Our first taste of cars on the track happened today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. NASCAR ascended upon Sin City to get a live look at the new 2019 rules package, which features lower horsepower and bodies that are maximized for drafting.
The result? Well, it’s hard to offer any sort of final opinion just yet. After all, it was simply a test session on a very cool day in the desert. I think you did get a decent feel for the package overall, however.
Noticeably slower speeds, but it’s not the All-Star package either
The day started with single car runs, which quite honestly reminded me of a qualifying practice at Daytona or Talladega. Each driver got a feel for their car before heading out into the draft later in the afternoon.
The racecar itself sounded like a restrictor plate car, featuring a lazier-toned roar and noticeably slower straightaway speeds. The Xfinity cars that were there to test turned faster times than the Cup cars did — an expected occurrence but still very much odd to see. What the Cup car lacked down the straights it made up for in the corners because of the added downforce.
We didn’t have telemetry on NASCAR’s feed, but speeds did feel up considerably from the All-Star race last May. It wasn’t quite a pack like we saw back then — it was more of four car groups.
Kyle Busch was bad fast
When the cars did get out there together, Kyle Busch was pretty easily the class of the field. Busch started third in line, quickly getting by Ryan Newman up high and closed in on Brad Keselowski for the “lead.”
Busch held back though, dropping back in the field intentionally to get a read on his car in traffic. After letting several car by, Busch hammered down and quick drove right through the field. He could do things others couldn’t today, passing both high and low as he eventually got back to the front of the pack. Busch broke away just a touch before NASCAR halted the session.
The side-draft will be as important as it ever has
At the 1.5 mile tracks this year, there won’t be many opportunities to create speed as purely a driver. The package is going to bring the field closer together, which will take some things out of the driver’s hands. One way the drivers can change things will be the use of the side-draft.
The side-draft really ramped up when NASCAR went to the Gen-6 car. What you’ve seen over the past several years is what you saw again today. This package is going to dramatically ramp up the importance of the maneuver, however.
The only time a leader got away in the session that we saw was when the battle for second was happening. Getting to a quarter panel and sucking a driver backwards seemed to be the easiest way to pass, particularly in the middle groove.
The fast guys… were still fast
Kyle Busch has already been mentioned in this post, but other heavy hitters were on display as well. Brad Keselowski ran up front for much of the run before falling back to about fourth.
Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson took more of a cautious approach, slowly picking their way through traffic. The results were the same. Those four were running up towards the front by the end of the run. Outside of Busch, it’s tough to really crown a winner with the varying agendas of the day.
My biggest takeaway was this — it’s not pack racing. It’s more of what you’d see from the Truck Series. Keep in mind too, we only saw 20 laps of action. How will things change on lap 30, 35 of a run? That remains to be seen.
We’ll see this package debut (kinda) at Atlanta this year. NASCAR has opted to not run the aero ducts there, so our first true test may come right back here in Vegas on March 3rd.