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The Freshies - Tire Issues, Larson Dominance, and The Start of the “Real Season” in Sin City

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

By Adam Carabine

Best Mind Games

So far this season, we haven’t seen any dominance quite like what we did this weekend.  Kyle Larson was unstoppable - his win almost felt inevitable.  It wasn’t quite Martin Truex Jr. Coca-Cola 600-level dominance, but it was close. 

You’ve got to wonder if this gets demoralizing to the rest of the field at a certain point, or whether it gets in their heads.  I’m sure none of them would care to admit it, but it must sometimes feel like they can have an absolutely perfect day and still come up short to Larson in the 5.  Talk about mind games.

This was the first time we’ve seen this kind of performance from Larson this season, but it likely won’t be the last.

Best (or Worst?) Second Fiddle

Speaking of being demoralized, Tyler Reddick had a stellar day.  He finished 2nd in both stages, earning 18 extra points, he even challenged for the win late, finishing a respectable P2 overall.  And yet, he wasn’t celebrating at the end.

His post-race interview featured frustrations about how difficult it can be to pass in the Next-Gen car, mistakes on pit road that he had to overcome, etc.  “Same shit, different year,” he said dejectedly, dropping an S-bomb on live television.

It got me wondering, who is the king of the 2nd place finish right now?  Tyler Reddick’s certainly got a case to be made.  

He’s the only current Cup Series regular who has more than double P2 finishes than he has wins.  (5 wins, 11 runner up finishes).  The only other driver with a similar ratio is Ross Chastain (4 wins, 8 runner up finishes), but Reddick really does take the cake.  

It reminds us of the age-old question in racing - would you rather finish dead last with no shot at a win? Or would you rather lose in a photo finish like Atlanta the week before?

The NASCAR points system certainly rewards Tyler Reddick more than it does a Chris Buescher (the lone DNF of the race in Vegas - he finished P37), but which of the two feels better on Monday morning?

Best Anniversary Gift

They say that the traditional gift for a 20th anniversary is either china or platinum (side note - does anyone follow these traditions anymore?), but I imagine that the Drive For Diversity Program is happy with what they’re getting.  

Drive For Diversity, or D4D as it’s often shortened, is a program that NASCAR started in 2004 to attract more minority and female drivers, crew members, owners, sponsors, etc. to the sport.  NASCAR has been a traditionally white, male-driven sport, an image they are trying to shed, in an effort to be welcoming to everyone.  

Through the first nine races of the NASCAR season (if you count Trucks, Xfinity & Cup), graduates of the D4D program have been making waves. Graduates of the program have won four of these races.  Nick Sanchez and Rajah Caruth in the Craftsman Truck Series, and Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson in Cup.

This. Is. Important.  And also historic.

The growth of this sport is dependent upon developing new young talent from all walks of life, and the key to that is representation.  Young people want to see athletes that look like them on TV.

Best Follow Up

Last week in The Freshies, I talked about the potential pressure on Vegas to put on a good show this weekend.  Still trying to carry on the momentum of “The Netflix Effect,” the schedule was tweaked for 2024 to have two SuperSpeedways in a row.  As far as viewership, that gamble seems to have paid off.

However, the “Real Season” had to begin somewhere, and that pressure fell on Las Vegas, and to be honest, early returns look good.  Jeff Gluck’s Good-Race-Poll is looking to finish with around 77-78% approval. 

Vegas was our first opportunity to see the intermediate rules package - the package which has the most prevalence in the NASCAR calendar.  You can luck your way into a win at Daytona or Atlanta, but it takes a good car to win on an intermediate track.  

The longevity of “The Netflix Effect” will be put to the test again this upcoming weekend in Phoenix - traditionally not always the most exciting track - but I suppose by then we’re hoping that these new casual fans will have bought in.

Best Stats

Most statistical categories were (understandably) led by Kyle Larson.  He led the most laps, he earned the most stage points, etc. However, there are a couple of interesting other numbers to look at.

Chase Elliott had the most Quality Passes (green flag passes within the Top 15) with 93, despite not really being a huge factor in the race.  It goes to show that numbers don’t always tell the full story.

Perhaps less surprising, Ty Gibbs had the highest pass differential (+33), helped mostly by his ability to make his way back to the Top 5 after an uncontrolled tire penalty earlier.  While he still feels like a rookie in many ways, he’s showing he belongs in the Cup Series.  He’s tied for the second best average finish through three races.  (10.67 - tied with Ross Chastain)

Most Tiring Issue

Okay, bad pun aside, it was a weird day for tires.  

Chris Buescher fell victim to the ol’ loose lugnut trick, resulting in his tire flying off, him very quickly hitting the wall, and two of his crew members sent on an extended 2-week vacation.  Rookie move, #17 crew, save your loose lugnuts for the middle of the season, it’s much too early for vacation!

Some aggressive tire pressures likely contributed to an early caution for Christopher Bell, when his tire came apart after just 10 laps.  There’s definitely a line, and Bell & Co crossed it there.

As mentioned above, Ty Gibbs had an uncontrolled tire penalty after his pit crew lost one of the wheels and it floated out into the middle of the lane in pit road.  I wonder what Gibbs would have had for Larson had he not had to start at the rear.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bubba Wallace’s #23 had what was essentially a tire that was “too controlled.”  They couldn’t get the lugnut off of the wheel, and eventually had to cut it off.  Unfortunately this ended Bubba’s streak of P5s to start the season, as the extra time on pit road cost him multiple laps.  

Highest Pressure

If you think your job is stressful, imagine being the guy who had to do a rush job welding the SAFER Barriers back together after Chris Buescher broke it.  

At first, NASCAR kept the yellow flag out, meaning the laps would continue to tick down as he was welding away.  Sounds stressful.  But then NASCAR decided it might take too long so then they threw the red flag out. 

Now imagine welding (first of all, I don’t even understand this magic of fusing metals together), while a crowd of rabid race fans watches on, knowing that the only way their entertainment resumes is if you finish your work.  Kudos to the guy doing it, the red flag only lasted just over 10 minutes.  I hope he’s on salary and not getting paid by the minute.


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