The Top Five: Breaking down the Las Vegas race

 Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway…

1. Expectations left unfulfilled

Imagine there’s a new movie coming out and it has all the buzz of a must-see blockbuster. Hollywood news outlets are pumping up the all-star cast, critics who have gotten sneak peeks say it’s Oscar-worthy and your timeline is filled with tweets about people who can’t wait to see it.

You can’t afford to miss out, so you buy advance tickets in the first hour they go on sale. You count down the days after months of hype, and finally — FINALLY — you settle into your seat with popcorn and a giant soda.

The lights dim. The movie starts. And…it’s just…OK.

Under normal circumstances, if you’d gone into the theater with standard expectations of what you want out of a movie, it’d be fine. This, though, feels like such a bummer.

This film wasn’t just supposed to be average; it was supposed to be AMAZING. You’d bought into the talk of how this movie could revolutionize Hollywood. Maybe it would even set a new standard for entertainment.

Not surprisingly, you’re quite unhappy about this development. Your emotions alternate between feeling deflated, disappointed and outright pissed — at yourself and those who oversold it — because it didn’t live up to your hopes.

You obviously get where I’m going with this, but that’s what happened Sunday in Las Vegas. The new rules package (how many times have you heard those three words together in the last year?) dominated the conversation for so long, and you’d read and heard everything there was to read and hear about it.

Then it debuted, to much ado. And it was just fine.

For a mile and a half track, it was quite a decent race. A good race by many historical standards.

But given how sky-high the expectations were, and the buildup and anticipation surrounding it…well, it felt like a letdown.

It sucks to feel that way about a race that had thrilling restarts, great battles for the lead and a close finish after a long green-flag run. When you’re expecting to see something epic, though, it’s hard to settle for pretty good.

2. What happened

Let’s back up for a moment and talk about why there was so much genuine hope espoused by many people in the garage. From officials to drivers to spotters to media, there was a public expectation of a wild Sunday that featured solid racing throughout the field. (It’s important to note I don’t think this was phony hype to trick people into watching, but rather a true belief in what was to come.)

The evidence for this was based primarily on four 25-lap “races” during the Las Vegas test in January, but it also extended to Saturday’s final practice — where drivers were all over the track.

If practice looks this good, imagine the race itself!

But once the rag dropped on Sunday, it was more spread out than even NASCAR officials thought it would be. The fact there were no cautions didn’t help, either — since restarts were the best part of the race.

As it turns out, the drivers weren’t surprised by this development. When I asked Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski if they were caught off guard by the field breaking apart quicker than at the January test, they all said no.

“I knew they were going to break apart,” Stenhouse said. “Watching in the test, they started breaking away fairly quick — and there were cooler conditions then and less cars. I knew if they were breaking apart then, they were going to break apart here (with much warmer weather).”

Many of you were quick to point out on Twitter that you knew all along the drafting would look different under actual race conditions. Apparently you were right.

“The testing is never like racing,” Keselowski said.

It would have been nice if someone had said that before the race in order to set more realistic expectations for how Las Vegas. If they did, I missed it.

3. On the bright side

Whoever is the defending NASCAR champion has traditionally had a platform for opinions and had a receptive audience when stumping for change — at least among reporters eager to print any interesting viewpoints.

Joey Logano has yet to really use his platform for that purpose, although he had some very strong opinions about the Vegas race that reflected his optimistic nature and sunny outlook on life.

Logano enthusiastically endorsed the new rules package and was baffled to hear a reporter mention that fans on Twitter didn’t love it as much as Logano did.

“I don’t really know what to say if you don’t like that,” he said. “It’s not very often where you’re going to have a green flag run that long (100 laps) and have a finish that close between three cars. That’s something, I’ll tell you what.”

Logano said Vegas was a “great race” and said the new package was “a big thumbs up for the sport.”

“I thought the racing was awesome,” he said. “You’re side by side. There’s aggressive blocks and big moves and bumping and banging. That’s NASCAR, baby! I don’t really know what else to tell you.”

NASCAR itself (or at least the person speaking for NASCAR — competition chief Steve O’Donnell) took a more conservative approach to evaluating the race. O’Donnell said he “liked what I saw” but was also “not satisfied” at the same time. He said the package remained a work in progress.

“Was it tremendous improvement (over last year)? Probably not,” O’Donnell said. “But as a fan, you want to see lead changes. We saw that today. In the past with no cautions, we would have seen someone check out all race long and we wouldn’t have seen a lead change.”

Though most drivers either bit their tongue or were salty about how the package raced (coughKyleBuschcough), some indicated they’re just along for the ride.

“If it was entertaining to watch, then I don’t care (about how it raced),” Chase Elliott said. “That’s the main thing. If entertainment is produced, I’m happy to drive whatever it is.”

4. O caution flag, where art thou?

After flirting with a caution-free race twice last year, the Cup Series finally produced one on Sunday (not counting the pre-planned stage cautions, of course). That made for the first race without a “natural” caution flag since October 2002 at Talladega.

Of everything that happened Sunday, that was by FAR the most shocking. There was a real concern the race would be a total wreckfest, with drivers unable to handle ill-handling cars in traffic and on crazy restarts. There was actually a bet available at the Vegas sports books that had the over/under of “cars out of the race at the halfway point” at 1.5. I didn’t play it, but was thinking that bet would be the lock of all locks.

Instead, no cars were officially out of the race by the halfway point (and only one, Joey Gase, didn’t finish).

Even O’Donnell said he was surprised by the lack of cautions.

“You go back before the race, and I think even some of the media (said) — and it probably came from the garage — ‘We’re going to wreck the entire field. This isn’t going to be a race,’” he said. “Didn’t happen.”

Why not? According to Denny Hamlin, it’s because the cars can’t get close enough to each other once the field breaks apart following the restarts.

“Once it gets strung out like that, it’s honestly so tough to run kind of near someone — especially late in a run — that the chance of someone running into each other is less likely,” he said.

It will be fascinating to see if this becomes a trend in the new package, or whether Vegas was an anomaly.

5. TV’s role 

During a key moment of the race, when Team Penske teammates Keselowski and Logano were battling for the lead, viewers briefly lost perspective on the action. FOX was showing the race from Logano’s bumper cam, and the drivers suddenly had some sort of contact — but it was hard to tell what happened. A replay from a wider angle was never shown (unless I missed it, which is definitely possible).

That’s ironic, since Keselowski on Friday had stumped for NASCAR’s TV partners to “zoom the cameras out” when showing races.

“Whether it’s this rules packages or last year’s rules package, I just don’t feel like with the cameras zoomed in you can really appreciate all that’s going on,” he said. “If I was sitting on my couch watching the race, the first thing I would say is  ‘Zoom the cameras out!’ That’s what I’m saying when I watch an Xfinity Series race or something.

“I think more so than any rules change, the biggest thing we can do is try to give a better perception of how much great racing there is across the whole field.”

This year it’s going to be more important than ever for TV to offer enough of a glimpse to pull back and show the big picture of what’s happening — particularly since it seems like the leader may be tough to pass in clean air. The real racing may be a cluster of cars fighting for fifth rather than first.

Now, did FOX missed much action on Sunday? No. From what I saw live, the racing was often single-file on the bottom groove, so the TV angles may not have mattered. But as the season marches on, let’s hope Keselowski’s wish comes true and helps NASCAR give the rules package a fighting chance with viewers at home.

20 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Las Vegas race”

  1. 1) Agree
    2) Agree
    3) NA
    4) 😳🤯
    5) Yes, fans have been screaming “widescreen” for years.

  2. Please please please zoom the cameras out more!!

    Just watch races from the 80’s and 90’s for inspiration. There were times the Fox cameras were so zoomed in that when showing a single car portions of it fell off the screen. That’s completely inexcusable.

    There were plenty of times today too where the rear bumper camera was being used to cover a battle for position which was weak.

    At the end of the 2nd stage Mike Joy elated that there was a 3 way battle for 8th place. Except no. 8th place was about 4 seconds ahead.

    I’m starting to think that the biggest problem nascar has is the way the tv providers cover it. NBC is much better than Fox however all of them could do a better job.

    There’s 40 cars on the track. It’d be nice if the tv coverage reflected that

    1. I believe that if nascar put a cap on how much money teams could spend on testing and research ( on set ups ) or whatever it may bring closer racing were a under funded team could more competitive.

  3. A few things. First of all, idk if we were watching different races or what but the one I watched was amazing. There were battles for the lead right up to the checkered flag, Ricky Stenthouse Jr was a blast to watch and my favorite driver won the race! That said, I’ve come to realize 2 things.

    1) It isn’t bad racing it’s bad TV coverage. The commentary is boring and unfresh. You follow. Maybe 2 battles and a. Total of maybe 5 drivers. If these aren’t your drivers or among the popular drivers, good luck knowing what is happening.

    2) Racing is always better in person vs on TV. That’s because you can choose the battle you want to watch and enjoy it. I have never been to a bad race, and I was at the 2008 Brickyard 400 as well as last years Kentucky and this year’s Atlanta! All races others thought were boring!

  4. I dunno what the cure is, but there was passing and battles. TV coverage? The fans in the stands at the end of the race seemed pretty pumped up!

  5. The racing was fine but could they please do away with the on track interview? I’d rather see more footage of VL.

  6. Downforce is the evil of racing. Drivers like it, but it makes racing worse. As shown these past two weeks, the more downforce you have, the faster through the corners you go. The faster you enter and proceed through a corner, the tighter the racing line is. Essentially all cars are running near wide open, and have to run the bottom, as the distance is much less than running the outside.

    I cannot emphasize enough how NASCAR keeps doubling down on failed concepts over and over again expecting different results. The cars are sealed to the track. They need to get air underneath them to make the cars LESS aero dependent, and more mechanically dependent. ADDING splitter and spoiler, along with no ride height rule has essentially made the cars like INDYCAR= aero dependent, low HP, WOT oval racing machines. I don’t watch Indy oval races, outside the 500, and if NASCAR does not reverse course, they will soon be suffering like INDYCAR has for the past few decades.

    Something that the media has never really touched upon, but is a HUGE issue is TIRES. Just look at practice, and you can predict how the weekend will be. Have a tire perform the fastest on lap 1, and slow down over 1.5 seconds in a fuel run (Atlanta) and you have a better chance of a race with comers/goers. Come with an absolute rock hard tire like Las Vegas, where the fastest lap was lap 15, and you get a single file parade. Goodyear needs to bring softer compound tires, but with the NASCAR rules package adding so much downforce, they are forced to bring a rock like at LV due to the heat in the right front.

    How to make NASCAR great again:

    Remove: Splitter, rear gear rule, set spoiler angle rule, side skirts, no ride height rule, coil binding/bump stops.

    Add: Front valence, open rear gear rule, adjustable angle spoiler between 0˚ and 90˚ (length and width to be standardized), minimum ride height rule, smaller shark fin, smaller spoiler height, smaller rear 1/4 panel and bumper extensions

    Develop: SLM style 289ci engine as Bobby Allison proposed over 30 years ago. This engine size allows for full throttle response, but due to displacement is limited to max HP.

    What will this do? Engine will provide enough HP to run WOT on bigger tracks, but cost 10% of current engine. This opens up the cost of entry for many teams. Need to remove aero dependency, and go back to mechanical grip. Off throttle time is key. Need to slow the cars entry, middle, and corner speed. Slower corner speeds results in an increased racing line, and most importantly reduces the load on the tires, which allows for softer compounds. Removing the rear gear rule and spoiler allows for teams to customize their setup…resulting in cars going different speeds at different parts around the track…leading to MORE PASSING!

    I doubt the genius’ at NASCAR will listen to this, as this current package is what they thought was best, even though it was proven to not be successful previously.

    On to Phoenix which will be the 4th different rules package in as many weeks. I expect racing to be the same as last year….

  7. Good Top Five, Jeff. I think NASCAR, the media, and the drivers all oversold this event so much so it became a non-event. Heck, even during pre-race coverage Keslowski amongst others were saying it would be a race of attrition. Talk about missing the mark.

    Was there good racing/ Yes, but it still was a 1.5 mile track, and by the time the last 30 laps rolled up, the running order was largely set. Had Kes not caught Joey this would have been seen as a much worse race, in my opinion. (Interestingly, I thought the field somehow came together more so before the ends of stages. Don’t know why that was)

    Conditions- I think hotter track temps made for more difficulty in cars getting close to each other. That and the car wake which was pointed out by the drivers. The promised “pack style racing”, which was one of the much ballyhooed benefits of moving the rules in this direction, never really happened. It looked good for about ten laps after each caution, and at the start of the event, but then that went away. In my opinion, NASCAR is not going to get there with pack racing and these rules, especially if the weather is hot.

    I’m betting this package is a dud.

  8. 1- the best thing on the race was Rowdy seeing he was playing with the big boys not developeing drivers and crews screwed up. Shows when equal is not the best.
    2- tv could for sure improve on coverage. Best thing for Fox to do is dump DW. All he does is run his lips with not much knowledge of modern equipment except what he is told.
    3- Race had some good points to watch. Restarts and the few battles you could see on tv.
    4- most of race that fox showed was same as all 1 1/2 milers. Follow the leader.
    5- not a big fan of new package yet.
    6- If cup guys go to trucks or xfinity can not use cup pit crews at all. Make them play fair with underfunded teams.
    7- While getting rid of DW take his idiot brother that thinks he’s funny with him

  9. “For a mile and a half track, it was quite a decent race. A good race by many historical standards.”

    This quote really sums the whole deal up. I think the 1.5 mile tracks are the issue, not the package.

    If you go back and look at the Cup schedule in 1980 through part of the 90’s (when NASCAR was arguably in its prime), short tracks ( 1 mile or less) accounted for about 45% of the schedule while intermediate tracks (1-2miles) accounted for 30% or less. Transition to now, intermediates make up more than 40% of the schedule and short tracks make up 30% or less.

  10. If drivers say they expected the field to break up I only half-believe them because the test in January and also the races already run with the ducts indicated there was legitimate chance the packs would be bigger that it turned out.

    Nonetheless the draft definitely worked in this race. And the more races are run with the draft the bigger the packs will inevitably get.

    What NASCAR now needs to look at is increasing the tire footprint for better stability and raceability

    The real letdown from Vegas is the complete lack of upset contenders (only Ricky Stenhouse was a nontraditional runner up front). The test strongly suggested the RCR and Petty cars would be far more competitive than actually transpired. Chevrolet’s overall slide to irrelevance continued at Vegas despite top-tens from Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott – and Kyle Larson’s jab at Hendrick and forced apology show further how dysfunctional Chevrolet’s program now is. With a reported significant reduction in their NASCAR budget Chevrolet now needs to get its act together – and get its teams working open-endedly together.

  11. Atlanta and Vegas were better than prior years but not dramatically. But still an improvement….so happy with that. Yes, there is work to be done.
    Up close or inside cameras have a use but for replays only. Show us the wide shot racing… ESPN and TBS did years ago.

  12. I didn’t fall asleep. That is a big compliment actually. I normally get a good 30-60 minute nap in during the middle of the race.

  13. The cars were no fun to watch. The drivers were wide open, the cars didn’t accelerate, they didn’t really pull up in the draft; the top portion of the track was barely used.
    The side by side racing that existed also wasn’t exciting to watch. it wasn’t drivers on edge battling, it was 2 drivers wide open or nearly so where one got a run (probably because of bad air got into or a failed pass attempt made by the higher placed car) and the other just trying to stall him out.
    Stenhouse and Jones battle was the most interesting of the race, but it was a battle of side drafting and can I clear; not I’m going to take a chance and out drive this guy in or through a corner. Even with the door contact the cars barely bobbled.
    The restarts were similar, the cars stayed packed up for 5 or 6 instead of 2 or 3; but there was no show of real aggression, because the cars can’t go past wide open. Slide drafting and blocking were the order until the cars singled out. The whole thing was very bland.
    When you are looking at stats to make the argument that it is better, you are missing a very key point. Guys may have been hung side by side and changed positions across the timing lines a lot; and the double of the restart bunched up laps also causes a lot of triggering of back and forth across the timing lines.
    I don’t care a lot of back and forth because you’re wide open and can slow each other up by pinching and side drafting.
    I only care about it when it’s what we saw in the Xfinity race when CBell wheeled past Kyle Busch and then made a driver error into turn 3 and KB got him back.. and the lost momentum causing the hard racing between CBell and Reddick. The Xfinity race was an example of actual racing; actual real, hard, driver making a difference, racing.

  14. No on-track green flag passes for the lead in first 95 laps killed excitement for race.

    Only 7 on-track green flag passes (which FOX missed several or used the stupid in-car camera) is not what was expected.

    Interesting that the Monday preliminary TV rating was only up 0.1 vs last year with all of the pre-race hype.

  15. I was in the car so I listened to the entire race on PRN. Stage 1 was boring as hell, even the radio guys couldn’t make it interesting. But stage 2 and 3 were very entertaining, enough that we pulled over for last 20 laps to avoid losing signal. But not only did radio cover the leaders but they covered the battles throughout the field.

    NASCAR has to improve their tv coverage. I would say Fox does, but honestly NBC isn’t much better and ESPN was horrible. The race will never be as good on tv as in person, but for God’s sake, when the leader is half a lap ahead of the next car and there is battle for 5th, show the battle for 5th!

    I do not have the mechanical knowledge to give NASCAR suggestions for how to make cars better or the races closer. But for tv viewers, they could do themselves a huge favor by making the on screen product better. Get rid of the in car cameras (does ANYONE care what Harvick is doing inside of the car?). Get rid of the bumper cams from the live race feeds. Turn ALL non caution lap commercial breaks into side by side feeds. Show wide angles so you can see as much of the whole field as possible. Oh, and please get rid of both Waltrips. I used to like Daryl alot, but he is just painful to listen to now.

  16. I honestly believe that FOX (and probably NBC) literally do not know how to cover a race. I also honestly believe that it will never get any better, so I just eat what they are shoveling with the volume down.

    I so wish NASCAR coverage could be more like F1, but I’m sure it will just remain a wish.

    1. Like F1 coverage? There is no way to make that happen. Cup races are 3 times as long sometimes as an F1 race. F1 racing is about the start, the strategy on tires and then the ending coming together for a climax. It’s only an hour and a half race which plays out like a good New York play. NASCAR is about restarts, getting in position for that last restart and if we’re lucky a battle for the win.

  17. 3/4 of the commenters on here can’t think for themselves. If Jeff Gluck wrote an artlicle saying that dairy cows in a feild across from the back stretch were mooing too loud and thus made the racing bad you would jump on it and say the thing that’s wrong with NASCAR is those cows. Last week the package “sucked”, this week it’s the poor tv coverage, what will be the excuse next week? NASCAR fans have been called the best fans in sports, I strongly have to disagree.

  18. For those of us watching at home, we’re at the mercy of the director sitting in the production truck. He’s the one dictating the images we see on screen. If NASCAR implements a new package to promote closer racing, television needs to do it’s part in either zooming the cameras out or showing us this “closer” racing. Focusing on the top 2 or 3 isn’t going to cut it unless you want to analyze the intervals on the race ticker to judge if the racing is indeed closer and determining if NASCAR is on the right track (no pun intended.)

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