By Cole Cusumano
For casual viewers, it can be tough keeping up with the headlines throughout the week for all of NASCAR’s National Series. With that in mind, a new weekly column titled “What’s Trending” will serve as a compilation of just that; what are the major newsworthy storylines heading into each race? Who’s hot? Who’s cold? What’s everyone talking about on social media? You can expect all of this and more throughout the season beginning with Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Kicking off the month of March, drivers dare to risk it all in Sin City. The 1.5-mile track will host spectators at 15-percent capacity, and while safety protocols will make for an unconventional experience, there will be a sense of normalcy as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform a flyover before the Pennzoil 400 on Sunday — a beloved tradition that’s been absent from many race days since the pandemic.
NASCAR Cup Series
Last Spring, the premier series put on a great show in which Joey Logano picked up his first victory of 2020. Similarly to the recent Dixie Vodka 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway, competitive racing, comers-and-goers, in addition to pit strategy made it a highly entertaining event.
While the results won’t reflect it, Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports dominated the top-10 throughout the day and both organizations led a total of 143 laps. However, it was Kevin Harvick who led the most laps (92) and he’ll take the green flag from the pole on Sunday. Alongside him will be last week’s winner William Byron.
Harvick could be poised for a big day, as he’s one of only two drivers to score a top-10 in all three races this season — the other being Michael McDowell. It could also be wise to play the hot hand in Byron. Aside from dominating the second half in Miami, the 23-year-old led laps in the Fall race at Vegas and his new crew chief Rudy Fugle scored a win at the 1.5-mile track in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with Kyle Busch in 2019.
Someone who’s flown under the radar the last two weeks is none other than Las Vegas native Kurt Busch. At the Daytona International Speedway road course, he lost control of his No. 1 while leading in the final stage and rebounded to fourth. Last week in Miami, he pitted for a vibration with about 30 laps remaining and was able to finish inside the top-10 without any help from cautions. Oh, and he won the most recent race at his home track in the playoffs.
Starting seventh with 20-1 odds to win and back-to-back relentless performances, it may not be a huge gamble to pick the elder Busch brother.
Trending on Twitter: Drivers react to Jimmie Johnson’s controversial choice to abandon the boot cut with his IndyCar fire suit.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Myatt Snider finds himself in a familiar position for the Alsco Uniforms 300 — first. The same position he qualified in Vegas last Spring and where he finished last week in Miami for his National Series win. While he won’t have to worry about Chase Briscoe dominating in Sin City again, he’ll have plenty of other competitors to hold off.
Las Vegas native Noah Gragson is still fuming over his late-race incident in Homestead last week that cost him the win. Before taking the white flag, the driver of the No. 9 was ripping the wall when he plowed into the rear of David Starr, after the 23-year veteran blew a tire. Feeling more motivated than ever to get an elusive victory at his home track, it will be easier said than done.
Gragson has failed to finish higher than 28th this season. This isn’t an issue only plaguing the 22-year-old. In fact, JR Motorsports has only scored a total of two top-10s in 2021 and both came from part-time drivers in the No. 8 car — Josh Berry and Miguel Paludo. Between the three full-time teams, Michael Annett has placed the highest with a 13th-place finish at Homestead.
Another driver seeking redemption will be Tyler Reddick. The two-time Xfinity Series Champion had his runner-up finish rescinded last week after failing post-race inspection. He also finished second in the Cup Series race the following day.
With Reddick starting 40th and Gragson 34th, it will be fun watching these two claw their way through an incredibly stacked field.
Trending on Twitter: A bromance blossoms at JRM
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
The Camping World Truck Series will undoubtedly live up to its name in the Bucked Up 200 with ten (10) of the 40 automobiles being dressed by the series’ title sponsor. Businessman and CEO of the recreational vehicle company questioned the Twitter world which teams were without an advertising partner for March 5, and the end result will be a field dominated by blue and yellow come Friday.
Currently a perfect two-for-two on the season, you’d think the competition would fear Ben Rhodes starting from the pole in Vegas. The keyword here is “would.” The reason being, Kyle Busch is making his 2021 Truck Series debut this week.
Busch has won the last three consecutive Truck Series events he entered at his home track. The one silver lining, if any, for the series regulars is that he’ll be starting 29th. While this shouldn’t be a problem, it’s worth noting the two-time Cup Series Champion hasn’t finished outside of the top-10 at Vegas in the tertiary division, but he also never started lower than third in all four events. Regardless, he will be heavily favored (17-23 odds).
For what it’s worth, Austin Hill finished third and won in the Fall last year in Vegas. He also won in Sin City the year prior. This will be his 100th career start and he’ll take the green flag from 31st.
Trending on Twitter: Marcus Lemonis spread his love around the (Camping) World.