The last time the NASCAR Xfinity Series took to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, JR Motorsports found its cars running 1-2-3 at the checkered flag.
But that race ended under the lights on a hot September night in the desert. This weekend in Las Vegas, competitors will face temperatures in the low 60s in the dusk of winter. And the man who won the last spring’s Xfinity race was Kaulig Racing’s AJ Allmendinger, claiming his first of five wins in 2021.
“(In) the first race last year, the spring race, the track had a ton of grip in it and a lot of speed,” Allmendinger said in a Wednesday Zoom conference. “And then when we went back in the summer, it was slick like you’d expect because it’s so hot in Vegas. The weather looks really cool on Saturday, so I think you’re gonna have a lot a lot of speed in these race cars. The track’s gonna be super gripped up.”
Berry and his No. 8 crew agree, which is why they’re relying more on the data they collected last March than in September.
“I thought the cars were pretty good in the spring last year, too,” said Berry, who finished seventh that day. “Obviously, all three of us really hit it very well in the fall. So overall, I think they have a good baseline for there. We know that we’re going to have to be a little bit better andadjust to the difference in the track. And I think if we do all that, we’ll be fine.”
With 12 national series starts, Allmendinger has raced at Las Vegas more than almost any other Xfinity championship contender (teammate Landon Cassill has 16 Vegas starts). The track was last resurfaced in 2006, but Allmendinger said the 16-year-old asphalt has held up well.
“I think more than anything, the bumps have gotten a little bit worse in (turns) one and two, but it hasn’t aged tremendously to the point where all of a sudden there’s no grip on the racetrack,” Allmendinger said. “… It definitely wears out tires a little bit more as the run goes on. The lap times you can see fade a bit, but it’s still not crazy compared to some of the racetracks that we go to.”
The wealth of experience comes in contrast to much of his competition, like Berry, who only saw the track for the first time last year. That was often the case for Berry in 2021, who previously went into races with maybe one Xfinity race to glean from while drivers around him had seen these tracks for over a decade.
“At least (I’m) stacking some starts there in Vegas,” Berry said. “We’re getting some knowledge built up and we’ll be good. And obviously the more I race, the more that I’m going to learn. I’m excited to get back to Vegas, but there’s a lot of other tracks I’m excited to go to that I experienced last year maybe early on and really will be able to see how much I’ve improved as a driver.”
Some other notes ahead of Saturday’s race at Las Vegas (4:30 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio):
Same car, different track
NASCAR officials mandated that each Xfinity team use the same chassis, engine and transmission at both Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway in an effort to cut costs in NASCAR’s second-tier series.
“I’m okay with having used the same car because I thought it was a good race car,” Allmendinger said, “and we can focus on what that car felt like last week, even though Fontana and Vegas are a completely different racetrack, but the same aero package that we had in it and build off of what we did last week.”
Berry admitted he and his team would rather have a fresh car at their disposal, but teams have been hard at work after a full-contact race at Auto Club anyway.
“I think they gave (teams) a little bit more additional time to work on the car because there’s a good many of the teams that I believe either got in an accident and have to get a backup car out or just said that they’re just going to go to the back,” Berry said. “So I’m not sure if it’s all playing out like they expected or not. But I mean, the majority of the top 15 or 20 are planning on running the same car.”
Truck Series Ringer?
Camping World Truck Series regular John Hunter Nemechek will make his Xfinity season debut Saturday behind the wheel of the No. 26 Berry’s Bullets Toyota for Sam Hunt Racing.
Nemechek, who is typically found driving the No. 4 Toyota Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports, has two Xfinity wins to his name, both coming on mile-and-a-half tracks. This weekend, he’ll get track time in both his truck and the Xfinity car. The question is whether any knowledge can translate between the two drastically different vehicles.
“I do think there will be some things that can transfer from lines and laps and how the track rubbers up,” Nemechek said Wednesday. “I think there is some value with that. I think just being out there on Friday night could definitely help for Saturday. I also definitely think after only 20 minutes of practice and Truck qualifying, being able to go and practice the Xfinity car and qualify the Xfinity car right before the Truck race will definitely help me as well.”
Nemechek also won the Truck Series race in Las Vegas last year, another sign of encouragement for the former Cup Series driver.
“Vegas has been really good to me. I’ve been runner-up there I think once (in 2019) in the Xfinity car,” Nemechek said, “so I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel for Sam Hunt (Racing) and everyone at Toyota this weekend.”