By: Ashley McCubbin
The first intermediate bout of the season came down to a lot of factors, from tire strategy, to escaping incidents, to knowing what line to play at the right time at Auto Club Speedway. It will be a bit of the same story for the Alsco Uniforms 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with a couple teams ready to play their hand if you look at past seasons.
The team led by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt saw their four drivers make it to the front of the field at Auto Club Speedway, despite each finding their own troubles throughout the event. They should be able to repeat the same fortune in Las Vegas, considering they have won two of the last three events.
Josh Berry was the winner on both of those occasions, adding a fourth and seventh in his pair of other appearances, giving him the best average finish of active drivers at 3.3. Considering he was able to challenge for the win at Auto Club despite mid-race contact, you have to put him into your short list of contenders.
Justin Allgaier should be right there, though, having scored five top-10’s in his last seven Vegas appearances, including top-five’s in the last three. Brandon Jones, meanwhile, picked up six top-10’s in his last seven appearances. While he may still be adjusting to JR Motorsports, if chemistry can be found, it may equal some magic.
Sam Mayer, meanwhile, could be your darkhorse as he solidly put himself inside the top-five at Auto Club Speedway while his teammates battled for the spotlight. While his first two appearances at Vegas saw him place outside the top-20, he was seventh last fall.
Joe Gibbs Racing
The one event that wasn’t won by JR Motorsports in the last three races? That honor went to Ty Gibbs and Joe Gibbs Racing. Although not entered into the event, you cannot count out the team – considering the performance put together at Auto Club Speedway.
John Hunter Nemechek dominated, putting together the fastest car throughout the event, en route to a dominating performance for his first win of 2023. While he was unable to score a top-10 last season with Sam Hunt Racing at Vegas, he placed second and eighth in 2019 with GMS Racing.
Sammy Smith joined him up front throughout the event in Fontana, California until a late-race spin took him out of contention. Depending how quickly he can adapt to the intermediate will dictate whether success is on the horizon.
If you go back to 2021, it was A.J. Allmendinger and Kaulig Racing scoring the victory, and we know they are going to trophy hunting this year. It is why they have brought Kyle Busch out of series retirement to pilot their No. 10 Chevrolet, and you cannot ever count out the hometown hero. After all, he has two wins, two runner-ups, a seventh, and 14th in his last six Xfinity Series races at Las Vegas.
The team also proved they had speed, as evident by Chandler Smith’s fourth at Auto Club Speedway.
Richard Childress Racing
A victory at Daytona International Speedway, followed by a sixth at Auto Club Speedway have Austin Hill leading the standings heading into the weekend, and we know momentum on the team’s side with Kyle Busch’s Cup Series victory. It has not been smooth sailing for him in Sin City, as evident by a single top-10 (sixth) in three races.
Sheldon Creed may be on the highlight reel for his epic save in Fontana, but placing seventh and a crash last year in Vegas does not keep the hopes as high as you’d want.
Stewart-Haas Racing proved they had a handle on Las Vegas, with Chase Briscoe sweeping the races in 2020. They also enter the weekend with Riley Herbst and Cole Custer ranked fifth and sixth in the series standings.
Custer contended for the win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, until a flat tire and contact from Austin Dillon took him out of contention. If it wasn’t for that, most people argue he would have been right there with Nemechek in the final laps. The speed is there at Vegas, as evident by three poles in four starts, and has been backed up with no finishes worse than ninth including a pair of top-five’s.
Herbst, meanwhile, has still not caught any big radar as he is the picture of consistency, but has not been in the thick of conversation for victories. It is also worth noting he has failed to score a top-five in his last five Vegas appearances.
Categories: Commentary, Feature, NASCAR Xfinity Series
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