NASCAR hits Vegas for Round 2 opener

By Pete Pistone  () 

NASCAR hits the reset button this week with the start of the second round of the 2020 playoffs. Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosts the opening race of Round 2, and Sunday’s South Point 400 has taken on a great deal of importance because of its spot on the schedule.

Four drivers were eliminated from title contention last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, leaving a dozen in the championship fight. Las Vegas kicks off a round in which the series will head to a pair of wild-card events, with trips to Talladega Superspeedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s “Roval” ahead. The unknowns of racing at those tracks raise the intensity level for the Vegas event as drivers look to enhance their places on the playoff grid and avoid having to play catch-up the rest of the round.

Sunday’s race will be the second of the year at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which hosted the series in March just before the COVID-19 pandemic put the sport on a two-month hiatus. Joey Logano won the spring race, which should give his team an idea of how to approach the return visit since, once again, no practice or qualifying will take place.

Drivers still in the playoffs will have different agendas from those outside the title race, who can afford to gamble more on strategy as well as on track aggression than those in the championship picture. Starting position has not been as vital at Vegas as at other tracks. Only one race has been won from the pole in the 25 previous events at LVMS.

Here’s a look at the favorites for Sunday’s South Point 400:

KEVIN HARVICK

There’s no stopping Harvick right now, as he continues to perform at the highest level in NASCAR. Harvick’s ninth win of the year last week at Bristol further solidified the Stewart-Haas Racing driver as the title favorite. He comes to Vegas as a two-time winner at the track, most recently in 2018. Harvick has finished in the top 10 in four of the last five LVMS races. Harvick has led 621 total laps at Vegas dating to 2013. That’s 135 more than the next-best driver on the list.

BRAD KESELOWSKI

His record at Las Vegas is impeccable. Keselowski’s average finish in the previous 10 races at the track is 3.6, a stretch that includes three trips to Victory Lane. Keselowski’s worst finish over that period is seventh. He has finished first, second and third in three of the last four Vegas races.

JOEY LOGANO

The March Vegas race winner is nearly as strong as Team Penske running mate Keselowski. Logano has won two of the last three races at the track and has an average finish of 5.4 over the previous 10 races.  

MARTIN TRUEX JR.

Despite his bad outing and 20th-place finish in March, Truex has run well of late at Las Vegas. He has finished top 10 in five of the last six races, including two victories during that stretch. In 17 career starts, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has five finishes in the top five.

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