Chaos or calm? What do drivers expect in playoff opener?

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LAS VEGAS — When the Cup drivers last raced at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, they were slowed only by two cautions for stage breaks in March. When they ran at this track in last year’s playoff race, there were 12 cautions, many for accidents.

So what do drivers expect for today’s playoff opener (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? Chaos or calm?

“I think you’re going to have more cautions than you did in the spring, without a doubt, maybe not to the extent of last year,” said playoff contender Ryan Newman, who starts 17th.

He starts next to defending race winner and playoff contender Brad Keselowski, who also shares Newman’s belief.

“I’m a little bit thinking there will be more this time than in the spring,” Keselowski said. “It’s hotter this fall than what I remember last fall and we’re way faster through the center of the corners. So I expect it to be very difficult on the tires. Probably see some tire failures, accordingly, that will kind of add to the cautions.”

The wunderground.com forecast for today’s race calls for a high of 100 degrees at the start. The temperature will still be in the 90s when the race is scheduled to end. This will be the hottest race of the season, topping the 96 degrees that drivers battled at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July.

MORE: Today’s Cup race details, start time & lineup

Playoff contender Kurt Busch, who starts fifth, says the heat will impact the racing.

“Track is hotter, (there’s) less grip, it’s the playoffs, everybody is on edge,” Busch said for his belief there will be more cautions than the spring race.

Playoff contender Alex Bowman, who starts 19th, also sees an increase in cautions from the March race.

“I think we’re going to have cautions,” he said. “I think you’re going to have tire failures with it being so hot. I think you’re going to have guys crashing their stuff. I think it’s just going to be a really slick race track, tough to drive and nobody is going to give an inch. I think that is going to create some cautions. I don’t think it will create the 12 we had last year.”

Aric Almirola, who starts fourth, notes that “if I was a betting man, which I’m not … I’d say we will have more cautions than just the stage breaks.

“As teams have gotten smarter and tried to make their cars go faster, the cars are trimmed out more and because of that are less stable, they’re harder to drive. It makes really, really challenging on restarts and around guys. We’ve seen that the last couple of months. I don’t think it’s specific to Las Vegas, just the last few months in general we’ve seen wreck on restarts and things just because the cars are a lot more difficult to drive.”

Newman adds another key factor that could lead to more cautions today.

“I think give-and-take is kind of gone in our sport now,” he said of how drivers race each other. “It’s still there, don’t get me wrong, but it’s less than it has been by a long shot then the last few years, let’s say five years ago.

“I think that you see that with guys blocking. When you start doing the blocking deal, give-and-take is gone. I think it’s going to be pretty amped up. Sixteen guys, eight of them kind of on the bubble already in the first race, it’s going to be intense.”