Podium Preview: Pennzoil 400

Above all, Jimmie Johnson makes a strong case for the Pennzoil 400 win with the fastest time in final practice. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Above all, Jimmie Johnson makes a strong case for the Pennzoil 400 win with the fastest time in final practice. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

By all means, everyone’s breathed a sigh of relief for Ryan Newman as his comrades prepare for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas.  From the frantic action of Daytona to the first of three races in the West Coast, the Pennzoil 400 gets the nod as the “true start” of the new NASCAR Cup Series season.

Each week, The Podium Finish’s panelists, Ashley HobbsCody ShoppeIsabelle Beecy, Kobe LambethMatteo MarcheschiMatt SisolerSean FolsomStephen ConleyTerra Jones, and yours truly will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.  This weekend, we analyze the rookie class and new Cup Series combinations.

Podium Preview
Track Talk
Topic 1
Certainly, Christopher Bell seems set on a strong rookie campaign in 2020. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Certainly, Christopher Bell seems set on a strong rookie campaign in 2020. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

With a very stacked, talented rookie class in the NASCAR Cup Series, which driver and team will be the most impressive in 2020?

Beecy :  My gut is going with Cole Custer and the No. 41 team. He won quite a few races last year in the XFINITY Series, so he’s got the talent. Plus he’s staying with the same overall team of Stewart-Haas Racing, so it’s likely much less of an adjustment going from Xfinity to Cup. 

Jones :  It’s so hard to know with the “Big Three” from XFINITY, and even throwing John Hunter Nemechek in the mix. But I think when you combine the talent of the driver along with the current Cup Series equipment, Cole Custer in the No. 41 at Stewart-Haas Racing will be the one to watch. 

Lambeth :  Wow, it is so hard to choose between the Big Three from the 2019 NASCAR XFINITY Series season. Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer all have the potential to be successful in NASCAR’s top division.

However, I believe that Custer will be the most successful rookie this season and take home Rookie of the Year honors. At this point, Custer has a few more Cup races under his belt than Bell and Reddick. In addition, Stewart-Haas Racing provides equipment that can win any given Sunday.

We still need to figure out if Leavine Family Racing will basically become a fifth Gibbs entry. Bell is a special talent and he should be fun to watch for many years to come.

Also, it is too soon to determine where Richard Childress Racing stands, in terms of competitiveness. However, I am sure that Reddick will maximize the car’s potential. Ultimately, I expect these three drivers to be the top-three rookies in Cup. But, Custer will experience the most success in 2020.

Conley :  Impressive and successful are obviously different. One may get wins while another will have solid consistency and be in Playoff condition and so one.

I don’t think the wins and success will be the telltale factor for Tyler Reddick. What will make Reddick the most impressive is his ability to overcome and hard nosed driving style will bring Richard Childress back to prominence.

Plus, Reddick, one of the rookies, is the most recent to win a Championship in a national NASCAR series (NXS in 2018-’19). And I believe his ride with RCR is the most solidified for potential success. Ultimately, bringing that team back to the top will be an impress feat. 

Topic 2
For the most part, Matt DiBenedetto smiles about his new Cup home. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

For the most part, Matt DiBenedetto smiles about his new Cup home. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Of the new driver and team combinations this season, which one will be immediately successful kicking off with the West Coast Swing?

Tiongson :  Gosh, it’s a pretty tough question to answer as we’ve got some interesting changes with the veterans in the Cup Series.  However, Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford team look stout on paper and ready for some solid performances at Las Vegas, Fontana, and Phoenix.

These three venues are a sampling of the kinds of true speedways that comprise this year’s schedule. As the de facto fourth Team Penske entry, I’d say if this combination finds immediate success, it’ll pretty much define their season in terms of being genuine Playoff contenders starting with Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Vegas.

Sisoler :  Depends what you mean by “immediate.” I think Ross Chastain will be one to watch getting his first chance in a top-15 Cup ride subbing in for Ryan Newman, and his new teammate Chris Buescher impressed at the 500 enough to be given a look as well, but Christopher Bell at LFR and Matt DiBenedetto over at the Wood Brothers should be also considered.

DiBenedetto’s non-teammate teammates at Penske will be interesting to keep an eye on as well, if only to see if the Captain’s changing of the crew chiefs works or backfires.

Folsom : Chris Buescher is one to really watch, with him going to Roush-Fenway Racing this season I see him doing really well and showing his true talent he has as a driver. With Ryan Newman being injured going into this weekend’s race Chris will be teamed up with Ross Chastain, with Chris and Ross’s Talent they should both show some dominance on the track this weekend.  

Marcheschi :  Chris Buescher has always been underrated, and now is the time he bursts onto the scene. He finished third in the Daytona 500, and Roush Fenway Racing is on the upswing. Roush has struggled to get their feet under them since losing star talents Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing. Buescher appears to be exactly the young talent they need to look towards the future, rather than getting bogged down by the past.

Buscher joined by Ross Chastain this week at Las Vegas, who will fill in for the injured Ryan Newman. On this West Coast Swing, Buescher and his No. 17 Fastenal team will be faster than we’ve seen any Roush car be in quite a while. Also, don’t expect Chastain to be a slouch either.

Hobbs :  It’s hard to not keep an eye on Matt DiBenedetto as we head out west. After the day he had in the Daytona 500, finishing 19th ain’t had bad. Going to a small variety of tracks the next few weeks, we should really see DiBenedetto flex his muscles (both in and out of the car). If he performs well, the rest of the field may want to keep him close.

Shoppe :  Despite this being a last minute fill-in deal, I expect good things from Ross Chastain in Ryan Newman’s No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford this weekend. Chastain is known for performing in a one-off opportunity to show what he can do in a good car.

Chastain has plenty of Cup seat time courtesy of Premium Motorsports. And don’t forget where “The Melon Man” won his first XFINITY race! In any case, Ross Chastain was an excellent choice to full-in for the Rocketman as he recovers! 

Two laps around Las Vegas isn’t an easy task!  However, the team mustered a worthy effort before the big show.  Now, let’s review the better late than never results from Daytona!
Altogether, Denny Hamlin produced an immediate victory for a trio of panelists.

Altogether, Denny Hamlin produced an immediate victory for a trio of panelists.

As a result, that trio leads the points heading into the Pennzoil 400 at Vegas.

As a result, that trio leads the points heading into the Pennzoil 400 at Vegas.

Next, Ashley Hobbs starts “Crunching the Numbers: Pennzoil 400” style by providing the trends worth watching on Sunday.
Firstly, how does your favorite team fare at Las Vegas?

Firstly, how does your favorite team fare at Las Vegas?

Since 2004, the race winner has an average starting spot of 9.3, leads an average of 86.4 laps, starts within the top-five 50 percent of the time, and starts within the top-10 68.75 percent of the time.

Since 2004, the race winner has an average starting spot of 9.3, leads an average of 86.4 laps, starts within the top-five 50 percent of the time, and starts within the top-10 68.75 percent of the time.

Comparatively, Logano prevails at Las Vegas.

Comparatively, Logano prevails at Las Vegas.

Next, here's the Pennzoil 400 trends since 2010.

Next, here’s the Pennzoil 400 trends since 2010.

Now, here's the trends at Las Vegas since 2015.

Now, here’s the trends at Las Vegas since 2015.

The machine likes Mr. Smiley.

The machine likes Mr. Smiley.

Certainly, everyone awaits for this portion of the preview.  Here’s our picks for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Vegas!
In essence, the TPF panelists throw the dice for these Pennzoil 400 picks.

In essence, the TPF panelists throw the dice for these Pennzoil 400 picks.

Tiongson :  Last year, Kyle Larson won his first Cup Series race at a track smaller than two-miles in length. On Sunday, Larson will win his first intermediate track race in his career in the glamour of Las Vegas.

Beecy :  I’m going with Larson for this race. He’s been fast over the course of 10 laps in practice so far this weekend and has done well in Sin City in the past, so he’ll probably continue to do well.

Lambeth :  A driver named Kyle will enter victory lane but not the hometown driver. Kyle Larson’s 2020 racing season got off to a fantastic start by finally winning the Chili Bowl. On Sunday, his good fortunes will continue by capturing the win in Sin City.

Jones :  I think the No. 22 gets it done in race #2 this weekend in Vegas. We all know it’s going to happen sooner than later, especially coming off of Duel No. 1 win at Daytona, and I think once they get that first win (in a full-length race), it will be no stopping the Joey Logano-Paul Wolfe duo.

Hobbs :  With one of the best Las Vegas Motor Speedway records, and being the defending race winner, I think Logano will repeat.

Sisoler :  Logano won here last year, holding off Bad Brad to do so. I think he rebounds to take the checkered flag here.

TPF Stats :  With the best average finish in the Pennzoil 400 as well as being the defending race winner, Joey Logano heads back to victory lane in Sin City.

Marcheschi :  Ryan Blaney has been consistent at Las Vegas, finishing exactly fifth in three of his last four races there. In seven races there, he has finished worse than seventh only twice. Combine that with a potentially lethal combination of himself and new crew chief Todd Gordon and you might just have a winner on your hands.

Shoppe :  Team Penske has had a lot of sucess at Las Vegas recently. I think it’s YRB’s turn for a win here to go along with his pole, and top 5’s. This will be the first of many for Blaney and new CC Todd Gordon in 2020.

Folsom :  Brad Keselowski has a few wins at Las Vegas despite his bad luck at Daytona he has been fast in the past. The Fords have been dominate and fast the past few years and I see Brad Charging to the front and winning this weekend.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2020.  

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Lastly, the entire TPF team sends their greetings to Ryan Newman as he restrengthens and progresses following his Daytona 500 accident. Consider making a donation to the Rescue Ranch Foundation today.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *