It’s only the third race of 36, but already there are storylines heading into Sunday’s NASCAR Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Here are three to keep an eye on:
1. Calling young lions
After 27-year-old Austin Dillon won the season-opening Daytona 500 and fellow young lions Bubba Wallace Jr. and Ryan Blaney finished second and seventh, the many youthful chargers upon whom NASCAR is building its 2018 marketing campaign went AWOL in the second race at Atlanta.
Kevin Harvick, 42, won, as Harvick often does in Atlanta. He was followed across the line by Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Las Vegas brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch. Each of the first eight at Atlanta have a minimum of eight years’ experience in the Cup Series.
The highest-placing young lion was second generation driver Chase Elliott, who ran 10th.
While Daytona is a restrictor-place race that tends to level the playing field between young lions and grizzled veterans, the 1.54-mile Atlanta Speedway is definitively a grizzled veterans track. As is the 1½-mile LVMS oval, although not as much as Atlanta. Experience, like cream, tends to rise to the top at the intermediate tracks.
“There’s no coincidence,” Harvick said about the running order in Atlanta, adding that the first of two restrictor-plate races at Talladega, Alabama, is in April, and that will be the next time the bold young lions roar again.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) February 22, 2018
2. NASCAR air guns
In an attempt to reduce costs, NASCAR instituted new pit stop rules this year, one of which prohibits teams from developing their own air guns. The sanctioning body is providing the race teams with air guns in 2018, and they didn’t work well at Atlanta.
That’s putting it mildly, said Cole Pearn, crew chief for reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr.
“They’re pieces of (expletive),” Pearn told NBC.
The misfiring guns probably cost Truex a top-3 finish. Winner Kevin Harvick had to pit twice when an air hose came off his crew’s gun. There were reports that Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman also had problems.
“We never want to see failures with any part or piece,” NASCAR senior vice president Steve O’Donnell told SiriusXM Radio. “We’ll have conversations and get it right. We want it to be in the hands of drivers and teams. We’ll head to Vegas and hopefully get that cleaned up.”
— Jamie Little (@JamieLittleTV) February 11, 2018
3. Where’s Jimmie?
Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson finished 38th among 40 starters at the Daytona 500 and 27th among 36 at Atlanta last week. He is off to what one would call an uncharacteristic slow start.
“Even though the season is just starting, if I was Jimmie Johnson, I’d be worried,” TV’s Darrell Waltrip said. “They didn’t just fall into a slump. They’ve been there for a while and don’t seem to be working their way out of it. Once you’re in that situation, your confidence is shaken, despite how many races or championships you have.”
Johnson is 42, so perhaps a little slippage was inevitable. But it was only two years ago that he won his seventh series title, tying immortals Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Johnson is a four-time Las Vegas winner, with his last victory here in 2010.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) February 25, 2018
Pennzoil 400 schedule
2 p.m. — Ticket gates open (No Neon Garage access)
2:05-2:55 p.m. — Truck Series first practice
4:05-4:55 p.m. — Truck Series final practice
6 p.m. — Speedway Children’s Charities Driver & Memorabilia Auction (Sam’s Town)
6-7 p.m. — NASCAR Cup Series Hauler Parade (Las Vegas Welcome sign)
10 a.m. — Ticket gates, Neon Garage and VIP suites open
11-11:55 a.m. — Cup Series first practice
12:05-12:55 p.m. — Xfinity Series first practice
1-1:45 p.m. — Truck Series autograph session (Neon Garage)
2:05-2:50 p.m. — Xfinity Series final practice
3:05 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying (single vehicle, two rounds)
4:15 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (multivehicle, three rounds)
5:30 p.m. — Truck Series driver introductions
6 p.m. — Stratosphere 200 Truck Series race (134 laps, 201 miles) (TV: Fox Sports 1)
8 a.m. — Ticket gates, Neon Garage and VIP suites open
9-9:50 a.m. — Cup Series second practice
10:05 a.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (multivehicle, three rounds)
11:35 a.m.-12:20 p.m. — Cup Series final practice
12:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series driver introductions
1 p.m. — Boyd Gaming 300 Xfinity Series race (200 laps, 300 miles) (TV: Fox Sports 1)
4:30 p.m. — Neon Garage closes
5:30 p.m. — Speedway Children’s Charities rides
7 a.m. — Ticket gates, Neon Garage and VIP suites open
9-10 a.m. — Speedway Children’s Charities Track Walk
10:30 a.m. — Flag stand gate opens for prerace pass on front stretch
10:30 a.m. — Cup Series driver and crew chief meeting (Neon Garage)
11:50 a.m. — Cup Series driver introductions
12:30 p.m. — Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube Cup Series race (267 laps, 400 miles) (TV: Fox)
5:30 p.m.—Neon Garage closes
* All times are Pacific, and schedule is subject to change.