Friday’s Cup Practice Report – Who Are The Favorites For Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 Now

LAS VEGAS, NV — The NASCAR Cup Series had two very important practice sessions from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday. See, these are the only two times that the 38 driver and team combinations will have on the 1.5-mile track in practice conditions.

On Saturday, the only time on track will be to qualify to set the field for Sunday’s second race of the 2020 season – the Pennzoil 400 (3:30 p.m. ET/FOX/PRN).

But, qualifying won’t hold much merit to who ends up celebrating in victory lane on Sunday evening in the Nevada desert. That’s because this is an impound race. That means Friday’s practice sessions hold a ton of weight on who we think will shine this weekend or not.

Just look at the starting positions of the top five finishes in last year’s playoff race in Vegas. That was an impound race too — 24th, 3rd, 18th, 8th and 23rd respectively. What about sixth through 10th?

19th, 14th, 15th, 22nd and 17th respectively.

Eight of the top 10 finishers came from Row 7 on back. A few weeks later at Kansas, another 1.5-mile track that was an impound race, just one car that started in the top finished in the top 18. That’s saying something. Qualifying is a bit of fools gold.

Last September in Vegas, Stewart-Haas Racing cars grabbed the top four starting spots. They elected for qualifying speed in hoping that the weekend’s race on the 1.5-mile track would reward clean air. The others went for true race pace.

You can tell which strategy worked.

Well, after two practice sessions on Friday, it appears that SHR has fixed their mistakes from last September. SHR drivers not only had great short run speed, they had even better long run pace.

That’s why we can’t put much merit on single lap speeds in the two practice sessions on Friday. Last year, we had a 100 lap green flag run until the end. We saw just two cautions in that race, both for stage breaks. We only saw four cautions in the 2018 spring race.

Translation?

A lot of green flag running which means single lap speed is irrelevant. It’s about being good for 267 laps on Sunday, not one.

Aric Almirola and Jimmie Johnson set the quick times in the two sessions on Friday afternoon, but lets take a deeper look, shall we?

Almirola, comes into the race with 90/1 odds as he’s failed to score a top five finish in 13 Vegas starts on the Cup level. But, three of his last four finishes were inside of the top 10 and he was first and third on single lap speed, third and second on five lap averages, first and 10th on the 10 lap and sixth on the 15 lap averages on Friday.

That tells me that he has a great all around car.

What about his teammate Clint Bowyer? He won his first pole in a long time last Fall and was second in both practice sessions on single lap speed, sixth and fifth on five lap averages and sixth on 10 lap averages. Bowyer, opened up 66/1.

Kevin Harvick is another favorite from the SHR camp. He was 12th and fourth on single lap runs, 13th and third on five lap averages, first on 10 lap runs and seventh on 15 laps. Harvick, also has three top four finishes in his last four starts at Vegas. He’s 4/1.

The Penske cars are always good in Vegas. If they can win on Sunday, it would be their fourth win in the last seven Vegas starts. They were just mediocre though on Friday.

Brad Keselowski has nine straight top seven finishes in Vegas including three straight top three’s, but he was only 17th and 18th on single lap runs, 16th and 14th on the five lap averages, 10th and 14th on 10 laps and 12th on the 15 lap averages.

Joey Logano won this race last year and has eight consecutive top 10 finishes at Las Vegas, but he was fourth and 13th on single lap speeds, first and 12th on five lap averages, 20th on 10 lap and 14th on 15 lap runs.

Ryan Blaney has three fifth place finishes in his last four tries in Vegas, looked the best out of the three with being 10th and eighth on one lap runs, eighth and 19th on five laps, fourth and 18th on 10 lap averages and ninth on the 15 lap chart.

The best car among the Penske’s was their alliance team in Matt DiBenedetto’s No. 21 Ford at the Wood Brothers. DiBenedetto, was sixth and fifth on the single lap charts, fifth and fourth on the five lap runs and quick on the 10 lap averages too. DiBenedetto is 66/1.

The Chevrolet grouping is also showing some might. While they haven’t won a Vegas race since 2015 as that’s their lone trip to victory lane in Sin City since 2013, they were quick across all metrics too.

Kurt Busch is probably the top Chevy driver as he was fifth in this race last year, seventh and 14th on single lap runs, ninth and eighth on five laps, fifth in both sessions on 10 laps, fifth on 15 laps and fourth on 20 lap runs. His teammate Kyle Larson has three top three finishes in his last five Vegas starts, was ninth and seventh on single lap speed, seventh and 13th on five laps averages, third and ninth on 10 lap runs and third on 15 lap metrics.

The Hendrick Motorsports camp saw Jimmie Johnson be quickest on short run speed (1 lap and 5 lap) averages in final practice and second on the 10 lap runs too. William Byron was 11th and 12th on single lap runs, 20th and 11th on five lap averages, seventh on the 10 lap chart and eighth on the 15 lap.

Alex Bowman was fifth and 10th on single car laps, fourth and seventh on the five lap averages, second and fourth on 10 lap, second on 15 laps and quickest on 20 lap runs. He has the best long run car.

The worst among them was Chase Elliott who was eighth and 22nd (1 lap), second and 23rd (5 lap), seventh and 16th (10 lap) and 16th (10 lap averages).

The Toyota’s used to be the second grouping behind the Ford’s but they all had an issue with pre practice inspection when they used bondo to manipulate the front end. That cost them speed in practice.

Denny Hamlin was 25th and 19th respectively (1 lap), 23rd and 16th (5 lap), 12th and eighth (10 lap), fourth on 15 lap and fifth on 20 lap. His car got better as the runs went on which should favor him a lot on Sunday.

But, his teammates couldn’t say the same.

Kyle Busch was only 15th, 28th (1 lap), 12th and 22nd (5 lap), 15th (10 lap) and 24th (15 lap). Martin Truex Jr. was just 14th 11th (1 lap), 10th 18th (5 lap), 22nd (10 lap) and 15th (15 lap). Erik Jones was 20th and 27th (1 lap), 15th 24th (5 lap), 25th (10 lap) and 17th (15 lap).

So, with all that information, who do you bet? The winner will be among these 12.

Kevin Harvick (4/1)

Joey Logano (7/1)

Denny Hamlin (11/1)

Kyle Larson (11/1)

Ryan Blaney (22/1)

Alex Bowman (30/1)

Kurt Busch (30/1)

William Byron (35/1)

Jimmie Johnson (40/1)

Clint Bowyer (66/1)

Matt DiBenedetto (66/1)

Aric Almriola (90/1)

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