After a lackluster race in Atlanta, NASCAR had its sights set on a better race at Las Vegas. They almost got it. Almost.
For the second week in a row, a Penske car went to Victory Lane, this time with Joey Logano leading the pack and Brad Keselowski finishing a close second. Logano led 86 laps, nearly eclipsing pole sitter Kevin Harvick’s 88.
Based on weird qualifying and practice runs, the broadcasters were telling us this would be a race unlike any other we had seen. Well, not so much.
Harvick dominated Stage 1 and it looked like another case of the leader running 5 seconds ahead of everyone else. Stage 2 fared a little better and saw eventual race winner Logano take the green and white checkered flag. The cars still were strung out, but a little tighter than in Stage 1. The final half of the race restart saw the cars bunched together for a little longer but then the leaders would get out to about a 2-3 second lead. While that was tighter, it wasn’t super compelling racing.
What could have been more compelling would have been Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch not having issues. Dillon had a fast car again, but pit road issues cost him. Larson also had pit road issues and Kyle Busch was nailed for speeding on pit road. Blaney was having a rear tire issue, thus wasting his 13th starting spot.
We saw Kyle Busch driving his way up through the field to finish 3rd and thus accounting for a good share of the 3,000 or so green flag passes. We’ll get to that metric in a minute.
At the end of the day, it was Logano and Keselowski trading the lead and racing each other, less so the other drivers. With Harvick’s handling gone, Kyle Busch was the only threat and he was going to need a restart or 20 more laps to get to the two Penske cars.
So, the race metrics. More than 3,000 passes under green flag conditions, 47 green flag passes for the lead but only 19 lead changes at the completion of a lap as opposed to 11 last year. Not sure what all that means but only 9 drivers were scored for leading any laps, green flag or not.
The top 5 cars were within 4-5 seconds of the leader. After that the difference was much greater. NASCAR has said they were happier with the closer racing but still not satisfied. Nor should they be. So far, the new racing package has not panned out as believed. On tracks 1.5 miles and up, the tapered space (the new restrictor plate) has sucked horsepower and taken away throttle response. Cars are slower but not necessarily running closer together. A 2 second lead isn’t as great as 5, but it is still a pretty big gap on a 1.5-mile track.
Do you really care that there were 3,000 passes in a race? When the TV coverage only shows the top 3-4 cars at any moment, do you really care that 4 or 5 other cars are battling for 15th? This is not to say that TV doesn’t show other battles, they do from time to time. But unless a couple of cars are really rubbing each other, those battles are kind of an afterthought while we watch the leader go round in circles. Maybe at the track, it was better racing, but somehow I have my doubts.
Phoenix will be interesting since it will be the first race 1 mile or under. With no tapered spacer, the cars will have their throttle response back and we’ll see if that matters to drivers like Kevin Harvick who has been dominant at Phoenix in the past.
I know I, for one, am looking forward to it.
(Feature image by Monte Goode, used with permission. No other use is authorized)