Weekend Preview: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

March 6, 2022;  Las Vegas, Nevada, USA;  NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch (18) leads during the Pennsyl 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Mandatory credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After another exciting run of the NASCAR Cup Series – including a “home run” of sorts last Sunday at Charlotte Roval by Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing – the series begins the eighth-round races that will ultimately determine the Championship’s 4-line squad.

There’s certainly no shortage of plots to this week’s South Point 400 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway — the first race on a competitive tour that will feature two 1.5-mile trails — in Las Vegas. Vegas and next week at Homestead-Miami – followed by the Martinsville, Va.

Bale, whose top 10 in the last three races was his ROVAL win, now finds himself in the depths of qualifying after only driving the last two rounds in Charlotte. He basically climbed from a long shot to the title contender after the checkered flag in a race that also stunningly eliminated NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson from playoff competition after No. 5 Hendrik Motorsports Chevrolet suffered a mechanical issue late in the race.

With the rankings rearranged for this important Tour, Hendrik Motorsports driver Chase Elliott – and 2021 Series Champion – retains his spot at the top of the leaderboard. The regular season champion is 20 points ahead of Team Penske driver Joey Logano, who heads into Sunday’s race.

Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain – a two-time winner in 2022 – is next, with a 25-point lead, followed by Bale, who is now 28 points behind Elliott.

Ryan Blaney, still looking for his first win of the season in 12th for Team Penske Ford, and Elliott’s teammate William Byron, are fifth and sixth in the standings, both 31 points behind Elliott.

Bell’s teammate Joe Gibbs Racing and permanent championship contender Denny Hamlin ranked seventh, 33 points behind Elliott. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe is in last place, 37 points off Elliott after scoring his own dramatic finish at ROVAL to take last place from Larson.

There are seven previous Las Vegas winners at Sunday Square – Lugano and Hamlin are the only current drivers to hold the trophy lift here. Alex Bowman won his most recent Vegas race this spring, but announced this week that he will miss the next three events on the schedule while recovering from concussion-like symptoms.

Four current drivers were among the top 10 drivers at the debut of Next-Generation Cars in Vegas in March. Byron led the laps and took the 5th best position on the track. Chastain—who took the first NASCAR National Series win of his career at the Xfinity Series in Vegas in 2018, led the most laps (83) in the Vegas Spring Cup on his way to third. Elliott finished ninth, and Bell, who started from first, finished tenth.

Las Vegas is one of Logano’s best tracks statistically – he’s a two-time NASCAR Cup Series winner there and has 11 of the top 10 races in 18 starts. He’s one of three two-time Vegas grid winners on Sunday’s grid — also including JGR’s Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick of Stewart Haas Racing. Larson won Spring 2021 and has four more bids for runners-up.

RFK Racing owner/driver Brad Keselowski is the most successful active driver on the track with three wins.

Briscoe is the only back-to-back NASCAR Xfinity Series winner in Vegas history, sweeping my 2020 race. He came out of a small bag at the Roval to make it to the playoffs and should be considered a strong contender in Vegas too.

Bell, 27, who brings plenty of momentum to West, is turning into the best NASCAR Cup Series season of his young career, finishing 11 of the top five in race #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, including two victories (in New Hampshire and Roval).

“Vegas is one of my favorite tracks and Joe Gibbs Racing was strong on the 1.5 mile trails,” Bell said. “Vegas is one that I’ve been flying around for a while and we can fight to win it, or at least escape there with a good amount of points.”

Bell’s teammate at JGR Toyota, Hamlin is the defending champion of the playoff race in Las Vegas, driving 137 of 267 laps en route to what was his second playoff win in 2021. Hamlin has the top ten in five of the six playoff races. This season, including back-to-back runner-up performances in the inaugural two rounds – in Darlington, SC, and Kansas. The 32nd (mechanical issue) in March broke a three-race streak of the top five in Vegas.

The Training and Busch Light Pole qualifiers for the South Point 400 will take place Saturday morning and broadcast on USA Network at 12:30 p.m.

– Xfinity Series Qualifiers beat the dice in Vegas

The NASCAR Xfinity Series also begins the next round of the 2022 qualifiers this week with Alsco Uniforms 302 on Saturday (3 p.m. ET on NBC Radio, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Four different drivers have won the last four races on the 1.5-mile Vegas track. JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry is the defending winner of this race in the fall – taking a convincing 4.3-second victory over teammate Justin Algayer in 2021.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs won in Las Vegas this past March, beating Las Vegas native Noah Gragson. Perry ranked fourth and Al-Lughir came in fifth.

All of these drivers advanced to the quarter-finals with Gragson leading the standings by 12 points over Kaulig Racing’s AJ Allmendinger. Gibbs came third, trailing by 18 points, and Alger is fourth, with a 23-point lead.

Perry, Austin Hill of Richard Childress Racing, JGR driver Brandon Jones and Sam Mayer of JR Motorsports wrap up the playoff round of 8 contenders.

Although he is still seven race wins away from his ‘home circuit’, Las Vegas-born Gragson has a pair of runner-ups (2020, 2022) at No. 9 GR Motorsports Chevrolet and never finished outside the top-10 in those starts The seven.

Allmendinger, who won two of the three races in the final round of qualifying — back-to-back victories at Talladega (Ala.) and Charlotte Roval — is also a former Las Vegas winner and took the trophy in the spring of 2021. He finished in the top ten on all three starts as well.

The 40-year-old is riding a streak of 11 top-10 races — eight of the top five in the last eight — with three of his five wins at College Racing Chevrolet’s No. 16 in that span. He finished 26 of his top 10 races over 29 races this season being the best in the series.

Despite celebrating the victory the last time he raced in Vegas, Gibbs, 20, would have liked a good showing this weekend to patch his championship hopes. He has six top ten places in the next seven races to Las Vegas – including all three playoff races – but he took a disappointing 36th place at Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota’s #54 in Bristol, Tenn, last month.

Training and qualifying for the Alsco Uniforms 302 will take place Friday night starting at 8:35 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on the USA Network.

NASCAR Cup Series
Next race: South Point 400
Venue: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Date: Sunday 16th October
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
Wallet: $7,352,089
TV: NBC, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps); stage 1 (ends on lap 80),
Stage 2 (finishes on lap 165), final stage (finishes on lap 267)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next race: Alsco Uniforms 302
Venue: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Date: Saturday 15 October
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Wallet: $1,272,611
TV: NBC, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 301.5 miles (201 laps); stage 1 (ends on lap 45),
Stage 2 (finishes on lap 90), final stage (finishes on lap 201)

— By NASCAR NewsWire, Special for Field Media

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