It’s called the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube, but Sunday’s NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway might have been inspired by Bob Arum.
It was the Las Vegas fight promoter who once famously said: “Yesterday, I was lying. Today, I’m telling the truth.”
That pretty much describes the start of the “real” NASCAR Cup Series season.
Two weeks ago, the season officially began with the Daytona 500, but that was a restrictor-plate race, where the cars mostly run in a pack. Not a true indicator of who has what for the remainder of the season, the drivers said.
Then it was on to Atlanta, a track which like so many on which NASCAR runs, is an intermediate 1.5-mile oval. The real season starts in Atlanta, the TV commentators said.
Not really, said the drivers. Atlanta is rough and pockmarked. Not like the other 1½-mile tracks. Not like the smooth LVMS surface on which the 37 cars will race Sunday.
So does the Pennzoil 400 finally signal the start of the real NASCAR season?
“It is funny,” said veteran Clint Bowyer, who will start the first of two 2018 Cup Series races at LVMS from the 11th position. “We say the same thing after Daytona — that’s not the real season. Then (you) have a bad run at Atlanta — ‘well, that’s not the real season, either.’
“If you ran good at Atlanta, you say, ‘hell, yeah, that’s what you’re gonna see all season.’ But obviously this repave out here, the grip level, the tire we run, it’s similar to the feel of the car that you’ll have at a lot of the tracks.”
The record book shows that what happens in Las Vegas also tends to happen in Homestead, Florida, where the championship is decided at season’s end.
Six of the 20 Las Vegas winners have gone on to win the title, including Martin Truex Jr. last year. Fifteen have finished among the top five in final points.
So who are the fast guys to watch?
Young charger Ryan Blaney will start from the pole position, with Kevin Harvick, last week’s pacesetter at Atlanta and one of five former LVMS winners entered, outside on the front row.
Kurt Busch is seeking his first victory on his hometown oval. He and Truex will start in the second row.
Kyle Busch, who won Friday’s Truck Series race but finished a distant 14th in Saturday’s Xfinity Series event, will chase his second LVMS Cup Series win from 13th on the grid.
Other storylines: Will NASCAR-mandated air guns perform better than they did at Atlanta during pit stops? Can four-time LVMS winner and seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson break out of a 26-race winless funk? Will the wind finally subside in Turn 3?
Bowyer gets the final word.
“It’s going to be tough … but, hell, who doesn’t like being in Vegas?”