While they’re similar in length, another shared characteristic between Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway is that they’re a little rough to get around.
Atlanta has one of the oldest surfaces on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, but the 1.5-mile surface at Las Vegas is beginning to show its age since its 2006 repave, according to some drivers.
“Vegas, for being a fairly recently paved track it has a lot of bumps, but different than Atlanta,” said Paul Menard in a manufacturer release. “It has like a higher frequency chatter bump. Atlanta’s bumps are really big and rolling, where Vegas has these really high frequencies which almost wants to pick the tires up. So, it’s a shock guy’s nightmare.”
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Las Vegas this weekend for the Kobalt 400, the 20th Cup race held on the track that opened in 1996. Ryan Newman said the track – with its 20-degree banking compared to Atlanta’s 24 degrees – has “a lot of character” thanks to the hot Nevada sun.
“For how smooth it is in (Turns) 3 and 4, it’s exactly the opposite and rough in (Turns) 1 and 2,” said Newman in the manufacturer release. “The way that the sun hits the race track, (Turns) 1 and 2 is always shaded and 3 and 4 is always cooking hot. A big difference in track temperature from one end to the other.”
Newman, who has been racing at Vegas since 2002 in his second Cup start, would know how much the track has changed over the course of its lifespan. But Chase Elliott, who has one Cup start and three Xfinity starts there since 2014, has a different interpretation of the track’s feel.
“I feel like Turns 1 and 2 has a lot of banking,” said Elliott, despite both ends of the track having 20-degree banking. “(Turns) 3 and 4 to me seems kind of flat for whatever reason. It can be a challenge to try to marry those two ends of the race track together for a race.”
With the more sweeping turns at Las Vegas, Aric Almirola said, “It’s hard to get the car low to the ground there, and the aggressive bumps make it hard to get a handle throughout the race.”
The active leader in wins at Las Vegas with four, Jimmie Johnson said there’s still “a lot of grip” to take advantage of.
“Every memory I have is just driving over my head and driving like a fool to put up lap time,” said Johnson.
But the Vegas heat and bumps aren’t the only obstacles for drivers this weekend.
AJ Allmendinger points to the sand that can be blown around the facility, such as the dust storm near the track during last year’s race.
“It’s temperature sensitive and it’s definitely rubber sensitive,” Allmendinger said. “Once it gets hot out it gets slick and just that sand in the air, you are always fighting trying to make sure the race track is clean. It’s a tough challenge. It has a couple of bumps in it now, so it’s a difficult race track.”
Cars have been on the track since last year’s race, first with the Camping World Truck Series race in October and then a Cup Series test in January involving four teams. Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray took part in that test.
McMurray notes another similarity between Las Vegas and Atlanta – the need for tires.
“One of the things that we worked really hard on was trying to find a tire that ran really quick at the beginning and then had a lot of fall off and also wore out,” McMurray said. “Ideally, we would like to have the tires wear out when we are out of gas, so we have to put tires on if the caution falls. So, (Goodyear) had a couple of tires that did really well. They had some that wore out too fast, which was actually a good problem. What I gathered from that was they were going to go back and try to give us something in-between.”
The Kobalt 400 is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday on Fox.