The first week of a three week span out west kicks off this weekend in the Nevada desert. All three divisions of NASCAR will take to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a tripleheader weekend which starts on Friday night with the Truck Series and ends on Sunday evening with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
This weekend is also met with high demand as we will see the debut of the full aero package for the 2019 Cup Series season too.
That’s the big storyline to watch. Here’s that and four more.
Drivers warned last weekend that despite Atlanta being the debut of the 2019 rules package, that the race on the 1.54-mile Georgia race track would be more of a “one-off” than a preview of what’s to come.
See, Atlanta hasn’t been repaved since 1997. The track surface is so abrasive that there’s no way you can stretch a full fuel run on one set of tires. So, with so much tire fall off, plus the car not having the aero ducts used on the front end, we didn’t get to see the full extent of what this package can do.
This weekend, we will.
Vegas, was recently repaved. The track has more lanes to race on. The horsepower is down from 750 to 550. The spoiler is raised. The aero ducts are in place. This is a true test to see how far the rules updates have worked.
With that being said, this race has a lot of uncertainty because of that. No one knows what to expect. Will this be a pack race? Will it be like last week? Will it be somewhere in the middle?
That’s why there’s so much hype around it.
Over the past two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series seasons, the spring race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been a precursor to how the rest of the campaign will go. In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. led 150 of the 267 laps in the Cup race en route to a dominating victory. He’d go on to win seven more times that season including the championship as well.
Last year, Kevin Harvick won his first of eight trips to victory lane in the March race in Vegas as he led 214 laps that day. No one won as many races in 2018 as Harvick.
This race was usually a tall tale sign of what was yet to come.
Now though, all things may have changed. With this being the first race weekend with the full aero package in place, we have to expect the unexpected.
Last weekend in Atlanta was technically the first race of this new aero configuration, but due to the track being so abrasive on the tires and the series not having aero ducts on the front of the cars, it wasn’t the full extent of what we would see elsewhere. All the drivers hinted that Atlanta could be more of a one-off race in terms of the new racing package.
Vegas though, well this starts the new aero package with a bang. The horsepower is down from 750 to 550. The spoilers are larger. The aero ducts are in and the track has been repaved recently. We will see the full effect of the changes on Sunday.
In turn, does that change the dominance of this race?
Yes, Kyle Larson still led 142 of the 325 laps last Sunday in Atlanta. Yes, we didn’t really expect anyone to lead 100 or more laps in a race this season. But, Atlanta showed that the race wasn’t all that different than the ones in the years past. By all accounts, Vegas is supposed to be much different.
Does that hurt the drivers with the move overall speed?
Move Over Big 3, Penske Is The New Top Dog In NASCAR
It’s time to put the “Big 3” aside as the reign that Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. had on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series field is officially over. See, from the 2017 Cup Series playoffs through the first 23 races of the 2018 season, the trio got the moniker of the “Big 3.”
No one could stop them.
They won eight of the 10 races in the 2017 playoffs and followed that up with reaching victory lane in 17 of the first 23 races in 2018. Combined, that’s a 76-percent win rate. But, if you take the restrictor plate tracks out, that number grows higher to 86-percent.
The last two spring races at Vegas, Truex (Led 150 laps) and Harvick (Led 214 laps) dominated in Vegas.
But, from the Bristol night race on (15 races) the quote on quote “Big 3” has won only 20-percent of the time (3-for-15). Granted, all three made it to the Championship 4 last year, but it was Joey Logano who beat them at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In this time frame, Brad Keselowski has won four times (27 percent). He’s won the Southern 500, the Brickyard 400, the Vegas playoff race and now Atlanta. His teammate in Logano has even won twice (Martinsville, Homestead) including last year’s championship. Ryan Blaney even won on the ROVAL to give Penske 47 percent of the wins since last August.
This past Sunday, if not for some late race bad luck with their tires, they were on track to have all three drivers finish at worst, in the top 10. There’s a strong case to where they could have gone 1-2 and had all three cars in the top five.
Other than Kyle Busch (2 wins) and Chase Elliott (2 wins) no one else has won more than once.
Martin Truex Jr. hasn’t won in 19 races. His last win came in Kentucky on July 14. Harvick, has won just once since Aug. 18 but even that win wouldn’t have counted this year under the new penalty report. So technically, his last win came on Aug. 12.
This could be the year of Penske.
In Vegas, Keselowski won last fall. He’s a three time Vegas winner in fact (2014, 2016, 2018). He has seven straight top seven finishes and has led at least one lap in seven of his last eight Vegas starts.
Logano, has six straight top 10 finishes including four top four’s. He’s lead at least five laps in six straight races including three of which being 44 or more.
Blaney, finished fifth in both races last year and was sixth and seventh respectively the two years prior. In the XFINITY Series, his finishes are second (2015) and fourth (2018). In Trucks, he finished sixth in 2014.
This is the group to beat.
JTG Daugherty Racing
What a start to the year its been for JTG Daugherty Racing. In the Daytona 500, rookie Ryan Preece brought his No. 47 Chevrolet home eighth. Last weekend, his teammate Chris Buescher finished ninth in his No. 37 Chevrolet. That’s two straight races and two consecutive top 10 finishes for the organization.
Also, if not for a late race mistake on pit road, the group was headed to a dual top 10. Preece, was running inside of the top 10 but crashed on pit road on his final pit stop.
Now, the organization heads west with a chance to make it 3-for-3. With this new aero package, anything is possible on Sunday.
West Coast Swing With 3 Different Tracks
NASCAR wizened up a few years ago and paired Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana together. Why go west, east then west again. Also, with the new aero package, we’re set to see three straight weeks of three different types of tracks.
Sunday will be a newly paved 1.5-mile track. Next Sunday will be a 1.015-mile short oval. The following Sunday after that will be a wide 2-mile, D-shaped oval with a ton of speed but on the second oldest surface in NASCAR.
No race will be the same on this west coast trip.