Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
One race does not a championship threat make, and it’s a long way from Las Vegas to the Chase, but Austin Dillon looked strong on Sunday. Dillon was strong in qualifying, starting fifth and finishing there as well. There were moments that Dillon showed lingering immaturity, berating his crew at one point for a last-second decision to take four tires instead of two which left Dillon mired in traffic for a while, but in the end it all worked out. Dillon finished right where he started the race and while he didn’t look like threat to win, those top 5s and top 10s have to come first. If he can get consistent in that department, then it’s time to look for him at the top.
What… is the takeaway from this race?
There were a couple of lessons on Sunday. One is that tires are a factor again, and that makes pit strategy even more crucial this season. While tire wear wasn’t as big a deal as it was in Atlanta last week, two tires vs. four played a role and no fresh rubber really hurt teams who tried to go that route with wave arounds. While pit road strategy doesn’t trump on-track action, it does make for a more interesting and exciting race.
Second, the 2016 rules package continues to impress. Once again there was plenty of action throughout the field, and while passing was more difficult than at Atlanta, a faster car could get by a slower one if the driver was on his game. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Perhaps some fans expected the package to make races look more like Talladega generally does, but they were mistaken in that—cars are always going to get spread out if the engines aren’t restricted. That’s been true since 1948 and the dawn of NASCAR, and it’s always going to be true. What the package was meant to do it has done: allow a faster car to catch and pass a slower one. Sure, there are still tweaks to be made, but the racing is markedly better so far this year. They’ll always get spread out…but if they can make a run and pass, something is working.
Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Kurt Busch started up front for the second week in a row, and for the second week in a row, he left the track empty-handed. A pit road speeding penalty cost Busch his track position early, and while he was able to get back into the top 10 fairly quickly, he never found the edge he had earlier in the weekend. Busch finished a respectable ninth after narrowly avoiding disaster in the form of the late-race crash between Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott, and while it wasn’t where he hoped to end up, it was a decent end to the day.
Kevin Harvick was already feeling less than his best when the race started thanks to a bout of flu, and while he raced inside the top 10 all day, Harvick never looked like a factor. He led just one lap all day, and his seventh-place finish seemed a little bit lackluster. The good news for Harvick is that Phoenix is next on the schedule, a track where he has recently been dominant, and if he’s feeling his usual self then, he’ll be back in the conversation.
When… did it all go sideways?
Things were literally sideways at times as a storm front passed over LVMS packing gale-force winds and a small dust storm that travelled down the backstretch late in the race. The high winds made racing conditions difficult for teams and blew a lot of trash onto the racing surface. Most of the detritus was harmless, though a few pieces tried their best to cling to the grilles on some race cars, causing overheating worries though none materialized. The changing track conditions did cause handling woes for teams, who practiced under much different conditions than the dismal race day offered them.
Why… did Brad Keselowski win the race?
Keselowski had the fastest car when he needed it, and thanks to the low-downforce package, he was able to get to the leader and pass him in the closing laps. Keselowski looked a little frustrated with teammate Joey Logano as the laps wound down and Keselowski, running third to Logano’s second, obviously had the faster car. Once he got around Logano, he was easily able to run down leader Kyle Busch as Busch fought a vibration in his own car. Once Keselowski got by Busch, he went about creating his own ZIP code. It’s a little early to say who’s going to be a threat down the line, but Keselowski certainly had a handle on the 2016 package in Sin City.
How… did the little guys do?
The three best:
Wood Brothers Racing; Ryan Blaney: If you were paying attention to this team at all last year, this finish should not have come as a great surprise; they’ve been strong (often more so than the results show) and Blaney in the seat is an upgrade from Trevor Bayne, who did little in the No. 21 after his Daytona 500 victory. Working with Team Penske instead of Roush Fenway was also a good move given the performance of RFR in comparison to Penske. Blaney shows flashes of his talent every time out, and when all is said and done, it would not be a shock to see this team in the Chase come fall.
JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger qualified well but faded mid-race before getting into Kyle Larson in the waning laps fighting for free pass position, sending Larson into the wall. Allmendinger did eventually get his lap back and was able to get back to 14th by the end. The team should be capable of running in the top 20 most weeks with the occasional top 15, so they were they should have been this week
HScott Motorsports; Clint Bowyer: Bowyer’s slow start to the season is a bit of a surprise. Whether support from Stewart-Haas Racing is not at the level many expected or the team is still catching up to the equipment, they’re not as strong as anticipated. Bowyer improved enough at the end to make third against his closest rivals, but is he running where he should be? That depends on what the team is really getting from SHR.
All the rest:
|21||Ryan Blaney||Wood Brothers Racing||Motorcraft Ford||14th||6th|
Solid early; had a big piece of trash on grille but luckily right before competition caution; inside top 10 by lap 50; fantastic run
|47||AJ Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Smith’s / Kingsford Chevy||12th||14th|
Strong in qualifying; fell back in the very early laps as car tightened up; speeding penalty on 1st green flag stop; got into Kyle Larson to bring out caution while racing for free pass
|15||Clint Bowyer||HScott Motorsports||5 Hour Energy Chevy||35th||22nd|
Pit penalty on competition yellow for uncontrolled tire; got stronger toward end
|13||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||GEICO Chevy||22nd||23rd|
Top-10 speeds in practice; passed several cars in opening laps; lost several spots on pit stops; this can easily be a top-20 team but they need to prove it
|7||Regan Smith||Tommy Baldwin Racing||Road Rippers Street Beatz Chevy||33rd||25th|
Fought a loose car through much of the race; still a decent finish for a team that struggled hard in 2015
|34||Chris Buescher||Front Row Motorsports||Love’s Travel Stops Ford||25th||26th|
Reported both loose and tight mid-fuel run but too loose into corners the bigger issue; tire penalty on first green-flag stop
|38||Landon Cassill||Front Row Motorsports||MDS Transport Ford||27th||28th|
Reported tight early; team finished about where they should have
|95||Michael McDowell||Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing||WRL General Contractors Ford||30th||29th|
Team already showing improvement with RCR alliance
|46||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Pilot Flying J Chevy||37th||30th|
Never got a handle on the track; struggled all day long but gained some due to attrition
|83||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||Cosmo Motors Toyota||34th||31st|
Reported that car was falling off very quickly middle-late in runs
|23||David Ragan||BK Racing||Dr. Pepper Toyota||31st||32nd|
Reported the cars was “wishy-washy” in the corners with sometimes a 4-wheel slide
|32||Jeffery Earnhardt||GO FAS Racing||Can-Am Ford||38th||33rd|
Brushed the wall mid-race, 33rd is career-best for Earnhardt
|30||Josh Wise||The Motorsports Group||Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy||39th||35th|
Lost a lap by lap 20; lowest-finishing car without any real issues during the race
|98||Cole Whitt||Premium Motorsports||Speed Stick Toyota||37th||40th|
A lap down by lap 20; in and out of the garage in first 100 laps; mechanical issues ended day early