South Point 400 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Las Vegas marked the first week of 2018’s 10-week NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs; an elimination-type playoff format that features 16 drivers who have earned the most points during the 26-race regular season. If you didn’t know Las Vegas was the start of the playoffs, watching the aggressiveness of the South Point 400 for even a few minutes would have given it away. By the end, 11 of the 16 drivers had a mechanical problem or had been involved in a wreck.

Polesitter Eric Jones (Dewalt #20) and Joey Logano (Pennzoil #22)

Stage 1 seemed to be the calm before the storm. Polesitter Erik Jones lost the lead on the first lap to Joey Logano, who soon lost it to Martin Truex Jr. After green-flag pitstops, Truex cycled back to the lead and won the stage.

On Lap 88, just 8 laps into the second stage, Ricky Stenhouse Jr got into the wall on Turn 3.  Debris flew from the right side of Stenhouse’s #17 Ford and caused the first caution of the day… the first of many. Twenty-two laps later, the caution flew again for the #13 of Ty Dillon, who blew a right front tire and slammed the wall hard on the front stretch. Later in the stage, front-runner Kevin Harvick in the #4 Ford similarly blew a tire and shot into the outside SAFER wall. Erik Jones, who was following Harvick closely, piled into the back of the #4. Both cars were badly torn up and both drivers, who were in the playoffs, were done for the day. Luckily, their egos took a bigger hit than their bodies and both were released from the infield care center. With a few laps left in the stage, Brad Keselowski rocketed to the front on the restart and won the second stage to pick up some valuable playoff points.

The caution flags came fast and furious in the final stage, averaging 1 caution every 14 laps. The string of yellows kicked off on Lap 182 with non-playoff-contender, William Byron, who spun in Turn 3.

Kyle Larson (front) and Chase Elliott (rear)

Twenty-nine laps later, the race was under yellow again when 2 Top-5 cars got together. Jaime McMurray in the #1 Chevy brushed the wall a few laps beforehand, but his team radioed to say there was no physical damage and no tire rub. Unfortunately, there indeed was a rub and McMurray blew the right front and shot straight into the wall. With nowhere to go, playoff-driver Chase Elliott clipped the left rear of the #1 and tore up the front of his #9 Chevy.  Both drivers were out for the day and both were checked at released from the infield care center, despite that Elliott complained of shoulder pain directly after the accident.

On Lap 232, Las Vegas native Kyle Busch lost control of the car coming out of Turn 4 and slingshotted into the infield grass. Busch managed to keep the splitter out of the grass and didn’t tear up the car. Ironically, only 14 laps later, Busch’s teammate, Denny Hamlin, did the very same thing in the exact same spot. Unfortunately, however, his splitter hit the grass and completely destroyed the front of the car. Hamlin, yet another playoff driver, was out for the day.

Once again, NASCAR displayed the yellow when the #17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr got turned on the back straightaway. Ten laps later, there was a quickie yellow for debris on the track. The final caution of the day was for a big wreck on Lap 265 that collected Micheal McDowell, Ross Chastain, and teammate playoff drivers Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch. The red flag was displayed as track crews endeavored to clear the carnage. Drivers had to park on the back-straightaway and suffer through the heat as temps inside the car reached 158° Fahrenheit.

Brad Keselowski celebrates Team Penske’s 500th win.

When the red flag finally lifted, the race was in overtime, which triggered a two-lap shootout to determine the winner. As he had done on so many prior restarts, Brad Keselowski once again took off like a shot and won his third race in a row despite experiencing a major drought throughout the majority of the regular season. This monumental win marked the 500th victory for Team Penske.

Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr, Ryan Blaney, and Joey Logano rounded out the Top 5. How Brad Keselowski managed to survive the day is nothing short of a miracle considering Vegas tore up more cars than Talladega.

Catch the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Richmond Raceway for the second race in the first round of the playoffs. Get your tickets HERE

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