Podium Preview: South Point 400 at Las Vegas

While no longer in the championship hunt, can Kurt Busch repeat his South Point 400 exploits at Las Vegas on Sunday night? (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk | Getty Images)

While no longer in the championship hunt, can Kurt Busch repeat his South Point 400 exploits at Las Vegas on Sunday night? (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk | Getty Images)

For the past three years, NASCAR Cup Series drivers and teams roll the dice for a Sunday night fight in Las Vegas. For at least 267 laps, the South Point 400 serves as the latest NASCAR Playoffs showdown and potential party crasher’s opportunity.

Although it is not a marathon event like the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, Las Vegas’ Playoffs race still matters. After all, last year, Kevin Harvick’s slow descent as a championship contender started in this race. Meanwhile, it’s one of the three 1.5-mile races comprising the final seven races of 2021.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Ashley HobbsJasmine SharpeKobe Lambeth, Luis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorNathan Solomon, Taylor KitchenTerra Jones and yours truly reflect on the Elliott and Harvick tussle and potential Round of 8 players.

Podium Preview: South Point 400 at Las Vegas
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Question 1
Kevin Harvick fights for another NASCAR Playoffs round. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kevin Harvick fights for another NASCAR Playoffs round. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick waged in a memorable tussle at Bristol resulting in some post race words. Will this carry over into the Round of 12 or possibly later in the NASCAR Playoffs?

Hobbs :  It could carry over from Kevin Harvick rather than Chase Elliott. Harvick has been around the sport for a while and is known to carry grudges. I do not think Elliott will worry too much, but he will certainly be keeping an eye out when racing around Harvick. If anything, if it’s close to advancing or not between these two, that ROVAL race will be something else.

Raynor :  I think they resolved their issues in the hauler. If they end up fighting for positions we might see it progress, but I think it is done for the most part.

Shoppe :  I haven’t seen Kevin Harvick that mad since the early 2000’s when he would jump over cars to try to fight the likes of Greg Biffle and Ricky Rudd! Harvick will likely focus primarily on getting the 4 team secure in the next round but should he find himself down and out of the playoffs moving forward, we could likely see a replay of Matt Kenseth vs Joey Logano from 2015!

Sisoler : I don’t think this is done between those two drivers, not even close. Harvick feels he was robbed of the win at Bristol because of Chase, and Chase feels the same about Harvick. While Elliott may have felt he paid it off by messing up Harvick’s chance for the win and essentially gifting the win to Kyle Larson, Harvick looked about ready to knock Chase’s block off after the race, especially after Chase put his finger in Harvick’s face during their “discussion” on pit road, and somehow, I don’t think that chat in the No. 9 team’s hauler solved anything.

This is gonna be a major motivator for both drivers. If Harvick ends up winning the championship this time around, he might have Elliott to thank while the rest of the playoff drivers would be wanting Chase’s head, but if Harvick finds himself with nothing to play for later on but Chase does, I think it could be extremely costly for Mr. Elliott; think Kenseth vs. Logano costly.

Lambeth :  I think Chase Elliott may end up regretting his little feud with Kevin Harvick later in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Due to the high speeds, I do not expect to see any revenge at the upcoming races at Las Vegas and Talladega. However, if Elliott gets to the Round of 12 cutoff race at the Charlotte ROVAL in a must-win situation, Harvick won’t hesitate to bump him out of the lead on the final lap. Martinsville could also be a track to watch for potential payback in the Round of 8.

Solomon : It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see this rivalry carry over to the rest of the playoffs. I’m sure Harvick and Elliott are still frustrated with each other and if one of the drivers end up in a position with nothing to lose, it wouldn’t shock me to see another incident on the track. However, since both drivers had already clinched Round of 12 spots at Bristol when they feuded, then it’s possible the drivers decided to stay away from each other in these last seven races.

Question 2
How does the Round of 12 shake things up for the championship chase? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

How does the Round of 12 shake things up for the championship chase? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Eleven of the Round of 12 Playoffs spots are occupied by the drivers from Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing. Considering these 11 drivers, which will advance and which will see their title hopes end in Charlotte?

Tiongson :  I predict that Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski advance into the Round of 12. Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL likely serve as the wild card races for this latest Playoff round.

Of course, Las Vegas seems like the straightforward race although I don’t think it’s such a cakewalk on Sunday evening for those who thrived in the spring. Still, the baseline setups for Larson and Keselowski seem quite logical for the top two finishers from the spring race.

Talladega may be a great place for a non Playoff racer like Matt DiBenedetto or Bubba Wallace to play the role of postseason spoilers. However, it’s likely a race where those seemingly locked for the Round of 8 will play it safe.

As for the ROVAL, this is where things could get interesting. Again, I look for those who seem locked into the Round of 8 will play it safe. Those on the outside looking in may make some incredibly bold moves. Unfortunately, this means the likes of Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Kevin Harvick and William Byron do not advance.

Jones :  Who advances? The easy answers (in no particular order): Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex, Jr., and Denny Hamlin.

That leaves four more spots. Ryan Blaney is heading to three tracks where he has either won or had numerous solid finishes. (He takes the fifth spot). Spots six and seven will be occupied by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. The final spot will be claimed by a surprise winner, Kevin Harvick (why not?).

That means Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, William Byron, and Alex Bowman will see their 2021 Playoff hopes dashed at the checkered flag in Charlotte. 

Torres :  As I said last week, I’m still concerned about the capabilities of Alex Bowman and William Byron in the Round of 12. However, Byron showed he’ll not quit and that’s what you need in these playoffs. Of those two, Byron should be safe of making it into the Round of 8. 

Still not convinced of Bowman keeping his title hopes alive due to inconsistency. I just don’t see him thriving and it’s one thing that must be improved in the future.

Christopher Bell has done some good in these playoffs, but that’ll end in the Round of 12. Another driver I don’t see making it past this round are both Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. They’ve just not been strong enough without being involved in accidents or just on pace with both Hendrick and Joe Gibbs Racing. Ryan Blaney should be fine though and will be Penske’s sole survivor after the ROVAL.

Sharpe :  It all comes down to who can march up to the front and snag the win at Vegas. The next two races afterwards are just too chaotic to really say who will win.

Talladega treated Blaney well earlier this year, and the Team Penske driver has also done well at Daytona. Him and Hamlin are the two I’d keep a close eye at the super speedway.

Logano is just too chaotic for his own good, and BK, as great as he is I think he is, just hasn’t been out front as much as he should be.

Bowman and Byron surprised me with their finishes last week, but yet again Chase Elliot was making mistakes while on pit road, costing him valuable time and positions.

Over at the JGR camp, Bell is too chaotic for his own good and the other three have had plenty of problems this year. Denny Hamlin has been consistent with his top five and top 10 finishes this season, but another win would really help him out at this point.

What happens in two laps around Las Vegas actually does not stay in Las Vegas. Next, we reflect on Race 29 of the season with the race and points reports from last Saturday night’s Bristol Night Race.
Raynor nearly reigned supreme at Bristol.

Raynor nearly reigned supreme at Bristol.

Meanwhile, the championship hunt shakes up for the TPF panelists.

Meanwhile, the championship hunt shakes up for the TPF panelists.

In alphabetical order, who are the four Playoff drivers that we think will fail to make it to the Round of 8?
Might Kevin Harvick's title chances ride into the sunset after the Round of 12? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Might Kevin Harvick’s title chances ride into the sunset after the Round of 12? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Hobbs :  Christopher Bell, William Byron, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick

Raynor : Christopher Bell, William Byron, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski

TPF Stats : Christopher Bell, William Byron, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski

Shoppe :  Christopher Bell, William Byron, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski 

Sisoler :  Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano

Lambeth :  Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch and William Byron

Tiongson :  Christopher Bell, William Byron, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick

Jones :  Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Joey Logano

Kitchen :  Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski

Sharpe :  Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski

Solomon :  Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick

Next, Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers for Sunday night’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas!
First, consider how your favorite team fares in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas.

First, consider how your favorite team fares in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas.

Since 2018, the South Point 400 race winner has an average starting spot of 15.3, led an average of 45.3 laps, and has started within the top 10 just 33.33% of the time.

Since 2018, the South Point 400 race winner has an average starting spot of 15.3, led an average of 45.3 laps, and has started within the top 10 just 33.33% of the time.

Logano loves Las Vegas.

Logano loves Las Vegas.

Some trends worth considering for the South Point 400's short history at Las Vegas since 2018.

Some trends worth considering for the South Point 400’s short history at Las Vegas since 2018.

Well, if only the machine didn't have limits.

Well, if only the machine didn’t have limits.

Now, check out the top 10 starters for Sunday night’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas!
Row 1
Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 2
William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. (Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. (Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 3
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 4
Alex Bowman and Brad Keselowski (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Alex Bowman and Brad Keselowski (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 5
Joey Logano and Kyle Busch (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Joey Logano and Kyle Busch (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Lastly, here’s our picks for Sunday night’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas.
Can one of these eight get lucky in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas?

Can one of these eight get lucky in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas?

Jones : You know who has won a few times at Vegas? You know who has a fire lit now? You know who will be “happy” at the end of the South Point 400? Yeah. Kevin Harvick.

Lambeth : Still fired up from the post race drama with Chase Elliott last weekend at Bristol, Kevin Harvick will use that incident as motivation to conquer the heat in Viva Las Vegas!

Torres : Denny Hamlin was one of the few drivers (not named Kyle Larson) who had a strong showing last time at Las Vegas. I can see that being replicated, but carry his strong momentum to start the Round of 12. Like at Darlington, Hamlin will start the opening round for the victory. These playoffs tend to bring the absolute most out of drivers and Hamlin is no exception.

Solomon : Denny Hamlin finally broke through with a victory in 2021 with a win at Darlington and now has some momentum on his side. I think Hamlin will open the Round of 12 with a win to punch his ticket to the next round and continue the chase for his first championship, the only thing missing on his resume.

Tiongson : With some luck and a fast car, look for Alex Bowman and his No. 48 Ally Chevy dicing it up at the front and hitting the jackpot at Las Vegas. And yes, I’ve used my allotment of dad jokes for “Sin City.”

Hobbs : In the three fall races in Sin City, Martin Truex Jr. has an average finish of 2.0. Yes, that means all his finishes are in the top five; and yes, he does have a win. With an average finish of 4.0 in the first three races of the Playoffs, I expect a great weekend for MTJ.

TPF Stats : Well, The Machine cannot go with Kyle Larson (again), so the second best gets bumped up, and that is Martin Truex Jr. With an incredible average finish of 4.0 in the first round, I foresee Truex Jr. doing quite well in Vegas. My money is on him.

Sharpe : With the second round of the playoffs kicking off, Team Penske needs their three drivers to step up after Larson’s win last week. I may not be a fan of Joey Logano, but he knows how to be aggressive when needed and Vegas is a great track to be just that.

Raynor : Joey Logano is good at this track and I think he will win.

Shoppe : Kyle Busch has been one mistake away from a great run in each playoff race so far. Tonight, it all comes together and for the second year in a row, the South Point 400 will go to a hometown hero!

Sisoler : Las Vegas has seemed to suit Team Penske cars in the past, especially Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. I think in Brad’s final trip to Vegas in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford, he is gonna prove to be the smart bet and punch his ticket to the next round with a victory.

Kitchen : Ryan Blaney has historically done well at this track and the stats are in his favor, building momentum. He will win this race.

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the 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 and wash your hands often. Help yourself, your family and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine! Take the shot to save your life and others! 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 our friends at Circle B Diecast! If your order is $20 or more, be sure to use coupon code TPF2021 for free shipping! Tell them we sent you and buy some new die-casts now!

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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