The NASCAR weekend in Las Vegas has now came and went. There’s just one weekend left in the three week west coast swing to begin the 2022 season and this one in Nevada was the only with all three national touring divisions together. The first and last west coast trip is just a Cup-Xfinity Series weekend.
Here are my main takeaways.
- No love for stage winners. John Hunter Nemechek swept the stages in Daytona but was collected in that crash coming to the white flag and finished 24th. Ben Rhodes swept the stages in Vegas but also crashed and finished 31st. That’s not good news if someone sweeps both stages the next race in Atlanta.
- Nemechek needs to get going – Kyle Busch issued the warning shot in Vegas saying that he needs to get the No. 4 Toyota moving in the right direction. See, Nemechek is just in the slump mired with bad luck. He led the most laps and swept both stages in Daytona. He was crashed while running up front in the end. In Vegas, he was in the top five again in the end but was crashed. That’s a 24th and 25th place result respectively in the first two races of the season. But, if you go back to last year, he’s had been 24th or worse in 4 of his last 5 starts. Furthermore, he had 5 wins in an 11 race span last season. In his last 11 races after, none.
- Smith Dominance – Zane Smith and Chandler Smith (no relation) are tearing up the Truck Series lately. They’ve combined to win each of the last 4 races dating back to last season including 5 of the last 7 overall. The only two that they didn’t win? Las Vegas (last year) via Christian Eckes and Talladega (Tate Fogleman). For Zane, he has four straight top five finishes before being a DQ for lugnuts in Vegas. He had 1 top five in his 20 starts prior. In the case of Chandler, he has 2 wins in his last 3 starts and 4 top 4’s in his last 7 tries.
- Quiet But Good Starts
- Tanner Gray – He was fourth in Daytona and 5th in Vegas. Going back to the end of last season, he has 3 top fives in his last 4 starts. He had only four in his previous 46 Truck Series appearances.
- Stewart Friesen – He was 3rd on Friday night for his sixth top six finish in his last nine starts dating back to last season. He only had 3 in his previous 15.
- Matt DiBenedetto – In his first two career Truck Series starts, he’s finished 10th and 6th respectively. That has him sixth in points heading to Atlanta.
- Ty Gibbs could go down as one of the next great stars. The grandson of Joe Gibbs scored his 5th win already in just his 21st career NXS start. He had 18 wins in only 47 ARCA starts too including last year’s title. While he rubs people off wrong, that’s exactly what NASCAR needs as a talented driver that’s not afraid to mix it up. Sounds like another JGR Cup driver that could be teammates with this kid soon…
- 2 of the 3 races has seen a series regular victorious. Austin Hill won in Daytona and now Gibbs in Vegas.
- Hill has had some bad luck since that Daytona win. He was 27th in Fontana and just 31st in Vegas. Good thing he has that win banked away.
- Hill’s fellow rookie RCR teammate has actually been more consistent. Sheldon Creed was 6th in Daytona and 7th in Vegas for a pair of top 10’s in three starts.
- JRM looks like the best overall team right now.
- Noah Gragson has been the best of all with three straight top three finishes to start 2022 including a pair of runner-up’s the last two weeks. If you go back to last season, the JRM driver has five top three’s in his last seven overall and 13 top 7’s in his last 17.
- Gragson’s JRM teammate of Justin Allgaier is doing what Allgaier always does by flying under the radar. He was 5th in Daytona, 8th in Fontana and 5th again last week in Las Vegas.
- Don’t sleep on Josh Berry either. He was fourth in each of the last two weeks.
- Sam Mayer is the one with the most room to grow. He has been 25th or worse in 2 of the 3 weeks but sixth in the middle at Fontana.
- AJ Allmendinger is sitting right there too with finishing 2nd, 7th and 9th respectively so far this year.
- Rough title defense for Hemric so far. He swept the stages at Daytona but finished 28th. He was 12th a week later in Fontana. Last week, he turned the corner and was 3rd in Vegas and now heads to the site that he won the championship last November as well as his 1 and only NASCAR victory too.
- Hendrick Motorsports’ talks worked this past week. They put three cars in the top five and all in the top 10 on Sunday. While they lucked out by the late caution, a win is a win and they’ve now won the last 2 races. If you go back to last season, they won the final 5 of 2021 to give them 7 wins in the last 8 Cup races.
- Alex Bowman may be fluking out wins but he has the 2nd most in all of the sport since the start of last season. He trails only Larson 11-5 in that category.
- Trackhouse Racing is showing to be most improved. They have had a top 5 in the last 2 races with Daniel Suarez being 4th in Fontana and Ross Chastain 3rd in Vegas.
- RCR improved too – Austin Dillon was runner-up in Fontana after his teammate Tyler Reddick led the most laps and swept both stages. This week, they were 7-11.
- Erik Jones if not for a late race crash at Daytona and Vegas would have 3 top 10’s in as many races in 2022.
- We may have only had five different teams represented in the top 10 on Sunday, but there’s been 25 different drivers scoring top 10’s in three races this season. That’s the most since 1973.
- Rough start for Denny Hamlin. He broke his transmission when he shifted wrong exiting pit lane on Lap 220. That resulted in a 32nd place finish. He was 37th in Daytona and 15th last week on Fontana. By comparison, Hamlin had 25 top 10’s last season. He had 21 in 2020 and 24 in 2019. He’s 0-for-3 this season.
- Alex Bowman, William Byron and Christopher Bell needed these results on Sunday. Each scored their first top 10’s of the season. Bowman’s previous two finishes were 24th and 25th respectively. Byron’s was 38th and 34th. He’d come home fifth on Sunday. Bell, was 38th and 34th in the first two races but earned the pole for today’s race on Saturday and despite a spin while running third in the second stage, he’d rebound to finish 10th.
- Aric Almirola though is the only driver that’s 3-for-3 as he was sixth in Sunday’s race. He was fifth in the Daytona 500 and sixth last week too. What’s odd is, he has just three stage points all season. All came in Stage 2 in Fontana. In 5 of the 6 stages, he failed to score points. By comparison, Martin Truex Jr. swept the two stages in Daytona (20 points) and was sixth in Stage 2 (5 points) on Sunday to net 25 stage points. Despite Almirola finishing ahead of Truex in all three races, he still trails him by 10 points in the standings.
- The Ford’s were no where near the top of the field on Sunday. In fact, they put only one car in the top 11 in the Pennzoil 400 and that was Aric Almirola who earned his third top 10 in as many starts this season. He’s the only one to do that. But, his teammates were only 12th (Kevin Harvick), 33rd (Cole Custer) and 35th (Chase Briscoe). Penske struggled too. Joey Logano was an afterthought in 14th. Austin Cindric was 19th. Ryan Blaney crashed and was 36th.
- Harvick still has a lot of work to do. He won nine times in 2020 but all came in the first 29 races. In fact, if you go back to the end of the 2019 season, he had 10 wins in 32 starts. But, over his last 46 starts, he’s been shutout. He was only 30th, 7th and 12th so far this year and looking a lot now like he did in 2021.
- Kyle Busch is fifth in points after having scored two top sixes in three starts this year. If you go back to this track last Fall, he has 7 top 10’s in his last 10 starts. His problem is, he’s not winning. He has just three wins in his last 75 races. He had 18 in the previous 88 starts.
- Truex, won four times in 2021. He swept both stages at Daytona and was eighth on Sunday in Vegas. That eighth isn’t indicative on how good he was as he was second before that final caution with three to go. He’s currently second in points right now.
- Heading into 2020, Busch, had 5 straight Championship 4 appearances. Harvick had 5 in 6 years. Truex Jr. had 4 in 5 years including 3 straight top two finishes.
- Car still difficult to drive. We saw 6 cautions for 30 laps in this race last year. There was 9 for 37 laps in 2020 but three were for stage breaks or the comp caution. The others were for single car incidents. That equates out to last year seeing 89% of the race run under green flag conditions. The 2019 race saw two caution flags fly — both for stage breaks. In the race in 2018, we saw only four cautions fly for just 29 laps. The spring race has been tame in nature lately.
- Until Sunday. We had 12 cautions for 60 laps. That comes after being 12 cautions for 59 laps a week prior. There were 7 cautions for 37 laps in the Daytona 500. That’s 31 cautions for 156 laps in three races run this season. With 675 total laps turned, that’s 23% of the season run under caution.
- Close finishes – The margin of victory in the season opening Daytona 500 was .036-seconds. That was the third closest in the 64 year history of the race. Last week, Kyle Larson topped Austin Dill by just .195-seconds in Fontana. That was the second closest finish in 31 tries at the Auto Club Speedway. On Sunday, Alex Bowman beat Larson by .178-seconds for the third closest finish in 29 races on the 1.5-mile Nevada race track.
- Teammates at it again. In Daytona it was the Penske tandem of Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric battling for the win on the last lap. A week later in Fontana, it was Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott fighting for real estate for the lead towards the end of the race. On Sunday, it was JGR drivers Kyle Busch vs. Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps. But, after the late race caution, it setup HMS as 1-2-3. They’d play nicely this time around.
- The driver to lead the opening lap in all 29 Cup Series Vegas starts has never won. Christopher Bell did so on Sunday but finished 10th.
- Front Row Motorsports has been living in the dog house with NASCAR lately. In Fontana, a wheel came off and it forced four race suspensions for crew chief Seth Barbour as well as crew members Jourdan Osinskie and Tanner Andrews. Then in Vegas, they failed inspection three times and lost backup car chief Tony Manzer. Furthermore, their Truck team in Zane Smith was an DQ for missing lug nuts after his runner-up finish on Friday night.