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Track Talk: Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas

The adage that whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas doesn't quite apply for the Kobalt 400.

The adage that whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas doesn’t quite apply for the Pennzoil 400.

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race!

This weekend, our panelists Adam LucasAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Christina Bowman, Cody ShoppeJose Acero Jr, Kathleen CassidyKatie CoppleKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley mull over Kevin Harvick’s dominance last weekend at Atlanta and the West Coast Swing tracks!

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Question 1: A Strong Start for Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing
All was right for Kevin Harvick at Atlanta. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

All was right for Kevin Harvick at Atlanta. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

Kevin Harvick scored a convincing victory at Atlanta.  How much of this victory is a testament to Harvick’s strength as a driver and Stewart-Haas Racing as an organization in its second year with Ford?

Acero:  In dominating fashion, Harvick and the whole SHR camp showed NASCAR nation yesterday that their move to Ford last year was no fluke. I see the whole organization at SHR doing good this year in the Blue Oval. Ultimately, look for not only Harvick but Bowyer and Kurt Busch to make some trips to VL.

Bowman:  Harvick has a solid history at Atlanta since moving over to SHR, so his win and domination at the track should not have been very surprising. Stewart-Haas has built itself up over the past few years into a championship caliber organization and I think that they are capable of being that again in 2018.

Cassidy:  Over the seasons the progression of Stewart-Haas Racing has grown. One can see the success this organization has had with a few of their race teams. However, more work still needs to be done.

It is easy to say that based off of statistics Harvick has been most prosperous at SHR. As always expect to see him in victory lane more than once this season!

Conley:  Harvick has been the “lone gunman” for SHR the last couple years when it comes to wins and performance. So it really should be no surprise that he dominated and pulled that out in Atlanta.

It’s really his track, others are just allowed to spend the day there. I think the real telltale sign will be this week in Vegas as well as the following in California, especially to see where Ford is, both as an overall manufacturer and for SHR.

Copple: I don’t think anyone was really surprised to see Kevin Harvick in Victory Lane. Both his showing at Atlanta and Almorola’s run at Daytona have shown that Stewart-Haas Racing has potential to run a strong program in 2018.

2017 was a learning year for the organization with their move to Ford but now that the initial run is complete, I think 2018 will be a big year for them. We may even see a driver, or two, in the final four come Homestead.

Hobbs:  This has been a long time coming, and it is really no surprise to see Kevin Harvick in victory lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The entire Stewart-Haas organization is doing very well this season, and has the fifth best average team finish (third best among multi-car teams). Things really do seem to be turning around for the entire camp. All told, Harvick’s victory could be a sign of things to come for the rest.

Hull:  As a whole, the Stewart-Haas organization has looked great this year. We all know that Kevin Harvick is a very talented driver and can drive anything he is given.

So we expected no less on Sunday, where he dominated the race. It was great seeing him capture this very emotional victory!

Lucas:  Kevin Harvick is the epitome of grit. I mentioned several times leading up to and after the race on Twitter, and last week’s “Track Talk” segment, that the winner would be “gritty.” I guess I proved my point! 

Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole performed exceptionally well throughout the race, having all four cars run in the top ten for the majority of the race. Momentum will hopefully follow the organization over the next few races. As I stated during last week’s segment, the real season begins at Las Vegas.

Shoppe: This is just the beginning of a great year ahead for SHR as a whole. After a growing year with Ford in 2017, I feel like now is the time for Stewart Haas Racing to show what they can do.

It would seem some people are backing off their pre-season predictions that Ford will struggle and The new Chevy Camaro ZL1 would dominate. I’d say that SHR could be setting up for a title run and give the Toyota’s a run for their money.

Sturm: Harvick has always been an outstanding driver. Although it was only one race, SHR thoroughly surprised me with how well they ran at Atlanta.

I think the switch from Chevy to Ford was a great move by the organization, especially seeing how the new Camaro bodies seem to be struggling so far this season. I originally predicted that Ford would have an off year since I thought they were going to be at a disadvantage now compared to Chevy and Toyota, but I might be retracting that prediction.

Question 2: West Coast Swing for New Kids or Seasoned Veterans?
Will we see a battle between young guns like Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott during the West Coast Swing? (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

Will we see a battle between young guns like Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott during the West Coast Swing? (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

NASCAR heads to the West Coast to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Fontana.  Which tracks favor the young racers? Which will be the veterans’ best opportunities to shine before an East Coast return trip to Martinsville?

Acero:  NASCAR goes West! I see LVMS this week being a track that can be won by the vets and youngsters. Phoenix, well we all know that one name comes to mind and it’s Harvick.

Fontana is the rugged type of track where I can see Jimmie Johnson, Harvick, and Kyle Busch take the win. After this three week stretch, we can get an idea of who to keep an eye with the young and old!

Bowman:  Each of these tracks is their own monster. Simply with the diversity in the racing field, I think this season is going to be really tough to anticipate whether it will favor veteran drivers or drivers who are still a bit green. If I had to choose, I would say that Las Vegas and Phoenix will be a better showing for newbies and that Fontana will favor the veteran strategist.

Cassidy:  Although all of these tracks bring different elements to the racing schedule I believe Las Vegas is the young guns best shot to prove themselves. This 1.5 mile track could give us an indication of who will be successful this year and who still needs some work.

With the majority of the circuit tracks being 1.5 miles, this weekend will highlight some top drivers to keep an eye out for. That being said, never underestimate the veterans to show these rookies the ropes early in the season.

Conley:  I think this is a complete veteran stretch. The average age of the top-five in Atlanta was 38 years old.  Interestingly, this was 10 years older than the average age of the top-five at Daytona.

Even though Kyle Busch believes the sport is promoting the young drivers, the veterans are going to be early season highlights. I think if a “kid” is going to have an impact out west, it will be in Phoenix, likely trying to stay close to Harvick again though. It’s the West Coast Swing brought to you by Centrum Silver.

Copple: This West Coast stretch is going to be a tough one for the young drivers. Las Vegas, Fontana and Phoenix are all very different tracks. Phoenix offers racers with their first taste of short track racing for 2018.

I think Las Vegas will be the “easiest” so to speak for them. Each track will throw them their own unique set of challenges. The month of March will be a great learning experience for the rookies.  It’ll be a great learning experience for even those “veteran” young drivers as well.

Hobbs:  Las Vegas might be more cookie-cutter of the three, with Fontana right there. This will be a test for the younger racers to show how they can handle tracks that make up the majority of the schedule. It will also be their first time on a short track (Phoenix) this year.

By the time they head back east, they will have ventured onto all types of tracks on the schedule, minus road courses. By then, we all will have a solid idea of what the young drivers are made of and what veterans have to step up their game.

Hull:  Every track is different. So the veterans will continue having the upper hand, at least for now, until these guys get some experience. We are coming up on 3 of the most difficult tracks on the circuit, that favors a lot of experience. While we may have some rookies doing well, we will have a veteran win these races.

Lucas:  Well, it’s definitely not Auto Club Speedway. That track falls under the grit category, much like Atlanta and Darlington. Gritty tracks favor the drivers who are long in the tooth like the veterans. Auto Club will play favor to the veterans of the Cup series.

I think Phoenix will technically be a toss-up between the young and old. With its unique shape and driving characteristics, it’ll be as interesting as last springs event. Las Vegas is probably the best track for the young guns to prove themselves.

Since the season schedule is dominated by 1.5 mile ovals, this weekend will be crucial for long-term success. We’ll finally get a good gauge on which teams will be weekly contenders for the first half of the season.

Shoppe: I feel like any of the following races can be a toss up between the old guard and the young guns. Any mile and a half could be a race between veterans like Harvick, Keselowski, and Truex with a strong challenge from the likes of Larson, Blaney, and even Daniel Suarez who has been impressive this year.

Phoenix and Martinsville are places you’d think Harvick or Johnson would dominate. Lately, young stars like Chase Elliott has been a factor at these places. There’s really no longer a track you can handicap is just a veteran’s race.

Sturm: I think Las Vegas will be the best bet for the young guns to showcase their talent. However, we can’t forget that young gun Kyle Larson might be a force to be reckoned with at all three tracks. He finished second at both Las Vegas and Phoenix last year and won at Auto Club, so he’s one to keep an eye on. As far as veterans go, I think Phoenix will the best track for them.

So far, so good in our qualifying effort at Las Vegas!  Before going for the win in Sin City, take a look at our race and points reports from Atlanta!
A trio of writers were victorious at Atlanta.

A trio of writers were victorious at Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Lucas and Bowman are enjoying their stint as the co-points leaders.

Meanwhile, Lucas and Bowman are enjoying their stint as the co-points leaders.

After two weeks in the East Coast, our writers are ready for West Coast racing. Here’s our picks for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway!
Eight's a lucky number at Las Vegas, right?

Eight’s a lucky number at Las Vegas, right?

Bowman : All logic points to Brad Keselowski having solid back to back weekends. In his last 5 starts at LVMS, BK has not finished outside the top 10. Looking for the streak to continue this weekend!

Cassidy : Brad Keselowski and the 2 crew!

Copple : Brad Keselowski…obviously!

Hull :  Going with Brad Keselowski since this track is his!

Lucas :  Wow, this is going to be a hard prediction. Much like last year’s event at Vegas, we’ll see which manufacturer will be the dominant force for this season. After all, Martin Truex Jr in a Toyota won the 2017 event. Toyota subsequently dominated the 1.5 mile ovals in 2017.

In this case, I’m betting 2 on Blue for Brad Keselowski this weekend!

Acero : Following his third place finish at AMS, Clint Bowyer puts the 14 back in victory lane out at LVMS! He’s got the fire and momentum to do such!

Conley : It’s where he started his run last year and I can see him doing it again. Martin Truex Jr wins as long as the pit guns work.

Shoppe :  Kurt Busch will keep the SHR Ball Rolling and take the win at home in Vegas!

Sturm : I’m going to go out on a limb here and pick Ryan Blaney.

Tiongson :  A year ago, Kyle Busch was well on his way to a top-five finish before the first post-race fight took place.  This year, in the familiar Caramel M&M’s colors, Rowdy drives his way to hometown Victory Lane.

Hobbs : For reasons unknown, Joey Logano.

TPF Stats : For some reason, the magical statistics ball points towards Denny Hamlin this weekend.

That wraps this week’s preview, race fans!  Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk!

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 2018.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Track Talk 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.

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 Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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