NASCAR viewer’s guide: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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NASCAR Cup Series teams have an idea of what to expect this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But with a new car, whatever idea they have is still only a guess.

The premier series hits Sin City for the first of two races this season at the 1.5-mile, D-shaped oval (3:30 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox). Following a tumultuous 2020, Kyle Larson began his remarkable return to glory with a win in this race a year ago, marking the first of a 10-win championship season. In the playoffs, Denny Hamlin was the one celebrating in victory lane for the second and final time in 2021.

Of course, that was with an old car — the Gen 6 — and if last week’s race at Auto Club Speedway taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. The Next Gen car makes its mile-and-a-half debut at Las Vegas, three months after organizational tests at Charlotte, another 1.5-miler.

The pavement in Vegas isn’t nearly as worn out and abrasive as the one competitors tackled last week in Fontana. Still, the tighter confines and limited knowledge might make for unpredictable racing — and unpredictable frontrunners.

Parity out of the gate

One of the major themes echoing throughout the NASCAR garage entering 2022 was that the Next Gen car would bring more parity throughout the field.

Two races make for a small sample size, but the results so far prove that to be true. Following events at Daytona and Auto Club, 19 different drivers have top-10 finishes. The only driver with two top 10s is Aric Almirola, who currently sits sixth in points.

Underscoring the point – nine teams made up the top 10 of last week’s finishing order and 17 different drivers have led at least one lap already.

Whether that trend continues remains to be seen. However, even recent events at Las Vegas have offered their share of open opportunity. The last five Vegas races have been won by five different drivers, with the last four winners each coming from different organizations.

Perhaps Sunday’s race will begin a new trend of repeat winners and the unpredictability will slow down a bit. But that’s a big maybe.

Setting the stage

Martin Truex Jr. swept Stages 1 and 2 at Daytona, and Tyler Reddick accomplished the same at Auto Club. But neither driver finished inside the top 10 in their respective races.

Stage 2 winners at Las Vegas, meanwhile, have won seven of the last nine races there, including both Larson and Hamlin a year ago. In that span, Truex (2017) and Kevin Harvick (March 2018) won both stages and the event.

Of course, each Stage 1 winner had also won the race at Auto Club up until Reddick’s flat tire cost him last weekend.

Toyota’s not-so-winning streak

The last time we saw a Toyota go to Victory Lane was way back in October 2021, when Bubba Wallace broke through to score his first career Cup win at Talladega Superspeedway. The last time before that was his 23XI Racing team owner, Denny Hamlin, who won at Las Vegas one week prior.

It’s been a long time since Toyota won a race, and overheating issues for three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing cars at Auto Club didn’t help the manufacturer’s cause. Toyota has won two of the last five in Vegas, though, so perhaps this is the week JGR or 23XI right the ship. Kurt Busch, the hometown driver and 23XI’s newest addition, won here in September 2020 too, so there should be hope within the Toyota camp.

Tough sledding so far

The best way to start the season is to be on track when the checkered flag waves. Christopher Bell, William Byron and rookie Harrison Burton have yet to be so fortunate.

All three drivers have two DNFs in two races this season, the best finish among them a 33rd-place effort from Burton in California.

Surely, they’ll find their way and start knocking out more reasonable finishes. But no question JGR, Hendrick Motorsports and Wood Brothers Racing are wondering how Jacques Villeneuve, who ran only the Daytona 500, sits higher in points (32nd) than any of their cars through two races.

Championship experience

Thirteen of the last 14 Las Vegas winners have won championships. The lone exception is Hamlin, who earned his first career win in Vegas last year. That list includes Larson, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Truex, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.

Entry lists

There are 37 cars on the Cup Series entry list for Sunday, including Greg Biffle in the No. 44 Chevrolet for NY Racing Team.

Meanwhile, 42 cars dot the Xfinity list for Saturday’s event, meaning four cars will fail to qualify.

On the Camping World Truck Series entry list are 37 trucks for 36 spots. One truck will fail to qualify.

NASCAR Cup Series Entry List — Las Vegas Motor Speedway

NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List — Las Vegas Motor Speedway

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Entry List — Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Qualifying order

In a change from its previously announced practice procedures, all Cup teams will have 35 minutes to practice ahead of qualifying on Saturday. NASCAR announced the change Wednesday in an effort to provide teams more practice time. The series debuted its two-group, 15-minute practice sessions last weekend at Auto Club but was delayed by multiple on-track incidents.

After practice, teams will then be parted into two groups — Group A and Group B — for single-car, single-lap qualifying. The top five drivers from each group will then advance to the next round for another single-car, single-lap qualifying effort to determine the top 10 starting positions.

The Xfinity and Truck series will each hold single-car, single-lap qualifying for all entries following its 20-minute practice sessions.

NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying Order — Las Vegas Motor Speedway

NASCAR Xfinity Series Qualifying Order — Las Vegas Motor Speedway

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Qualifying Order — Las Vegas Motor Speedway

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, March 4

ForecastPartly cloudy, high of 63 degrees, low of 47 degrees.

  • 4:30 p.m. — Truck practice/qualifying (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — Xfinity practice/qualifying (FS1)
  • 9 p.m. — Truck race (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, March 5

ForecastMostly cloudy, high of 56 degrees, low of 40 degress.

  • 1:30 p.m. — Cup practice (FS2)
  • 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1, PRN)
  • 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 6

ForecastPartly cloudy, high of 62 degrees, low of 41 degrees.

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (267 laps, 400 miles; FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.