The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series kicked off its 2019 playoff competition in Las Vegas on Sunday night. Five playoff drivers made up the top 10 qualifying positions, including Clint Bowyer who earned the pole position after putting together a lap time of 30.180 seconds. The other playoff drivers who qualified in the top 10 were Kevin Harvick at 3rd, Aric Almirola at 4th, Kurt Busch at 5th and Chase Elliott at 8th.
It was a tight battle from the drop of the green flag, with Bowyer and Suarez battling head to head on lap 1, with Suarez eventually gaining the advantage and taking the lead away quickly. Kyle Busch found trouble early after making contact with the wall on lap 5, but the field stayed green. All the meanwhile, defending Cup Series champ Joey Logano was slicing and dicing through the field after a poor qualifying effort that had him starting 22nd. By lap 35, Logano takes the lead away from Suarez who was battling with the 10 car of Aric Almirola. The 9 car of Chase Elliott began the cycle of green flag pit stops at lap 40 after reporting his car was handeling too tight. Leader Joey Logano pitted shortly after on Lap 43 and he would eventually cycle back through the field to take the lead again and win Stage 1.
Stage 1 Results: 1-Joey Logano, 2-Kevin Harvick, 3-Aric Almirola, 4-Daniel Suarez, 5-Austin Dillon, 6-Kurt Busch, 7-William Byron, 8-Martin Truex Jr. 9-Kyle Larson, 10-Erik Jones
After a cycle of pit stops at the stage break, Harvick wins the race off of pit road and takes the lead away from Logano. Stage 2 started just like Stage 1, with an intense battle for the lead. William Byron made his presence known, taking leader Kevin Harvick into a three wide with Joey Logano. Harvick loses the battle and begins to drop back while Logano is able to edge Byron for the lead. Even with the front of the field staying four wide in the opening laps, they avoided any possible cautios. Erik Jones pitted early under green after his car was stuck in 2nd gear. The 20 team would take the car behind the wall for repairs and Jones would eventually return to the race 18 laps down. Green flag pit stops begin at lap 123 with Kevin Harvick and William Byron being the first cars to take a hard left and Joey Logano followed a lap after. Logano cycled back to the race lead, but a red hot Chase Elliott was manuvering his way through the field, passing every car in his sight. Elliott met his match with Truex Jr., with Truex eventually being able to take 2nd away. Truex Jr. couldn’t find a way to get around the 22 of Logano, but is able to make the pass for the lead as Logano gets stuck in lap traffic.
Stage 2 Results: 1-Martin Truex Jr., 2-Joey Logano, 3-Kyle Larson, 4-Kevin Harvick, 5-Chase Elliott, 6-William Byron, 7-Denny Hamlin, 8-Ryan Blaney, 9-Kurt Busch, 10-Alex Bowman
The field heads down pit road during the stage break and Truex wins the race off pit road with Joey Logano right behind him. Truex and Logano battle as the green flag drops, but Truex is able to hold the advantage. About 10 laps into Stage 3, Elliott is able to cross-over Truex for the lead and holds it until the caution comes out on lap 182 after William Byron gets a flat. Everyone took the smart call here and went down pit road, with Hamlin winning the race off after only taking 2 tires. When the green comes back out, Hamlin battles with the 12 car of Ryan Blaney for the lead but a charging Kevin Harvick got the best of both of them and took the lead back. That lead didn’t last long as Kurt Busch brings out the caution one lap later after getting into the wall, and Chase Elliott is the only taker on pit road. Green flag drops and Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer get into each other but the field stays green and Bowyer would eventually pit with a tire rub. Cars began to cycle in on lap 229, with the leaders being the first takers. Harvick held the lead after the pit cycle, but Truex began to threaten for position and is able to make the pass for the lead on lap 247, and he would hold on for the last 20 laps to win the race. A rough race for Regular Season Champion Kyle Busch as he makes contact with a lap car and sustains heavy damage on the nose and falls off the pace.
1:Martin Truex Jr*, 2:Kevin Harvick*, 3:Brad Keslowski*, 4:Chase Elliott*, 5:Ryan Blaney*, 6:Alex Bowman*, 7:William Byron*, 8:Kyle Larson*, 9:Joey Logano*, 10:Ryan Newman*, 11:Jimmie Johnson, 12:Austin Dillon, 13:Aric Almirola*, 14:Paul Menard, 15:Denny Hamlin*, 16:Ty Dillon, 17:Daniel Hemric, 18:Chris Buescher, 19:Kyle Busch*, 20:Daniel Suarez, 21:Matt DiBenedetto, 22:David Ragan, 23:Bubba Wallace, 24:Michael McDowell, 25:Clint Bowyer*, 26:Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 27:Ryan Preece, 28:Corey LaJoie, 29:Landon Cassill, 30:Matt Tifft, 31:Ross Chastain, 32:J.J. Yaley, 33:BJ McLeod, 34:Joe Nemechek, 35:Garrett Smithley, 36:Erik Jones*, 37:Reed Sorenson, 38:Joey Gase, 39:Kurt Busch*
Fan Review: The start of the 2019 playoffs did not disappoint at all. While it was mostly the same cars in the front for the whole race, it was a constant battle for position within the top 5, making it awfully hard to look away. It was a pretty quiet race caution-wise, so if you’re a fan who loves wrecks than this wasn’t the race for you. The playoff drivers for the most part did what they were supposed to do and stayed toward the front of the field for the race. The top 3 is also a strong representation of drivers who are part of the favorites to be in the Final 4 at Homestead, but with 9 races to go that could change drastically.
What To Look Forward To Next Week: Race 2 of the 2019 playoffs and the 2nd race for this eliminatin round is the Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond, Virginia. The 3-quarter mile track is sure to keep up the excitement. Defending winner Kyle Busch hopes to bounce back at Richmond after a dismal race on Sunday night. And hate him or love him, if it’s a Kyle Busch battle, it’s sure to be entertaining.