LAS VEGAS — Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 was a competitive showing for the NASCAR Cup Series in terms of who’s going to be good this season.
25 lead changes among 7 drivers defined a race that may reflect the top drivers of the season, depending on how the season unfolds.
The race started with Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick on the front row and it didn’t take long for the caution to come out. On the initial start, Daniel Suarez slowed on the frontstretch and required a push to get back going.
Once the race was green again on lap 4, Joey Logano took the lead from Kevin Harvick, but Harvick took it back on lap 12. Harvick hung on to the lead through the lap 25 competition caution and ensuing restart until Chase Elliott took the lead on Lap 66.
Elliott won stage 1. The rest of the top 10 were as follows:
Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson and Ross Chastain.
Ford drivers Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell struggled in the first stage.
Keselowski started the race in the top five but fell back to 21st at one point.
McDowell also spent some time behind the wall with throttle issues before returning to the track.
“Just going down the back straightaway, the throttle stuck,” McDowell commented after the race. “I had to come back and make a repair and had just a part failure. A shame because it was over before it started, really.”
The second stage was less eventful than the previous stage. Kevin Harvick re-took the lead during the stage caution and held it until Chase Elliott took it from Harvick on lap 103.
Elliott held strong to the end of the second, claiming a stage win under yellow, with Christopher Bell hitting the wall on the last lap of the stage.
Stage two results were as follows:
Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., William Byron, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch.
The final stage saw two quick cautions, with the first coming on lap 167 for John Hunter Nemechek spinning and the second coming for Martin Truex Jr. hitting the wall on lap 176. This took Truex out of contention for the win.
Blaney restarted in the lead on lap 182 but Harvick would took it right away. Blaney returned the favor on lap 201 but did not hold it for long as Elliott moved to the lead on lap 205.
Green flag pit stops began on lap 209 with Aric Almirola pitting. The cycle would conclude on lap 217 with Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney pitting from being 1-2. However, Elliott’s chances to win grinded to a halt with a flat left rear tire causing him to spin on lap 220 during green flag pit stops.
This left Ricky Stenhouse Jr., John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Preece and Martin Truex Jr as the only four lead lap cars. It soon turned to three as Preece had race-ending troubles during his pit stop under yellow.
Over 25 cars took the wave around and Ryan Blaney received a lap back.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and John Hunter Nemechek led the field to the green flag with four fresh tires on lap 226.
Nemechek pulled ahead briefly but Logano took the lead coming off of turn two and stayed there until Ryan Blaney took over on lap 255.
Blaney was not able to breathe easy as Alex Bowman was gaining as much as two tenths of a second per lap on him. Bowman was as close as six tenths of a second behind him, ready to mount a charge, when a caution fell for Ross Chastain spinning on lap 261.
The top seven drivers, Joey Logano, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace, stayed out for the lap 265 restart.
On the restart, Stenhouse pushed Logano the lead but Byron would not be as lucky. DiBenedetto moved to the inside of Byron going into the first turn, which led to Byron cutting a tire and falling out of contention for the win.
Byron finished 22nd and was near a final lap wreck involving Tyler Reddick, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and John Hunter Nemechek, which ended the race under yellow. Nemechek spun and suffered damage while Reddick, Busch and Blaney each sustained damage.
Blaney finished 11th, Busch finished 15th and Reddick finished 18th as the highest-finishing rookie of the race.
The top 10 were as follows:
Joey Logano, Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and Ty Dillon.
Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin finished 17th.
Ross Chastain finished 27th in his first race filling in for Ryan Newman.
Lap leaders were as follows: Kevin Harvick (92), Chase Elliott (70), Joey Logano (54), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (30), Ryan Blaney (19), Austin Dillon (1) and Martin Truex Jr (1).
The next race for the NASCAR Cup Series is March 1. The Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California will go green just after 3:30 PM EST (TV: FOX; Radio: PRN).