With so many unknowns heading into 2018 and so little information to start guessing what will happen, it’s awfully tempting to jump to conclusions based on little nuggets of data from this week’s Las Vegas test.
For example: William Byron was the fastest in two of the four sessions after never getting in a Cup car before this week. The Chevrolets showed speed with their new Camaro. Kyle Larson had the quickest overall lap time when most teams switched to qualifying trim on the final day.
What’s it all mean? Anything? How much can we really tell from a test?
“You never know who is maybe tuned up trying to raise morale within their own team and who is legit,” Brad Keselowski said. “Usually the bigger teams are fairly legit in these tests. … But you never can really tell for certain.”
For example: Keselowski said Team Penske often does not bring its best cars to the test, and Ty Dillon said some teams might not even bring their best motors.
Learning what the car likes and what adjustments work are more important than chasing lap times, the drivers said. And with so many different agendas, it’s tough to tell how much the lap times matter.
“I don’t think you can really judge it to the fullest,” Dillon said.
Plus, there’s no inspection at the tests — so teams can do whatever they want, in theory (although that would seem like a waste of time considering they came all the way across the country for this).
“You never know who is trying what,” Larson said. “And I honestly don’t even know how far our team has pushed the boundaries for the test.”
Did last year’s preseason test tell us anything? Not really. It was held at Phoenix, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the fastest overall lap. He was one of four drivers — Larson, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick the others — who were in the top five for all four Phoenix sessions.
But that wasn’t a good barometer for the season, since only two of them even made the playoffs and the four drivers combined for just two top-fives in the Phoenix races.
So do we know anything after Las Vegas?
I’m going to say yes. First, we know that when most teams actively tried to post a fast lap at the end of the test, it was Larson who had the advantage.
“When we switched to qualifying trim, we were faster than everybody here,” Larson said. “I don’t know how that would be if it were a full field, but I felt happy overall.”
Also, there was a frequent pattern for most of the two days: Larson, Ryan Newman (second-fastest overall) and William Byron were consistently near the top of the charts.
All of those drivers race for Chevy teams, who have a new nose this year.
“I think you can get some sort of an idea (of who is fast),” Larson said. “The Penske group, whenever I’ve done tests with them, they’re not as competitive at the test and then they come back at the race and they’re really fast.
“But overall, our balance felt really good. So you can take that at least and know you’re going to come back to the majority of the mile-and-a-halfs and be competitive.”
Day 2 combined top single-lap speeds (I took the driver’s top speed from the morning and afternoon sessions; most were in the afternoon when they finished in qualifying trim):
Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet) / 191.259 mph
Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) / 190.027
Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) / 190.007
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing Ford) / 189.827
William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) / 189.281
Kasey Kahne (Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet) / 189.009
Brad Keselowski (Team Penske Ford) / 188.745
Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing Ford) / 187.754
Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing Ford) / 187.500
Ty Dillon (Germain Racing Chevrolet) / 187.500
Chris Buescher (JTG/Daugherty Racing Chevrolet) / 187.318
Darrell Wallace Jr. (Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet) / 187.298
Cole Custer (GoFas Racing Ford) / 186.761
Drew Herring (Toyota wheel force car) / 184.319 *
Justin Allgaier (Chevrolet wheel force car) / 183.824 *
David Ragan (Ford wheel force car) / 180.542 *
* — Wheel force cars are used by manufacturers to gain additional information through advanced telemetry equipment and have a primary objective of gathering data.