Three takeaways from Sunday’s NASCAR Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
1. Harvick’s Sunday drive
Other than the soft pretzels with the beer cheese dip that were served throughout NASCAR Weekend in the media center, Kevin Harvick was in a class by himself.
It was on the second lap of 267 when Harvick drove around pole-sitter Ryan Blaney as if the Team Penske driver was spinning his wheels in beer cheese dip.
And that was it for race day drama.
It was the second dominating win in consecutive weeks for the veteran driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford who also twisted the field into the shape of a soft pretzel at Atlanta the week before.
Watching Harvick toy with the other cars was motorized March Madness. If NASCAR ran its playoffs the way the NCAA runs its basketball tournament, he probably would be matched against the SWAC or Summit League champion in the first round as it now stands.
“We’ve been in this position before, and you have to keep pushing forward to try to keep your advantage of things that are working well, but you also have to find out what your weaknesses are,” said Harvick, who led a LVMS record 214 laps of 267.
Did Harvick mention weaknesses? Heading into this week’s race at Phoenix, where he was won eight times?
Pass the soft pretzels and the cheesy beer dip.
2. Level playing field
The first three cars across the finish line were a Ford, a Toyota and a Chevrolet — which is exactly how NASCAR would have drawn it up.
With each of its three manufacturers represented on the victory podium (if NASCAR had a victory podium) the Las Vegas race, which often foretells what will transpire over the rest of the season, foretold little about which car model will reign supreme.
After Chevy drivers showed well in the season-opening Daytona 500, car owner Roger Penske said the new Camaro might have an edge on the old Ford Fusion. That was before Harvick drove that old Fusion to dominating back-to-back wins at Atlanta and Las Vegas, both 1.5-mile ovals that make up a significant part of the schedule.
Said Harvick’s car owner Tony Stewart: I think the most impressive part for us is that everybody thought the Fords were going to be underdogs this year, and not only the 4 car (Harvick) but all of the Stewart-Haas Racing cars have had speed and Penske and Roush (Fenway Racing) have had speed.”
3. Y’all comeback now
There were pockets of empty seats in the towering Petty and Earnhardt terraces bookending the frontstretch, but LVMS officials were said to be happy with Sunday’s estimated crowd of 65,000.
The turnout appeared a bit smaller than last year, when the race was run on a balmy 86-degree day. It was 55 degrees and breezy when Ryan Blaney led the 37-car field to the green flag Sunday.
LVMS will host two NASCAR weekends in 2018, and it’s hard to draw conclusions on how the inaugural South Point 400 will draw based on the Pennzoil 400 crowd, other than it will be much warmer for the NASCAR playoff opener Sept. 16.
Which, if nothing else, bodes well for beer sales.