LAS VEGAS – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has a lucky charm. His name is Brian Pattie.

In his capacity as crew chief on Stenhouse’s No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet, Pattie often opts for contrarian strategy. That certainly was the case in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, as Stenhouse built on a strong Daytona Speedweeks with a strategic third-place finish in the second NASCAR Cup Series race of the season.

Pattie repeatedly kept Stenhouse on the track during green-flag pit stop cycles, hoping for a timely caution. The gamble finally paid off when Chase Elliott hit the Turn 1 wall on Lap 220 because of a flat left rear tire.

At that point, only Stenhouse, teammate Ryan Preece and Sunoco rookie John Hunter Nemechek were on lead lap, having stayed out on the track as the rest of the field came to pit road. Stenhouse made the most of his serendipitous track position and brought the No. 47 Camaro home in third place during a wild two-lap shootout at the end of the event.

“Brian is just really good at calling races, and he apologized for that one (earlier in the race),” said Stenhouse, who led 30 laps two weeks after winning the pole position for the Daytona 500. “That one backfired on us that second run. We got good track position, and then we stayed out a little too long and gave up that track position.

“So then we were fighting kind of all race to get it back up, and he went long again, and it paid off with the caution. Our Kroger Camaro was good. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but we know what we need to work on now, and it was cool to get a good solid run in this Camaro for everybody at JTG Daugherty Racing.

“So far, so good. We know what we need to work on, and I know Brian and the boys will tune it up.”

Johnson shows speed in strong fifth-place run

Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway provided Jimmie Johnson with just the sort of consistent strong he needed after two winless seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Driving the new sleeker Camaro introduced into NASCAR’s top series this year, Johnson finished ninth in Stage 1, seventh in Stage 2 and fifth in the race after surviving a chaotic restart with two laps left.

The seven-time champion was upbeat after posting his first top-five result since last year’s July race at Daytona International Speedway.

“It was a strong day,” Johnson acknowledged. “With about 15 to go or so, I got into the outside wall and lost some spots. But we didn’t have a strong enough tire rub to cause any problems. We put rights (right-side tires) on before that final restart. Chaos was happening in front of me and I was able to sneak through to get a top-five finish…

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it. We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.”

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