What to Watch: Full guide to the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
(⏰ 7 p.m. ET | 📺 NBCSN, TSN | 📻 PRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s Round of 12 opening race and 30th points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season.


Where: Las Vegas, Nevada
Green flag: 7:19 p.m. ET
Grand Marshal: Dana White, UFC president
TV/Radio: NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: Sunny, with a high near 93 degrees. South southeast wind 5-9 mph, according to NOAA.gov
Race Distance: 267 laps, 400.5 miles
Stages: 80 | 160 | 267
Pit-road speed: 45 mph
Caution car speed: 55 mph
Las Vegas 101: Get the full lowdown
Starting lineup: See the full lineup

Pit-stall assignments: See who is pitting where | Expert breaks down pit selections

Kevin Harvick Lvms Blur
Kevin Harvick Lvms Blur

Five to watch

Here are five big story lines we’ll be following at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

1. The Round of 12 opener sets the stage for the rest of the playoffs, especially with a trip to Talladega Superspeedway looming large in a week. With a poor finish at Las Vegas, any of the playoff drivers can be teetering on the elimination line — even the favorites. Whichever driver wins this race has the luxury of knowing he is one round away from battling for a championship in Phoenix. Based on history at the track, Team Penske drivers Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney might have an edge. Since 2014, drivers with the organization have finished in the top 10 in 86% of the races (25 of 29) and have managed to win five of the last 11. The usual favorites, namely Kyle Larson, will likely have a say. But don’t sleep on the horses at Penske, as they look to inch their way back into the title hunt.

2. Is the Kevin Harvick vs. Chase Elliott saga over? Or is it just beginning? Only time will tell. After a late-race run-in led to a pit-road altercation, the two title contenders might be wary of each other on the track this weekend at Las Vegas. Neither driver can really afford to lose precious points at this stage in the playoffs, with Elliott in sixth and Harvick below the elimination line in 12th. But if tensions boil over again this weekend, we might see someone roll the dice. Get your popcorn ready.

3. Did Hendrick Motorsports regain all the playoff momentum? After Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. burst out in the opening round with wins at two of the three tracks, the questions started to come at the HMS group. Alex Bowman and William Byron fought valiantly to escape elimination in the Bristol Night Race, each doing so in impressive fashion. Now, the focus turns back to a 1.5-miler, a superspeedway and a road course. Each track should prove favorable for the bowties at HMS, led by points leader Kyle Larson. All eight drivers between both organizations are competing in the Round of 12. With only eight spots in the next round up for grabs, will one team leave Las Vegas with a clear edge?

4. All but one Las Vegas race since 2014 have been won by a driver currently in the Round of 8. Kurt Busch — who was eliminated in this year‘s Round of 16 — shocked the field with an unlikely win in front of his hometown crowd last season. Behind him? Matt DiBenedetto, who missed this year’s playoffs entirely, in the runner-up position. A non-playoff winner takes away a chance for a playoff driver to lock into the next round, meaning a tougher challenge for drivers near the elimination line to point their way in. Erik Jones was the highest finishing non-playoff driver in the March race. He finished 10th. Look out for the underdogs still competing for track trophies and momentum for next season.

5. After a rollercoaster opening round to the NASCAR Playoffs — a fourth-place finish at Richmond Raceway, sandwiched in between two finishes of 25th or worse — the question begs to be asked. Can Chase Elliott repeat as Cup Series champion this season? He enters the Round of 12 currently in sixth place, eight points above the elimination line. The concern is we are heading to one of his most unfavorable tracks. He has three straight finishes of 13th or worse and a trio of DNFs in nine career starts at Las Vegas. We haven’t seen back-to-back champions in the premier series since Jimmie Johnson reeled off five consecutive from 2006-10. The good news for Elliott fans is we have seen the No. 9 wheelman perform with his back against the wall multiple times. And there is a road course in this round. Full playoff schedule.

Race-day staples

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Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

• Power Rankings: Will Alex Bowman sneak through Round of 12? | Latest rankings
• Paint Scheme Preview:
Sparkling schemes for Sin City | See them here
• Playoff Pulse: Round of 12 set after Bristol | Full breakdown
• Debate:
Steve Letarte says Kyle Larson’s ‘firepower’ will best Denny Hamlin | Hear his case
• Bubble Watch:
Kevin Harvick fired up — with work to do still | See the bubble breakdown
• Fantasy Fastlane:
A Ryan Blaney bonanza at Las Vegas? | Top plays, sleepers
• Analysis:
Round of 12 track-by-track breakdown | See it here

Get in on the action

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.

• What are the odds?: Betting odds for Las Vegas | See them here
• NASCAR betting:
Impact of Brad Keselowski’s departure | Read more
• Sports betting 101:
Finding value on the betting market | Watch and learn how
• Talking playoffs: How Fantasy Live game works for the postseason | Read more
• On the grid:
Make your Playoff Grid™ Challenge picks before Las Vegas | Pick now
• No risk, big reward: Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
• Play it LIVE:
Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ

Memories from Las Vegas

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2007lasvegastbt

Before the Cup Series races at Las Vegas for the second time this season, take a look back at some important track history.

• All-time winners: Las Vegas Motor Speedway | See the list
• Top 10:
Laps led at Las Vegas Motor Speedway | Who has led the most?
• Remember when:
Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton put on a show for the ages | Watch the 2007 Las Vegas Xfinity Series replay
• Last year:
Kurt Busch puts on a show for the hometown crowd | Full race recap
• Memorable moments at Las Vegas:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. runs out of fuel | Relive the moments

Fast facts

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

Four drivers have finished in the top 10 in all three playoff races to this point: Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick.
Kyle Larson‘s playoff points are more than second and third combined.
Every driver for Team Penske finished inside the top 10 at the Las Vegas race in March.
• Matt DiBenedetto has finished runner up in two of the last three Las Vegas races.
The Stage 2 winner at Las Vegas has won six of the last eight races with stages.

Catch the pack

Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.

• Inspection from Vegas: Byron, Truex to start from rear after failing pre-race inspection twice | Read more
To the moon: NASCAR launches on social community platform Discord | Join now
• Fine for five:
Five teams hit with violations after Bristol | Penalty report
• Happy, hardly:
Kevin Harvick keeps his edge vs. long list of rivals | Read more
• Right at home:
Crew chief Rodney Childers staying with SHR ‘for years to come’ | More details
• Luck or skill:
Joey Logano on why he thinks luck comes into play in the Round of 12 |Hear why
• Two’s a tandem:
William Byron benefitting from relationship with crew chief Randy Fugle | Read more
• Bodywork:
New body styles unveiled for ’22 Camping World Truck Series season | Learn about the changes
• Unfinished business:
Brad Keselowski still in the title picture at Team Penske | Read more
• Back at Charlotte:
AJ Allmendinger will race the Cup Series contest at the Charlotte Roval | Read more
• Roots: Peyton Sellers wins Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national championship | See how

Say what?

Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Sunday’s race.

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 05: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 05, 2021 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images
DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 05: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 05, 2021 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images

“Las Vegas has been incredible for us. We had a great run going there last fall and got shuffled on a restart and didn‘t get that top 10, but other than that, we‘ve been a solid contender year in and year out. I think we finished second there in the spring and seem to be able to get it done there, so hoping for big things. Obviously, we need a strong performance for this round and the races in it. This is a tough round and I think we‘ll have a great shot at doing just that.” — Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford

“That is the track where you can control your own destiny the most, so that is the one you have to put the most emphasis on. If you do a good job as a driver and your car is fast and the team does their job, that is where you can get your best result. The other two tracks you are more likely to be caught up in someone else‘s issues. I‘m sure that race will be the most nervous the entire 12-car playoff field is going to be, hoping that they perform well, because there are just no givens after that.” — Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

“The Round of 12 begins with a great race track for me. Vegas is a place that I‘ve always ran well at and am excited about going to. It will be nice to have a good run at Vegas leading into the unknown, Talladega.” — Christopher Bell, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota