In the buildup to last weekend’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the popular phrase among drivers about what the racing would like with a new rules package was “I don’t know.”
That won’t be the case this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
While the Cup Series’ visit to the 1.5-mile track will be the first for many drivers with this year’s package, it’ll be old news for 14 Cup drivers who took part in a two-day test there at the start of the month.
Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon and Matt DiBenedetto were among those who tested the package, which includes a tapered spacer and aero ducts. The aero ducts take the place of brake ducts that were used at Atlanta.
With Las Vegas’ smooth surface and sweeping corners, the Dillon brothers and DiBenedetto predict the race that will unfold Sunday will be a stark difference from what was on display in Atlanta.
With a draft playing a key part, Austin Dillon describes racing that’s similar to what he experienced two weeks ago at Daytona.
“The spotters will constantly need to be talking,” Austin Dillon said in a media release. “You’ll hear a lot of chatter on the radio in order for the team and spotter to give the driver what is needed, such as seeing the runs, the momentum and clearing other cars.”
With cars drafting with each other, the Richard Childress Racing driver said there will be many “tight moves” made as drivers try “sticking their cars in holes that are tighter than normal” for races at the 1.5-mile track.
“Close calls are going to be made and you’re just going to have to live with them,” he continued. “Hopefully your spotter does a good enough job making the right call.”
The draft is expected to play a significant part in qualifying on Friday, in addition to the race. Austin Dillon experienced a multi-car draft in the test with the RCR-affiliated cars of Bubba Wallace and Ty Dillon.
Together, the three cars ran a couple of tenths of a second quicker than cars running alone.
“Typically at Vegas, we’re wide open, so there may be some games being played during that (qualifying) session,” DiBenedetto said in a media release.
What will happen on Sunday when a field of more than 35 cars start jockeying for position?
Austin Dillon said speed will be “king.”
“I think when somebody gets side-by-side it really helps the third-place guy,” Austin Dillon said. “I think the air works a lot differently than it used to with having the (aero) ducts in the front so learning that is going to be pretty key. I think learning the air is still a work in progress and once we figure that out, we’ll have a better idea of what we can and cannot get away with.”
With the difficulties in passing, DiBenedetto expects an even bigger emphasis to be put on what happens on pit road and in restarts.
“That test session, and especially this past weekend’s race in Atlanta, validated my thinking about this package, which was that restarts and pit stops will be the most important things to focus on during a race now,” DiBenedetto said. “In the past for Vegas weekends, you needed a good-handling car that was fast, but track position wasn’t as big of a deal, but now with this new package, it’s all about seeing if you can make-up any positions on restarts because once the field single-files out, it’s really difficult to pass.”
With all that in mind, Ty Dillon anticipates “wild” restarts.
“Drivers know that will be the window of time to make up a whole lot of ground,” the Germain Racing driver said in a media release. “That’s not to say that you won’t be able to gain anything on a long run because handling will still come into play. We are going to get 30 or 40 laps into a run and the leader will not have lapped the 18th-place car by that point.
“All of those guys are still going to be very much in contention throughout a run, which will make it intense when someone in the middle of the field bobbles or makes a mistake.”