Race number three of the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule is in the books for this year. The sport is full on with its “West Coast Swing” which the PR guys have turned into a Thing.
Which is fine. NASCAR is more cross country now a days than it ever was when I was growing up. When I was a kid before the big boom in the late 90s/early 00s, NASCAR left the south all of five times a season… Phoenix, Sonoma (which was Sears Point when I was a kid), Michigan, Pocono, and Watkins Glen. As a New Englander, Dover counts as South. We can snark on NASCAR’s scheduling problems until the cows come home, but clumping all the west coast races on the schedule was a good move for the teams’ logistics and the PR guys and gals making it into a Thing is a bonus for some early season buzz.
First on the PR approved hashtag #NASCARGoesWest … Vegas! (insert cliche about shenanigans in Vegas)
How was the race?
I thought it was a pretty good one. This week was the first real test of the low downforce aero package of the year. Plate tracks don’t count and Atlanta’s ancient pavement requires special tires and special tactics. That means Vegas is going to be our first gauge of the meat-and-potatoes of the NASCAR slate.
Brad Keselowski won the race and in this season that seems a lot more old school than most of its recent brethren, it is fitting since he’s got an old school mentality.
The season is going to work out just fine. As the teams run with this rules package more, they’re going to get more data and figure out how to fine tune the performance to their driver’s liking. NASCAR doesn’t play around with rules packages from week to week nearly as much as they used to. So many of the drivers have raved about this particular aero package, I don’t see NASCAR futzing with it in the near future barring some unforeseen safety issue.
There was definitely still an advantage of clean air out front, but it did not seem nearly as pronounced as in years past. Keselowski stretched old tires and fuel mileage and still out ran Logano and Kyle Busch to win the checkered for the first time in nearly a year. Tangent: Penske’s performance has been so good, I did not realize that Keselowski had gone that long without a win.
This race was not going to even think about challenging any lead change records, but despite that, it seemed to me that there was a lot of mid pack passing. Whether or not NASCAR’s loop data backs this up, perception is reality in this case. The Fox broadcast never had to slowly cycle through the running order just to have something to talk about while the cars were logging laps. There was always some kind of on track action.
I think it will only get better as the season progresses.
The top ten at race’s end featured a lot of the usual suspects. The big teams and the best drivers tend to figure out the rule changes first. That’s why they’re the big teams and the best drivers. So the Penske Fords, the Busch brothers, Junior, Harvick, Jimmie Johnson… no surprises there.
The first Shout Out goes to Austin Dillon in the #3 rolling in with a fifth place finish. That’s his third top five in his career and his season has started out with 9th – 11th – 5th. That’s a solid start for anyone. Dillon is on his third full time year, so it’s time for that team to turn the corner and get results. He seems to have gelled well with Slugger Labbe (yesterday’s post pit stop rant aside) who has been around long enough to have crewed for Alan Kulwicki (and one of the small number of New Englanders in NASCAR).
Second shout out goes to Ryan Blaney…. again. Soon his good performances in the Wood Brothers #21 are going to be so common, that they won’t count as shout outs. The Penske affiliated team finished in 6th place, another very good outing for the rookie. A very good point that the Fox broadcasters brought up (probably Mike Joy, cause that man knows his stuff) is that the Wood Brothers aren’t used to running full time anymore, so once they get better used to a weekly grind, their performance is going to be on the up swing.
Last Shout Out before we move on… Kasey Kahne. Wow. He showed up for a race! I snark, but he quietly ran in the top ten for most of the day and finished with the 10th spot. Just last week I snarked how he was the Danica of Team Hendrick. With a lot of drivers looking good in the Trucks and Xfinity series, Kahne needs more races like this with solid finishes to keep his job long term. The last couple seasons have been kind of weak for him. Last year he missed the Chase and in 2014 he squeezed in at the last minute. I think the #5 team need to regain their consistency to make sure everyone has a job next year rather than scoring a fluke win. This is a good start.
Pit Stall 13 Update
Brian Vickers ran the #14 for Tony Stewart again at Vegas (Ty Dillon is back next week to go along with the Bass Pro Shops sponsorship). He had the magical pit stall number 13 for the race.
He ran a solid mid pack race for much of the day and logged some laps in the top ten for a while. Vickers had some TV time with an almost-wreck with Truex at one point during the day. The last quarter of the race though, the #14 dropped out of sight and finished 36th. Stewart Haas Racing later said on twitter, that the car dropped out because of a rear gear failure. Late in the race, that’s not going to be saved.
With PR approved #NASCARGoesWest, often the part time teams don’t make the trek. There’s a lot of money in the logistics of making it all the way out there. For the second week in a row, only 39 teams showed up to race so everyone made the show. (Entry list for next week says I can copy/paste this for Phoenix)
- 6th – #21 Blaney – The rookie ran a great race. ‘Nuff said.
- 35th – #30 Wise – The TMG car ran as the back marker for much of the day, but kudos for not start-n-parking
- 39th – #98 Whitt – Mechanical failure, and I like to think that’s honest since the 98 does seem to try to run the whole race
On to Phoenix!
Next week, NASCAR keeps going with the trip out west and they head to Phoenix. The new aero package at Phoenix is of special note to me since it’s a flat track and the most comparable to New Hampshire where I’ll be sitting in my usual seat some September.
As for predictions? If anyone other than Harvick wins, I’ll be surprised. Might as well rename that one Harvick International Raceway.
My three year old realized there is a car repping his favorite store in existence. I got him hooked. No idea why I didn’t think to play that card earlier.