Pennzoil 400 preview

NASCAR heads for the desert in Vegas for the third race of 2019

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The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series ventures into the unknown this week as they head for Vegas for the Pennzoil 400. This week, NASCAR will unveil the new "aero ducts" that will tighten up the field come Sunday. All throughout the offseason, the field has been testing at this one and a half mile oval and overall we saw almost exactly what we would expect. Everyone was bunched up and the field was extremely close together.

While there were plenty of positives that came with these rule changes, not everyone was a fan. One of the drivers that was critical of the new package was Kyle Busch. He was quoted as saying the package has "taken the skill away from the drivers." NASCAR officials were none too happy with his comments, NASCAR's VP of Development John Probst responded by saying drivers should "be careful" with their criticism of the rule changes and threatened to give them fines. I personally find this abohorent. NASCAR continues to show their thin skin when it comes to criticism, weather it be by drivers, the media or team owners. While it is common practice for certain sports to fine their athletes for being critical, I personally think it's stupid to punish their drivers for speaking their mind. Here is a sport that tries to pride themselves on letting these drivers be who they are but yet they turn around and threaten to fine everyone. With this new leadership in Jim France, I hope they can find a way to stop being such snowflakes all the time and let the drivers think and say what they want.

Last week, Brad Keselowski was able to pull out all the stops and take the victory at Atlanta. At the beginning of the race, Keselowski started all the way back in 19th place. While he was quiet at the beginning he made his presence known in the final 32 laps. The heartbreak of the day came after Kyle Larson got a speeding penalty costing him a shot at winning his first race at Atlanta. All throughout the day, Larson dominated the race by leading 142 laps and winning the first stage. Over his career, Larson has had an issue with finishing races and Atlanta was a prime example. He looks to avenge his loss this week at Vegas.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr is back in the news again. In the closing laps, Stenhouse was multiple laps down and according to Martin Truex Jr, Stenhouse did not give way to Truex in his efforts to catch Brad. Overall, this has been a common complaint among the drivers. Truex was quoted as saying "We had the best car but the 17 [Stenhouse] was slowing me down." In a response Stenhouse fired back at the 2017 Champion, he stated "If I had a car faster than someone, I would drive around them." While I can see the reason for Martin's frustration, he has to realize that he isn't the only driver on the track. At the end of the day, there were 36 other cars on the track that are all racing for different things. With everything that can happen on the track, who knows maybe a caution could come out and Stenhouse can get the free pass back on to the lead lap and get back into contention for a better finish. While there has been legitimate reasons for drivers to be upset with Stenhouse this is not one of them.

The driver that I have winning this week is Kurt Busch. For many, most would pick Kyle Busch to win here but I am going with his older brother Kurt. After last week's fantastic third place showing in Atlanta, Kurt comes to his home-track with a great finish under his belt and a better understanding of his new team at Ganassi Racing. While his results here in the past in Vegas haven't been what he might have wanted, they don't really tell how well he has run here. Last year Busch had a great car in this race until he was involved in an incident with Chase Elliott. I think this year, he will put it all together and claim his second victory at his home track and clinch a spot in the playoffs.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

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Photos by Getty Images. Composite image by Jack Brame.

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