The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this week. NASCAR will be back to their normal three practice sessions schedule for the weekend. There was one practice Friday and two practices Saturday. There was also a test session at this track in January so the teams will have plenty of team to get their cars setup for the race.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Phoenix…
The weather for final practice was cloudy and 72 degrees. The forecast for the race Sunday is partly cloudy and 80 degrees. The track should be hotter and slicker in the race Sunday. So the cars that were too loose in practice may be really loose in the race.
Each team will receive 4 sets of tires for the three practice sessions and one set for qualifying and to start the race. This is the same tire compound that was run in both races at Phoenix last year. The Xfinity Series and MENCS will use the same tire, so the four drivers competing in both races should have an advantage (Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Ty Dillon).
Kevin Harvick and Matt Dibenedetto had to serve 15 minute penalties in final practice for failing inspection.
Chase Elliott: Phoenix ranks as the 2nd-best track for Elliott. He led 106 laps in this race last year and finished 2nd in November. Elliott made his first run in Saturday mornings practice and said, “It is pretty close to what we had last year.” Elliott had one of the most dominating cars in November at Phoenix. After his last run in practice Elliott said, “Probably the best car I have ever been in. I think we nailed it.”
Jimmie Johnson: The No. 48 team is in quite the slump right row. Last week was the first race Johnson did not crash his car. His average finishing position in the last 2 seasons at Phoenix is 24th. Johnson qualified 17th mostly because he had to serve a penalty in Friday’s practice. He really liked the way the car drove in race trim. Johnson said, “I think it is top 10 now. We need a little more forward bite to get top 5 and a little more throttle to win.” Chad worked some more on the car.
Alex Bowman: Bowman had the best race of his career at Phoenix while filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016. He won the pole, led 194 laps and finished 6th. Bowman is driving the same car he drove in the 2016 race. After a long run Bowman said, “It cuts through the center really well. Need a little help off throttle in turn 4.” He made another long run and said, “Free in and tight in the center.” The team was not off by much. They were just trying to make the balance perfect.
William Byron: Phoenix ranked as the 2nd-best track for Byron in the Xfinity Series. He won the pole and finished 4th last March and he qualified 2nd and won the Xfinity Series race last November. Byron made some long runs and told his crew chief, “I really like to run the top of the track here but I need to be a little freer in order to do that.” They brought him in to free him up. Byron was telling his team the car was, “A little too free on exit.” But he was 10th fastest at the time. The made some more adjustments and Byron said, “Nailed it! Good job!”
Kyle Larson: Larson has the 3rd-best average running position in the last 3 races at Phoenix. He would likely have 3 straight top 4 finishes if his engine did not expire last November. Larson had the fastest speed in the first practice and qualified 2nd for the race. The team worked to give Larson a good car on the long runs and it seemed to be working. He was one of the fastest on the long runs. The team was fighting wheel hop and Larson seemed very concerned about it. His lap times were very fast though.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray will be doing something this week which he does not do much… McMurray will compete in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. The extra seat time should help him on Sunday. McMurray qualified in the top 10 but ran inside the top 10 in final practice. McMurray could be a good sleeper pick this week.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick has been the most dominating driver in NASCAR this season. He has led 395 laps in the last two races. Now he competes at his best track. A lot of people think the rear window was the secret to their success. I highly doubt that. Harvick made a lot of long runs in practice. After his third long run Rodney Childress asked him, “So what do you think?” Harvick responded, “I really cannot think of anything to complain about. I think we are about where we need to be.” Harvick knows what a winning car at Phoenix feels like. Harvick had the fastest car in both practices Saturday and was fastest on the 10-lap, 15-lap and 20-lap speed charts.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer was not happy with his car. It was too looseall through the corner. He made some short runs and ran right inside the top 20. They needed more work on the 14 car. Bowyer was sliding the car all over the track.
Kurt Busch: Busch has run well at Phoenix since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He just needs a little luck to go his way. Busch was slow in qualifying. He said the car had no grip. He starts 23rd Sunday. It did not look like they found much speed because Busch ran outside the top 20 for most of the practice session.
Aric Almirola: Almirola has really brought the No. 10 car to life this season. His worst finish this year is 13th. Once again Almirola was the 2nd best Stewart-Haas Racing car. He was nowhere near as fast as Kevin Harvick but he was a lot faster than Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch. Almirola ran right inside the top 10 in the practice sessions. He was fairly happy with his car.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has been hit or miss at Phoenix. He will get some extra seat time this weekend since he will be competing in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. That should help him in the race Sunday. He qualified 25th so he is a lock for all games which award position differential points. Keselowski was happy with his car in race trim. He was 4th fastest after his third long run.
Joey Logano: Logano won at Phoenix in 2016. He is the only driver to finish all of the races in the top 10 this year. Logano really liked his car. He made a lot of long runs and worked on his pit road speed. Logano said, “It rolls through the corners really well. It is good getting into the corners, but I could use a little extra throttle on the exit.”
Ryan Blaney: Blaney spent the morning practice making some short runs to try and dial in the car. The car was too loose getting in and out of the corners. He did make some long runs in final practice and ran right outside the top 20.
Paul Menard: Phoenix ranks as the 15th-best track for Menard. His average finishing position is 21st. I expect Menard to have his best career performance at Phoenix this week. The word in the garage is that Menard is like a new driver now that he is with the Wood Brothers. He really liked his car. Menard said, “The grip is good. I have a little more brake in it then I should, but overall it is good.”
Kyle Busch: Busch has a series-high driver ranking and series-best average finishing position in the last 4 races at Phoenix. Busch is always at his best when he competes in the Xfinity Series race on Saturday. Busch will be competing in both races this week. Kyle made a lot of long runs and worked on his pit road speed. He told Adam Stevens, “Well….it is pretty good. I think I can beat 39 of the cars out here. I still need a little more to beat that No. 4 car.” Busch went out on the track and followed Harvick for 10 laps. Harvick was not able to run away from him.
Erik Jones: Jones has the 2nd-best average finishing position and the 5th-best driver ranking in the last two races at Phoenix. The No. 20 car had power-steering problems in the morning practice but they found the problem and fixed it. Jones made a lot of long runs in both practice sessions. The team started with the same setup which Matt Kenseth used to win the race last year. Jones was 9th fastest. They made some changes to suite Jone’s driving style better and he moved to 6th fastest.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin was on his way to winning the race at Phoenix last November before Chase Elliott sent him into the wall. I doubt there will be payback this week. Hamlin made a lot of long runs and he said, “We are close. Real close. The exit of four could be a little snugger, but it cuts the center the way I like it.”
Daniel Suarez: Suerez finished 7th in this race last year. It was his first ever top-10 finish in the MENCS. Suarez made a lot of short runs in practice. That usually means the team is not happy with the car. Suarez was 27th fastest for most of the practice session.
Martin Truex Jr.: Phoenix ranks as the 17-best track for Truex Jr. He only has one top-10 finish since 2015. Truex won the pole but he was the only driver to take the shortcut through the dogleg. That made his qualifying time faster than it actually was. Truex made a lot a short runs in the morning practice to help dial in the car for the final practice. Truex said, “It turns well but loose on the throttle.”
Ryan Newman: Newman won this race last year by saving fuel. Phoenix ranks as his 18th-best track so do not get too excited. He was pretty happy with his car. Newman made a lot of long runs and said, “The balance is not bad, just needs to run the bottom a little better.” Newman ran in the top 10 in most of the practice sessions.
Austin Dillon: Dillon made some long runs in practice Saturday. He said, “Loose in the middle of turns 3 and 4. That is where I need the most help.” The team brought him in and he said, “It turns a lot better.” The team made a lot of gains with the car. Dillon told the team, “This is the best handling car we ever had here.”
Ty Dillon: Dillon has not been very good this year. His best finish in 24th. Dillon will be in the No. 3 car in the Xfinity Series race this week so maybe that will help him. Dillon was fighting a loose race car all weekend. He was a candidate as a break out driver in 2018 but so far he is a lot worse than he was in 2017. His practice times were outside the top 30.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne has been really sick with the flue this weekend. He had to get fluids before practices. Kahne has run around the 20th position with his new team this year. He finished 19th and 20th in the two races at Phoenix last year. The No. 95 team used one set of tires in Friday practice and two sets in Saturday morning practice. They were on scuffs for most of the final practice so his practice times may be a little faster than his posted time. Kahne said, “It is on the splitter getting into the turn. Really good forward driver and rolls through the corners really well.”
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger has been horrible at Phoenix. He has not finished inside the top 17 at the track since the track has been reconfigured. “Do whatever you can not to hurt the platform of the car. That’s what the car is supposed to feel like around here.” Not sure what he means here. At the end of final practice Allmendinger said, “Not even close. It is going to be a long ***** day tomorrow.” They made the car a little better at the end of practice and Allmendinger moved to 19th on the speed chart.
Chris Buescher: Buescher has an average finishing position of 31st in his 4 races at Phoenix. “The car is a lot more consistent from where we have been here in the past,” Buescher tells his team. The car was loose but drivable. They made some changes and Buescher said, “It is nearly perfect in 1 and 2 but too loose in 3 and 4.” They brought him in for more adjustments.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace was not very good at Phoenix in the Xfinity Series and I doubt he will be very much better this week. His average finishing position in the Xfinity Series is 15th. Bubba made some short runs in morning practice and he said, “It has absolutely no grip. Especially on the front. No front grip. It is sliding all over the track.”
Trevor Bayne: Phoenix ranks as the 22nd-best track for Bayne. His average finishing position in his 7 races at the track is 30th. Bayne was consistently slow in practice. He ran outside the top 25 in all practices. This team needs to find some speed.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse ran well at Phoenix last year. He finished 4th in March and 8th in November. Stenhouse pounded the wall in Friday’s practice. They will go to a backup car and start in the back Sunday (Scored from the 29th position). His backup car was not very fast. Stenhouse was tight in the corners and ran outside the top 20.
David Ragan: Ragan has finished his last 3 races at Phoenix outside the top 30. Ragan was fairly happy with his car. He said, “It is a little tight on exit of 2 and 4 but this is the most grip I have ever had here.”
Michael McDowell: McDowell is from Phoenix and he usually runs decent at his home track. He finished 22nd and 24th last year. I expect about the same from him Sunday. McDowell made a long run and said, “Free into the corner and free on exit.” They brought him in to try and tighten it up. On his last run McDowell said, “We finally hit on something. I think this will work.” He starts 31st and ran 21st in final practice.
Matt Dibenedetto: Dibenedetto was complaining, “The splitter feels way too high in the air. I need the front to get into the track more. It is just way too loose.” They made some changes and the car was still way too loose.
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson
Good Sleeper Picks: Erik Jones, Alex Bowman, Jamie McMurray, William Byron, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman and Aric Almirola
Click here for Friday Practice Speeds
Click here for Saturday Morning Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
20 Lap Average Speeds
- Kevin Harvick 271.12
- Chase Elliott 27.15
- Jimmie Johnson 27.18
- Erik Jones 27.19
- Denny Hamlin 27.24
- Kyle Busch 27.26
- Austin Dillon27.34
- Daniel Suarez 27.34
- Jamie McMurray 27.26
- Aric Almirola 27.28
- Brad Keselowski 27.32
- Alex Bowman 27.36
- Clint Bowyer 27.38
- Ryan Newman 27.38
- Paul Menard 27.41
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