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After surprise start, NASCAR normalcy expected at LVMS

It used to be the three words most often used in conjunction with NASCAR were “rubbin’ is racin’, a folksy reference to the bumping and grinding that is so much a part of the sport.

But after the first three rounds of the 2021 season, the mantra has become “expect the unexpected.”

“You would think after three races we would be talking by this point (Kevin) Harvick, (Denny) Hamlin, (Joey) Logano, Kyle Busch,” Fox broadcast analyst and former crew chief Larry McReynolds said about the usual championship contenders, “but we’re talking Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell and William Byron.”

McDowell won the season-opening Daytona 500 crap shoot before Bell took the checkered flag on the Daytona road course. It was the first career victory for both. Byron earned his second trip to victory circle by winning last week at Homestead, Florida.

“I don’t know anybody who would have seen such a thing coming,” McReynolds said of the topsy-turvy results heading into Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But the NASCAR cream usually rises to the top at the 1.5-mile LVMS oval, one of several intermediate-sized tracks upon which playoff berths and championships often are decided.

Return to normalcy?

Las Vegas’ spring race has become a bastion of household names. Recently retired Jimmie Johnson won four times. More recently, championship drivers Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Harvick and Logano, who will be seeking a three-peat after winning the past two Pennzoil 400s, have done victory burnouts.

While the regular threats are expected to return to form Sunday, that also was the case last week when Bryon won on the mile-and-a-half track at Homestead. He called the victory a confidence builder and a huge step toward stringing together wins and improving his standing within the Rick Hendrick Motorsports stable.

“That was our goal, to be in that top six to eight guys that can win every week,” Byron said. “It’s a good start. We’re ahead of schedule.”

Added McReynolds: “I know William Byron had won a race, he’s at Hendrick. But if you would have asked me Saturday night to give you 12 drivers to watch on Sunday at Homestead, William Byron wouldn’t have been on that list.”

Byron’s previous best finish at Homestead was ninth. Kurt Busch, who broke an 0-for-21 winless streak on his hometown track by winning last fall’s LVMS playoff race, used a Kentucky Derby analogy to describe the early season jockeying for position.

“You have all those horses that have a shot at it — one leads, one drops back and then by the end of those two minutes you see those front runners. And we’ll get there,” the Las Vegas veteran said of the long haul to the championship.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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Pennzoil 400 race results

Results of the NASCAR Cup race Pennzoil 400 on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.