Podium Preview: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas

All things considered, Kurt Busch seems like a prime contender for Sunday's Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas. (Photo Credit: Landen Ciardullo/TPF)

All things considered, Kurt Busch seems like a prime contender for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas. (Photo Credit: Landen Ciardullo/TPF)

After an exciting Sunday evening showdown at Homestead, NASCAR heads west for the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. By all means, round four of the Cup series season could serve as a prelude for one of the NASCAR Playoffs races.

Of course, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano are the odds-on favorites considering their success at Las Vegas. Then again, drivers like Kurt and Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., and Kyle Larson are worthy contenders. However, with this track being in “Sin City,” all bets aren’t off on a dark horse contendeer.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Adam LucasAshley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorSean FolsomTaylor KitchenTerra Jones, and yours truly consider Noah Gragson’s beef with David Starr and Kurt Busch’s chances at Las Vegas.

Podium Preview: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas
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Question 1
Without a doubt, Noah Gragson didn't want his car to look like steamed tilapia. (Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)

Without a doubt, Noah Gragson didn’t want his car to look like steamed tilapia. (Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)

While Noah Gragson was upset with the late-race crash that cost him a victory last Saturday, he expressed some frustration towards David Starr and his No. 13 team. Although Gragson was understandably upset, should he have reviewed the clip of his crash before assigning blame on Starr?

Lucas : Noah had a classic “heat of the moment” moment during his post-medical center interview. Although he had every right to be angered and upset by what transpired on track, he definitely should’ve taken a look at the video. The old adage of not saying anything if you do not have anything nice to say slipped his mind. Clearly, something broke on the No. 13 car of David Starr to cause him to shoot straight up into the wall.

MBM Motorsports is a big little team, using a shoestring budget compared to Noah’s No. 9 JR Motorsports car. They wouldn’t intentionally wreck their own car just to sabotage the lead car. That makes no sense!

Racing is a tough business for all involved. Not everyone is going to be a golden ray of sunshine after every race.

All in all, Noah was mad, the No. 13 was smashed, it wasn’t intentional, racing happens, we’re onto Las Vegas.

Raynor :  Yes, Noah should have looked at the replay a few times before judging. He had such a big lead that he and his team should have told him to slow down and try and go around him. In my opinion, he shares the blame for not handling that situation differently. If he would have slowed down, he would have had time to go around him as he was coming up on the track. He just needs to be more aware of what’s going on in front of him. Hopefully, he can rebound in Las Vegas. 

Sisoler :  I can understand being mad if you get wronged by a lapped car, especially if you practically have the white and checkered flags within sight. That would make anyone mad, so I don’t really have an issue with Noah Gragson being mad at the time or even still being a bit upset about the circumstances around losing the win almost a week later because as Mike Joy once said “racing drivers have longer memories than elephants.”

Where I have an issue with Noah is his taking a shot at someone and then refusing to change his mind even though he has to have seen the evidence by now that exonerates MBM and David Starr. No one is denying his talent, the kid can drive, but talent and sponsorship money will only get you so far.

Torres :  No question, Gragson should watch the replay, but there’s two other concerns. He needs to let it go because all I’ve seen is him dwelling which can get old. Trust me, I’ve had moments where I’ve dwelled over one moment for too long and it didn’t do me any favors. A lot of people are upset with Gragson’s comments, specifically and justifyingly MBM Motorsports.

Gragson must take what the MBM Motorsports employees are saying to heart. He really needs to understand what happened to Starr was just rotten luck and move on. Focus on trying to rebound with a statement win at Las Vegas.

Folsom : I believe 100% yes he should have watched a replay or 2 first before giving any blam to any one for the wreck. It was a racing accident that could have happened to anyone. It’s not like David Starr did it on purpose. All in all I think Noah should at least watch a replay before jumping to conclusions.

Conley :  It’s one thing to be upset. However, Noah Gragson certainly didn’t approach that in the appropriate manner, calling out David and his team, not knowing what they were running for, and in all honesty, speaking without facts. But, for Gragson, he stood by those comments even after seeing the replay, seeing the photos from the MBM Motorsports team and he still had harsh words for Starr.

Noah Gragson has a ton of talent, but there is more than raw talent with being a superstar in NASCAR. And this incident just adds to a growing list of things for the young JR Motorsports driver. 

Question 2
Arms raised in Victory at Las Vegas. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Arms raised in Victory at Las Vegas. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Kurt Busch scored a very emotional victory at his hometown track last fall. With fans returning in limited numbers this Sunday, how likely is another victory by Busch at Las Vegas?

Shoppe :   Kurt Busch’s win last fall at his home track was a surprise when you look at his record there. While the elder Busch bro has had a great start to the year, I don’t expect a repeat win in sin city.

Since we started going to Las Vegas twice a year in 2018, it seems the spring race and fall have been night and day literally and figuratively. 

Lambeth :  Nowadays, Kurt Busch is a sneaky contender on the 1.5-mile tracks. While he is probably not going to be the outright favorite, you still have to keep an eye on him in the closing laps of the race. His last two wins came at 1.5-mile tracks in Kentucky and the most recent victory here in Las Vegas last fall. He was in the right place at the right time when it mattered the most. My pre-race favorites are Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, but the Outlaw could certainly surprise us once again.

Jones :  Having watched his comebacks so far this season, and looking at his stats over the years, I have a feeling Kurt Busch will be in contention come Sunday evening. Not to mention, while it wouldn’t be a “first-time winner,” it would fit in with the ‘feel-good’ start to 2021 that we have been witness to over the past three weeks. 

Hobbs :  There is something to be said about a home track – though Brad Keselowski might feel otherwise. The season is still young, and with a top-10 in Miami, it is good momentum. However, Las Vegas Motor Speedway has not been too kind to Busch in the past five years, with three finishes outside the top 20. He’ll need a little luck if he wants to turn that story around.

Tiongson :  Based on how well Kurt Busch ran at Homestead, I’d say the chances are very good for a hometown victory on Sunday. Interviewing Busch recently, the 42-year-old NASCAR Cup champion seems like a confident man. Some would say that Busch has mellowed out from his brash and outspoken days in NASCAR.

However, I’d say he’s harnessed that aggression with guile and tact. Driving with incredible determination after pitting for a suspected loose wheel in the late going at Homestead, Busch rallied to a top-10 finish. Perhaps he will add a victorious moment that has not been highlighted in his retrospective “Shifting Gears” Monster Energy video.

Like Busch said to me recently, “You have to adapt and you have to learn. Using that experience now for over two decades at the Cup series, it’s fun to balance it out and be an older guy but also learn new ways to win.”

Kitchen :  Kurt Busch is such a talented and underestimated driver. With his skill, I think he can pull off another win at the track this weekend. 

This season especially, I have seen him fight back with resilience to complete stages and races with excellent finishes, harnessing a “no quit” attitude. 

At the Daytona Road Course, Kurt went from first place to 27th after getting into a curb on lap 39 but was able to drive his way through the field to finish fourth. 

Last weekend at Homestead (a 1.5-mile track), Kurt ran a solid race maintaining a top 10 position virtually the entire time. Kurt picked up points in every stage and crossed the finish line eighth. 

Coming to another 1.5-mile track this weekend, I think the right pieces are in place for Kurt to have a solid finish at the Pennzoil 400: and maybe even a win.

All in all, our team raced around Las Vegas quite impressively. Next, let’s look at last Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 race and points reports, Round 3 of the NASCAR season!

Now, Ashley Hobbs promises to not count cards but will start Crunching the Numbers: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas style!
First, here's how your favorite team fares in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas.

First, here’s how your favorite team fares in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas.

Since 2004, the Pennzoil 400 race winner has an average starting spot of 9.1, led an average of 84.5 laps, started within the top-five 52.94% of the time, and started within the top-10 70.59% of the time.

Since 2004, the Pennzoil 400 race winner has an average starting spot of 9.1, led an average of 84.5 laps, started within the top-five 52.94% of the time, and started within the top-10 70.59% of the time.

Are you being Logano'd?

Are you being Logano’d?

Next, here's the Pennzoil 400 race trends since 2011.

Next, here’s the Pennzoil 400 race trends since 2011.

Now, here's the Pennzoil 400 race trends since 2016.

Now, here’s the Pennzoil 400 race trends since 2016.

Not shocked.

Not shocked.

Last but not least, here’s a look at our picks for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas!
Will one of these six win Sunday's Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas?

Will one of these six win Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas?

Tiongson :  I was very impressed with Kurt Busch‘s incredible drive last Sunday at Homestead. Unlapping himself to place in the top-10, I look for Busch to replicate his incredible, long-run prowess with another hometown win at Las Vegas. Busch has won at least one Cup race since 2014. Moreover, I look for this streak to continue after Round 4 of the season.

Jones :  After answering the Trending Topic, I decided, “Why not?!” Kurt Busch has the stats to prove he knows his way around Vegas with over 100 laps led, a win, and six top 10s. And, as I said, it’s not a “first-time winner” (or even a second time!) but it would be awesome to see him win at his home track again.

TPF Stats :  If we remove his performance in 2020, Kevin Harvick has a string of top-10 finishes at LVMS dating back to 2008. From 2014 to ’19, his average finish was 2.8. He has an average finish of 5.0 this year so far, so I’d keep watch on Harvick.

Hobbs :  His numbers are incredibly strong at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Given his strength this year so far, I look for Kevin Harvick to break through with a win at LVMS.

Folsom :  With all the bad luck for Harvick so far this season, Las Vegas might be a better finish for him this weekend.

Lucas :  The man with the title sponsor of the race always seems to hit the jackpot in Vegas. Joey Logano takes home his first win of 2021!

Shoppe :  Team Penske has owned the spring race at Las Vegas of late. Who better to win the Pennzoil 400 than the Pennzoil car? Joey Logano will win three spring races in a row at Las Vegas!

Raynor :  Joey has always been strong in Las Vegas in the spring. Something about how he can get around the track and be there in the end.

Sisoler :  This is another case where I am rolling the dice with the driver who has been the most consistent the past few seasons here. For Vegas not under the lights, that has been the driver rolling off 15th, Joey Logano. Expect Logano to put the race sponsor Pennzoil back in victory lane come Sunday afternoon.

Torres :  Everyone knows 2021 has gone to the worst imaginable start possible for Matt DiBenedetto. However, Las Vegas is here and if you want someone to break through, he’s your guy.

It’s one of the few tracks Matty D has been superb as shown with last year’s performance in both races. If he really wants to be a valued driver going into 2022, a win will be a good start. I can see him give Wood Brothers Racing its 100th Cup win this Sunday.

Conley :  Several drivers have already said, if you want to see who will be good in this race at Las Vegas, look at last year’s fall race. Even though Alex Bowman didn’t lead a lot of laps, he ran up front most of the race and scored his first top-five at Vegas. HMS has shown speed early and that will drive them to paydirt in the desert.

Lambeth :  Last week at Homestead, the Fords looked extremely strong during the day with Chris Buescher claiming Stage 1. However, as the track endured a day-to-night transition, the Fords disappeared as true contenders.

Look for the Blue Oval to rebound in Las Vegas. Joey Logano is seeking his third consecutive spring race victory in Sin City. The streak will come to an end today. Teammate Brad Keselowski will take home the checkered flag instead!

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

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

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe, wear a mask, and wash your hands often. Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

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. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Also, if you are shopping for NASCAR or racing die-casts, be sure to check out Circle B Diecast! If your order is $20 or more, be sure to use coupon code TPF2021 for free shipping!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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