The 2019 Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs kicked off on Sunday night with the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. By race’s end, Martin Truex Jr. was the first to punch his ticket to the Round of 12.
Stewart-Haas Racing dominated qualifying as their four drivers swept the top positions. Clint Bowyer in particular scored his first pole since 2007 with Daniel Suárez besides him; Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola qualified third and fourth, respectively.
Stages #1 and 2
After one lap, Suárez took the lead from Bowyer. Kyle Busch hit the wall on lap five and fell off the pace, forcing him to pit on lap 12. When he returned to the race, he was in thirty-ninth.
Almirola became the leader on lap 33 but quickly lost it to Joey Logano. Green flag pit stops began eight laps later, with Logano doing so on lap 42. As the pit cycle shuffled, Michael McDowell spent time in front before hitting the pits on lap 61, giving the lead back to Logano.
By the end of the stage, Logano led Harvick, Almirola, Suárez, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, William Byron, Truex, Kyle Larson, and Erik Jones. All but Suárez and Dillon are playoff drivers.
Harvick won the race off pit road to become the leader for Stage #2’s green flag. Shortly after the restart, Jones pitted as his car was stuck in second gear; he eventually went to the garage. Jones rejoined the race on lap 106, sixteen laps down.
On lap 123, green flag stops opened, with Chris Buescher staying out during the initial scramble before pitting a lap later.
With Logano back in front following the stops, he lapped Bowyer on lap 152. Truex caught up to the leader and cleared him for the top spot on lap 158. The 2017 champion led the final two laps to win Stage #2.
Logano finished second in the stage ahead of Larson, Harvick, Chase Elliott, Byron, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Busch, and Alex Bowman. All ten drivers are in playoff contention.
Logano and Truex led the field to the start of the final stage. As Truex took thet lead, Elliott quickly passed Logano for second and closed in on Truex for first, eventually clearing him.
Truex began to slip, dropping to fifth before Byron spun on lap 181 to bring out the caution. After the leaders pitted, Hamlin took the lead with Blaney beside him.
After Blaney led at the restart, Harvick passed him for the position. On lap 188, Kurt Busch’s tyre went down and he hit the wall to produce another yellow. Logano also suffered damage to his car, forcing him to pit.
The race resumed on lap 196, with Bowyer making contact with Paul Menard shortly after that sent him to the pits. As Harivck led, Kyle Busch attempted to charge through the field, moving into the top ten.
Harvick pitted with 37 laps to go, cycling Elliott, Byron, Larson, and Matt DiBenedetto into the lead before they performed their stops. Meanwhile, Harvick and Truex fought for the theoretical lead until DiBenedetto pitted, which he did with 20 laps left.
Truex was able to pass Harvick prior to DiBenedetto’s pit, which shuffled him into the lead. Harvick could not catch him as Truex took his fifth win of 2019.
Behind Truex and Harvick were Keselowski, Elliott, Blaney, bowman, Byron, Larson, Logano, and Newman.
After the race, Kyle Busch openly expressed his frustration with the lower-field drivers. “This is the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who’ve never won late model races running out here,” he said in a post-race interview with NBCSN. “It’s pathetic, they don’t know where to go.”
When Joey Gase and Garrrett Smithley, who tangled with Busch during the race, responded in interviews with NASCAR.com’s Zack Albert, Busch posted on Twitter: