you were the leader. I just want to thank all of our sponsors; American Ethanol, Bass Pro Shop, Dow, everyone that helps this team. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 5th: “It was a strong day. With about 15 to go or so, I got into the outside wall and lost some spots. But we didn’t have a strong enough tire rub to cause any problems. We put rights on before that final restart. Chaos was happening in front of me and I was able to sneak through to get a top-five finish.

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it. We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.

“[How important is the strong finish by the Chevrolets – six in the top 10?] It’s really rewarding to see. Last year when we left here, we had quite the opposite feeling and were pretty worried about what the year was going to hold for us. So, it’s really nice to have that change of perspective now. There’s a lot of Chevy’s up front, one of our Hendrick cars led for a while. So, we’re going the right way.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 6th: “We had a shot at a good finish and we capitalized on that. All-in-all, it was a good day and a win for us. It was just a good gamble call. We were terrible on restarts. It would take us ten or fifteen laps just to get going and get the car underneath us. Then, we could start fighting our way up there. There were frustrating moments over the radio, just trying to make this Coke Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE better. I know how I lose my cool a little bit, but one of the main reasons I brought [crew chief] Jerry Baxter in was to calm me down and show that light at the end of the tunnel. Every time I fired back, he said ‘I get it, you’re fine, we’re going to be fine’ and he was right. It was a good call by the team and everyone involved. Coke Energy, I appreciate them coming on board for this race. It was a great outing and it shows like we were running on some Coke Energy out there.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 7th: “We had a decent run today.  There were times where I felt like we were the best car and then there were times where I felt like we struggled.  We just didn’t quite have the long run speed all race long and we got to where we were really good in the middle of the runs and just learned a lot.  This is a little different car than I’ve ever raced before, so I’m learning how to adapt to that.  There are a lot of takeaways and I’m confident we were really close to being a winning car today.  I just wish I could re-run the weekend a little bit and work through a few things, but certainly learned a lot and very confident we can win races. … It came down to that green-white-checkered at the end and it was exactly what you would expect in a green-white-checkered, a crashfest, but it would have been interesting to see if it would have stayed green and the cars with tires could have had a shot at it, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Kevin Harvick – finished 8th: “The caution really decided that.  I think there would have been some of us that got back close to the lead by the time we got off of turn four.  I don’t even know where we restarted, but we were seventh or so going into turn one on the last lap with a big head of steam and the caution came out.  Our Busch Light Ford was really good on the short runs.  We just kind of lost the handling as we would get deep in those runs and that kind of hurt us, but it came down to what we wanted there at the end, but we just got too far back.”

Kyle Larson – finished 9th: “I fought the balance a lot early in the race. It got better, but then we had some cautions there at the end, I would be on cycled tires and the balance would get really tight. All-in-all, it was a top-ten here and I feel good about that.”

Ty Dillon – finished 10th: “I’m just really happy with our GEICO Camaro. We got pretty tight through the middle of the race, so we started freeing it up and freeing it up. We just needed an opportunity to get some track position back there. Things went our way on that restart. I was able to find some holes and finally got aggressive there at the end. We got our first top-10 of the year, so that feels good. We ran really, really strong at Daytona, but didn’t get the result that we deserved. For our team to run the way we did today is a really exciting thing for our team.

“[What were the restarts like?] It was nuts. It was three or four-wide every single restart and you just had to find the lane that had a little bit of momentum. It was crazy, it was never the same. I think I restarted 19th and went through the middle, and we ended up 10th. I don’t really know what happened, but we just started passing cars. You just had to find the lane and you’re to process things at such a high rate of speed. You just had to be committed to where you were going.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 11th: “It was just a crappy situation. We fight our butts off to get the lead there from third and get it. I had a good shot of holding the 88 off. I thought we could have once we got in clean air I thought our car was pretty decent. The caution came out and we pitted, some guys didn’t, some guys took two and we just end up getting absolutely destroyed with people not knowing how many cars were to the outside of them. It’s easy to look back on it and say we should have stayed out. That’s a tough call for Todd Gordon in his position, but I’ve got to thank him for giving me a really good car. We were great on long runs. We were so good on long runs and that’s something to hold our heads up high about, it just stinks about the finish.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 12th: “That was a long day for us. We just couldn’t get our front end to work like we wanted it to work. Our car did not want to roll the middle today. We’ll be better in Fontana next week.”

Alex Bowman – finished 13th: “We had such a good car there at the end. Obviously, running down the 12 (Ryan Blaney) pretty quickly. At least looking at a second-place finish, if not, battling for a win there. Our car was so good. The caution came out and we read it just a little bit wrong. Bummer that we didn’t get the finish that we probably deserved. But at the same time, I’m so proud of my guys. We had such a good race car today. We made it better all day. Obviously, we had it rolling there at the end.

“It’s unfortunate to not end up with a top-10, but I’m really proud of my guys. Having a shot at winning these things is really all you can ask for and this one just didn’t work out for us.”

Tyler Reddick – finished 18th: “I was loose for the majority of the day when I tried to run the bottom, but the adjustments my team made through the race helped a lot. I was able to get the top to work fairly well, especially on the long runs. I just needed a little more to fire off with, but we’ll work on that. It was great to be able to run inside the top 10 today. That’s momentum we can build on. When that final yellow came out, we decided to gamble in Las Vegas and stay out to go for the win. Unfortunately, we lined up fifth, which meant we were on the bottom for the restart. The bottom hadn’t restarted well all day, so that wasn’t in our favor and we fell backwards but ultimately had a shot at it.”

Cole Custer – finished 19th: “It’s not the result we wanted today with the Production Alliance Group/Haas Automation Mustang, but the guys worked hard on the car all day. I’m still learning a lot with the Cup car and wanted a better result. We came back from two laps down, and (crew chief) Mike Shiplett did a good job continuing to adjust on the car. I know I need to be better at restarts and some things like that, but I’m looking forward to next week and excited about working with the No. 41 team this year.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 20th: “(What happened when you hit the wall? ) He (Kurt Busch) kept blocking until I hit the fence. Then it was tire rub, blew the tire and hit the fence. That was it. … “(How are things with your new crew chief?) Everything is fine. We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.

“(How trying of a race was this?) Just unfortunate this early in the season. It’s nice to have a fast race car. Our Bass Pro Shops Toyota was really good. We were top two or three early in the first half and then the pit stop issue. We got back in traffic. I had a role on the 1 (Kurt Busch) car and he just moving up until I hit the fence on the front stretch. I thought we were going to be okay after that. Then just cut our right front tire down and pretty much ended our day. It is what it is, but luckily we got some good stage points the first two stages. We have a fast race car we can move forward with. The guys did a good job, just have to clean up pit road.”

Ross Chastain – finished 27th: “I was just overdriving there at the end for sure. It just got away from me there and got loose.  There were a lot of small mistakes on my end, but I learned a ton. … [You looked comfortable in the car?] Yeah, the car deserved a lot better finish. Obviously, we showed that early and I just didn’t have great restarts. These guys kind of ate me alive on the restarts and I’d lose three or four spots every time, and picked the wrong lines through one and two, and then three and four again I just kept making silly mistakes that I should learn from after I make the mistake once. I just have to be better.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 30th: “(What happened at the start of the race? ) Obviously, this is just a learning process. We had an issue with the ECU box in the beginning. We couldn’t figure out what was going on, but it put us into a hole and it was difficult to get out of the hole. I feel like we could have finished somewhere in the top-25, maybe even better than that. We had to fight hard. We learned a lot of different things that we can improve for next week. It feels to get that first race in. We now know what we have to work on. We just have to go out there and keep digging.”

We will add more driver comments as they become available. Please check back.

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Kevin Harvick, Gander RV CEO put up $100K bounty to beat Kyle Busch in trucks

Kyle Busch
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Kevin Harvick and Gander RV & Outdoors CEO Marcus Lemonis issued a bounty poster in tweet form Saturday.

WANTED: A full-time Cup Series driver to beat Kyle Busch in any of his remaining four Truck Series starts this year (without wrecking him).

REWARD: $50,000 each from Harvick and Lemonis.

The bounty comes the night after Busch won his seventh consecutive Truck Series race, which includes all five starts he made in 2019.

Saturday’s race was his first of five in the trucks this season. He’ll be back in the series March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, March 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway and May 30 at Kansas Speedway.

Busch won at Atlanta and Texas last year.

Busch himself didn’t seem too impressed with the bounty when told about it in the media center.

So what is in it for Busch?

If no full-time Cup driver is able to beat Busch in those four races, the bounty will be given to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

Lemonis wasn’t done there. Later Saturday night, he put another proposition out into the Twitterverse. If Fox Sports moved any of the races to prime time, he’d increase the purse among the top-five finishers to $250,000.

Needless to say, the original bounty got the attention of a few drivers, including Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin.

Disclaimer on the following tweet by Hamlin: As noted above, none of Busch’s remaining four truck races are at Richmond Raceway. But…..Richmond is the site of the first Triple Truck Challenge race on April 18.

Richmond’s track president, Dennis Bickmeier chimed in with his thoughts.

Today’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas: Start time, lineup and more

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The Xfinity Series moves on to its second race of the season this afternoon with the Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Daytona winner Noah Gragson looks to make it two in a row at his hometown track, but he’ll face plenty of competition in the series’ first 1.5-mile race of the year.

Here’s all the info you need ahead of the race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:07 p.m by Kerrie Burke, VP/GM, Aliante Casino Hotel & Spa. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:16 p.m.

PRERACE: Driver/crew chief meeting is at 2:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach chaplain Billy Mauldin. The National Anthem will be performed at 4:01 p.m. by Adam Tucker as Vegas McGraw.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Coverage will begin at 4 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 3:30 p.m. and can also be heard at GoPRN.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com forecasts showers, a temperature of 54 degrees and 51% chance of rain for the start of the Xfinity race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Busch won this race last year, beating John Hunter Nemechek and Noah Gragson. Tyler Reddick won the September race last year over Christopher Bell and Brandon Jones.

STARTING LINEUP: Here is the starting lineup after qualifying was rained out.

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