With Atlanta and Daytona in the rear-view mirror, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads west, starting with Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. The single-car team of Leavine Family Racing, with its new combo of driver and crew chief look to make the most out of the new rules and their first race at the 1.5 mile Nevada track.
Experience from Testing and Atlanta
The team participated in the Las Vegas test in January of 2019, and No. 95 driver, Matt DiBenedetto said the combination of that testing and the rules package at Atlanta validated DiBenedetto’s thinking on the 2019 rules.
“…restarts and pit stops will be the most important things to focus on during a race now,” DiBenedetto said.
“Dirty air is so tough now with this aero package so that’s why restarts are so important.
DiBenedetto said that qualifying will be interesting this weekend.
“…typically at Vegas, we’re wide open, so there may be some games being played during that session, you never know,” he said.
Vegas Thoughts from DiBenedetto
The No. 95 driver said that he has a feeling this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway would have drivers in the throttle a lot more than last weekend in Atlanta.
“…that will change how we race, and I think the field may be a little more stuck together because of the draft and the aeroducts,” he said.
“I’m feeling confident heading into this weekend because the test taught us a lot, and some of that was even what not to do with this new package, which is just as helpful.
DiBenedetto said they also learned a lot this past weekend at Atlanta.
“In the past for Vegas weekends, you needed a good-handling car that was fast, but track position wasn’t as big of a deal, but now with this new package, it’s all about seeing if you can make-up any positions on restarts because once the field single-files out, it’s really difficult to pass,” he said.
Crew Chief Thoughts
In his first year with Leavine Family Racing and the No. 95, Mike Wheeler said that it was fortunate the team was able to participate in the January test at the Vegas track.
“…we got some good track time to get enough experience to learn from as we head back there this weekend,” Wheeler said.
“In Atlanta this past weekend, we had to learn about appropriate grip and downforce, where it seemed like during our test at Vegas we had to have our Camry more trimmed out with less drag in order to be fast. Once we get into the race conditions this weekend it will be warmer than our test dates were, but we’ll work on making sure that we have a good balance, but also focus on the overall car speed,” he said.
Wheeler thinks track position will become a much bigger factor this weekend in Las Vegas.
“I’m not sure if this weekend’s addition of the drafting ducts will play much into what you see on the track,” Wheeler said.
“It might be slightly different than what we saw last weekend, but I’m not sure it’s going to greatly affect the race-ability or drafting. At the end of the day, looking ahead to this weekend, I think that some of the restarts may be a bit harrier, you’ll see teams working on trying to get good restarts in order to get all the track position you can get, while also working to find the best line around the track in order to not get disrupted with air.”
The No. 95 crew chief thinks that over long runs, the field will have a tendency this weekend to get spread out.
“However, I think the moment you hit lapped traffic it might be equally hard to pass,” he said.
“It’ll be interesting as a whole this weekend to see which strategies play out as far as staying out or taking tires, and two versus four tires, etc. I think it’s still a big learning curve this weekend, and it will be quite different than Atlanta was, to say the least.”
Las Vegas Race Weekend Schedule
Qualifying for the Cup Series at Las Vegas will be Friday, March 1 at 7:40 pm ET, with coverage on FS1 and PRN.
The green flag for the race drops Sunday, March 3 at 3:30 pm ET< with coverage on Fox and PRN.