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February 29, 2024

Las Vegas Turning Point: Atlanta fallout, trending story lines, news, more


Joey Logano and William Byron pace the field at Las Vegas.
Meg Oliphant
Getty Images

Here’s what’s happening in the world of NASCAR with Atlanta Motor Speedway in the rearview mirror and the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway right around the corner.

THE LINEUP ️

1️⃣ Will Daniel Suárez ride the momentum from Atlanta into Las Vegas?

2️⃣ Will Ford or Toyota put an end to Chevrolet’s early dominance?

3️⃣ Significance of roof rails and the Stewart-Haas confiscation

4️⃣ Only two races in — but who is in trouble already?

5️⃣ Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

Daniel Suárez celebrates his Atlanta win in Victory Lane.
Todd Kirkland | Getty Images

1. Will Daniel Suárez ride the momentum from Atlanta into Las Vegas?

With “hot seat” conversations swirling, Suárez’s early trip to Victory Lane provides window into what could be a strong regular season.

The difference between Atlanta winner Daniel Suárez finishing first or third was a matter of 0.007 seconds — the tightest margin between three cars in NASCAR Cup Series history, according to Racing Insights. But those milliseconds could be the difference of a career path for the driver of Trackhouse Racing’s No. 99 Chevrolet.

Suárez, the 2016 Xfinity Series champion, now has the chance to build an incredible regular season after earning a treasured spot in the playoffs just two races into the year. Locking that up before the calendar turns to March provides Suárez and new crew chief Matt Swiderski the opportunity to take more gambles — both in setups and race strategy.

The next steps of that journey will be taken this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the first track of the 2024 schedule that won’t feature drafting in a pack and may provide better insight on what the year will truly have in store for the field. The bumpy 1.5-mile tri-oval in Nevada hasn’t been great for Suárez historically, a track where he’s nabbed just two top 10s in 13 starts. He led 31 laps in the 2022 playoff race there but only finished 16th, following that up in 2023 with results of 10th in March and 15th in October.

But a win in Suárez’s pocket could open the door for bigger risks in hopes of bigger rewards — without facing the penalty of missing the postseason. Trackhouse Racing’s dilemma — and therefore Suárez’s — is that there are four drivers signed to the quickly-rising team with only two charters in team owner Justin Marks’ hands. Suárez’s teammate Ross Chastain has won four races across each of the past two seasons to Suárez’s two, and Zane Smith is already at the Cup level under a Trackhouse contract while racing the No. 71 Chevrolet at Spire Motorsports. Shane van Gisbergen made the leap from elite Supercars racer to rising NASCAR star after winning his Cup debut at the inaugural Chicago Street Race in 2023 and now has a full-time ride in the Xfinity Series, contracted with Trackhouse while competing for Kaulig Racing — with eyes on a full-time Cup ride whenever that door opens.

A thrilling and popular victory at Atlanta may be all Suárez needed to quell those concerns surrounding his future, even if he “never felt like (he) was on the hot seat.” But improved performance through the rest of 2024 could prove pivotal after just nine top fives from 2022-23 compared to Chastain’s 25.

It all starts Sunday in Sin City.

Austin Cindric in a Ford and Denny Hamlin in a Toyota lead the field in a NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta.
Alex Slitz | Getty Images

2. Will Ford or Toyota put an end to Chevrolet’s dominance?

Two races, two wins for Chevy. But Ford and Toyota bring new hope into the Las Vegas desert.

Chevrolet’s early-season stranglehold on the competition isn’t only limited to the NASCAR Cup Series. Through six national series regular-season events including the Xfinity Series and Craftsman Truck Series, the bowties are undefeated.

But the other two manufacturers in NASCAR might have a bigger say Sunday at Las Vegas. Ford’s new Dark Horse Mustang and Toyota’s fresh Camry XSE have had their own flashes of brilliance through this season’s infancy — and we may not have seen all their potential capabilities yet either.

Fords have swept the front row in qualifying each of the last two weeks with Joey Logano and Michael McDowell taking turns as Cup Series polesitters in 2024. Toyotas swept the Bluegreen Vacations Duels qualifying dashes at Daytona with Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell just 12 days after Denny Hamlin celebrated a victory in the exhibition Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 3.

Las Vegas will be a beast of its own, one that likely tells us more than what Los Angeles, Daytona or Atlanta could offer. But that’s not to say Chevrolet should suddenly cower in the corner. Hendrick Motorsports has won each of the last three spring races at Las Vegas with three different drivers — Kyle Larson in 2021 (in the Gen 6 Camaro), Alex Bowman in 2022 and William Byron in 2023. For what it’s worth, Chase Elliott would love to break his winless streak and add to Hendrick’s full house.

But the Chevrolets also have the advantage of bringing a known product to the race track with relevant notes to inform decisions. Ford and Toyota, meanwhile, will head to Vegas relying solely on simulation data and hopes their reconfigured calculations prove correct.

Noah Gragson drives the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford at Atlanta.
Todd Kirkland | Getty Images

3. Inside the Race: Significance of roof rails and the Stewart-Haas Atlanta confiscation

The Nos. 10 and 41 Stewart-Haas Racing teams were docked 35 driver and owner points Tuesday for infractions. Why do roof rails matter? Steve Letarte and Todd Gordon explain.

4. Only two races in — but who is in trouble already?

Some big names find themselves well outside the top 25 in points after Daytona and Atlanta. Who can turn their seasons around fastest?

DriversDaytonaAtlantaCurrent points position
Joey Logano32nd28th31st
Tyler Reddick29th30th24th
Brad Keselowski33rd33rd34th
Josh Berry25th29th29th
Todd Gilliland35th26th30th
Austin Dillon37th22nd33rd

5. Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

Power Rankings: Daniel Suárez makes a statement but what comes next?

Paint Scheme Preview: See the schemes for Las Vegas tripleheader

Analysis: Race of a lifetime at Atlanta dazzles with historic finish

NASCAR Classics: Races to watch following exciting photo finish

Kyle Petty: Suárez’s photo finish will replace Lee Petty’s as mile marker for sport

@nascarcasm: Fake texts to Atlanta winner Daniel Suárez

Austin Hill saves just enough gas, steals Xfinity Series win at Atlanta

Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch just short in slim, three-wide finish at Atlanta

Social media reacts to Atlanta finish: ‘What a race!’

The NASCAR Cup Series races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Chris Graythen | Getty Images
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