NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s South Point 400

How Big Is Win On Sunday In Vegas Help For Phoenix Championship Chances?

You can’t take much from the first two races of this round and apply them to the final two races of the season. Both are different aero packages with the next 2 weeks being on 1.5-mile tracks now and the final two on short tracks.

However, for the driver to win on Sunday, it could go a long way for their Phoenix preparation though. This weekend is key in the sense that you don’t want to lose your momentum for a championship push either, but it also helps for your preparation for Phoenix in the sense that you have extra time to massage your car.

If you wait until Martinsville to know that you’re into the final round, you have less than one week to get your car ready to go. You’d have a car already built for Phoenix, but you didn’t have the extra week or two than the winners before you did to just focus on that car and that car only.

How can you pay extra attention to your Phoenix car for a championship run if you don’t even know if you’re going to be there or not with a chance for a title? You need to prepare your current cars the best that you can.

The winners from Las Vegas and Homestead can use this time to work on their Phoenix car and even use Martinsville as a full blown 500 lap test session for Phoenix.

Just look at what Joey Logano said recently in the same situation when he won the Round of 8 opener at Kansas back in 2020.

“The weight lifted off your shoulders is only part of it,” Logano said.  “The ability to start working on your Phoenix car, not worry about your Texas and Martinsville car.  We do.  I don’t want to say that, but you’re 100% focused on one more race.  We know we can’t finish worse than fourth in points, you know what I mean?  We know we’re in it.

“Just got to stay healthy, get there, go for the big trophy when we get out there again and try to win another Phoenix race.”

Logano said that having a win out of the way already allows you to take your time in your Phoenix prep and you’re not just rushing a championship car together at the last minute.

“Doesn’t hurt,” Logano continued. “I think it means a lot, if I’m being honest.  I think it does.  I’ve lived this story once where you really just kind of — you’re not last minute trying to throw together a championship car for Phoenix because you’re trying to build so many other ones.  It just gives the team time to really start focusing on a car that can put us in the position to win.

“If you only have so much time in the day, you got to prioritize, you’re going to prioritize to get yourself in the Championship 4 first.  Now that we did that, we’re going to have 100% of our time to Phoenix.”

On how he approached the final two races?

“We approach them to win, just like we always do,” Logano said on his approach over the next two weeks. “Same meetings and prep like we always do.  I just assume that we’ll probably focus a little bit more on Phoenix at this point.”

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – OCTOBER 17: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 17, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The other thing is for his year again, we get practice back for Phoenix. For 2020 we didn’t That is even more important in the sense by time we get to Martinsville, the race winner’s car from Vegas should have their Phoenix car ready to go. The other two drivers in the Final Four’s likely won’t. With practice back, the trucks now have to leave the shops even earlier in the week, meaning less time to massage the cars for those not already in heading to the cut race this round.

“I think part of what helps the Phoenix focus is just the timing of the schedule,” said his crew chief Cliff Daniels last year. “Since it’s a Friday, Saturday, Sunday show, the truck is going to leave like Tuesday of that week, and the way these race formats go, our hauler didn’t leave until Friday morning this week, so you’re just going to have two less days that week.

“So now we are very fortunate that we have a little bit more time just to really plan out the way the next three weeks can go with emphasis on Phoenix where if you’re not locked in right away, you’re kind of giving everything you can for that week, and to not be talking out of both sides of my mouth, we have really good cars in the system already coming for Kansas, already coming for Martinsville. I looked at them with a lot of our guys last week. Both cars look great, so we’re going to finish those out like they are already in process to be, and then when our Phoenix cars get in the system, make sure that they’re top-notch and ready to go.”

The winner of the Round of 8 opener has won the title 3 times since 2016 (Jimmie Johnson 2016, Joey Logano 2018, Kyle Larson 2021).

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Ethel M Chocolates Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Should Tracks We Visit Twice Differentiate Between The 2 Stops?

NASCAR is showing a trend and that’s when visiting tracks for a second time, you better differentiate between the two or they’re likely coming to get one of your dates in the process. Pocono, Michigan, Dover, Texas and Loudon have all found out the hard way. They didn’t adapt. They had two races each and both looked similar.

Same track. Same distances. Nothing really all that different between the two. They each lost one of their dates.

Now, we’re left with 12 tracks that we visit twice a year on the schedule. Among them, seven are owned by NASCAR (Daytona, Talladega, Phoenix, Martinsville, Richmond, Kansas and Darlington). The other four (Las Vegas, Atlanta, Bristol and Charlotte) are SMI run. But, when looking at this, it’s clear, SMI is the one thinking outside of the box here and likely doing so to keep butts in the seats and dates on the calendar as a result.

Among their four tracks they visit twice, three of them they changed it up. Bristol switched their first date to a dirt race. Charlotte altered their second race to a ROVAL. Atlanta altered their track and has a 500 miler in the spring and 400 miler that next year will be under the lights in the summer. Vegas is just a 400 mile races twice with not differential between the two weekends.

Should Vegas feel threatened?

I don’t see them taking a race away from the track for a while, but NASCAR is showing that they’re open to visiting other tracks that aren’t on the schedule now. They’ve added COTA, Road America, World Wide Technology Raceway, Nashville, North Wilkesboro, Chicago street course etc. Indianapolis moved to the road course.

I don’t see them changing around any of the Daytona or Talladega races and as long as Phoenix hosts the finale, they’re set. Martinsville is switching it up with a night race in the spring while Darlington has a day race in the spring and the Southern 500 under the lights on Labor Day weekend. Their only three tracks in question is Vegas, Kansas and Richmond.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

How Much Do You Start Looking Ahead At 2023 Now?

With only 8 drivers left with championship aspirations, how much do the ones not in the playoffs still start focusing on 2023. I mean there’s been no indications of going back to a traditional race weekend format, so with limited practice each week, wouldn’t it fare better to use the final 4 races of this season as test sessions for next?

Last year you couldn’t do so since you had a new car coming out. This year that new car is here and one that’s throwing everyone for a loop still.

With a lot of times the data for the sim work not correlating to the actual race track, what better way to get data than to use these final 4 tracks.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Will Late Race Restart Alter The Race?

Las Vegas has had some good trends. You’d think this is a recipe for a predictable winner, right?

Well Vegas has been anything but lately and that’s because of late race cautions.

In 2020, Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman each were well on their ways to battling for the win in the end. Blaney was leading and Bowman was chasing him down. Unfortunately for both, a caution came out in the closing laps. The pit gamble was on. They were in the lame duck position.

If they pit, others would stay out. If they didn’t pit, others behind would for fresh tires. So, they took the conservative route and hit pit lane. As predicted, several other cars stayed out and they punted away a shot at victory.

Joey Logano benefitted from staying out and won.

For the Fall race that year, Kurt Busch, Matt DiBenedetto and others ran their second to last stint long. They were hoping for a caution. See, the leaders had already pitted for their final time and if Busch and DiBenedetto wanted to make something happen and get inside of the top 10, their only hope was to run this sequence long and hope and pray for a yellow.

They got it.

They’d pit and be able to cycle still to 1-2 and hold off everyone else with clean air and less than 30 laps of racing.

This past spring, Alex Bowman used a late race pit call after a late caution to come out of the pits with the lead and he’d hold the field off. He led just the final 3 laps.

Cautions completely altered the entire race in 3 of the last 5 visits here. Will we see it happen on Sunday? That’s why you can’t just assume that the cars dominating all day will win in the end. All it takes is one fluke caution towards the end of the race and you get mayhem.

We just saw that occurrence last week too.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – SEPTEMBER 26: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 26, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Why Do Only The Best Win In Vegas?

Las Vegas is your typical 1.5-mile track. So, why do only the best win here?

Over the last 13 Cup races in Vegas, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Kyle Larson have combined to win 11 of them.

Also, Penske, SHR, HMS, JGR/Furniture Row have won the 12 of the last 13 Vegas races. The last non team of them to win other than Kurt Busch’s triumph with Chip Ganassi Racing in the 2020 Fall race? Roush/Fenway Racing (Carl Edwards) in 2011.

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