|The Las Vegas test matters, a bunch.|
If you thought the randomness of plate racing between the four races at Daytona and Talladega was like throwing darts or shooting craps when attempting to pick a winner, wait until we get a look at these cars during Friday and Saturday's 80-minute practice sessions. There's going to be lots of pack racing in the same way we saw Sunday, which is good.
After whining for two weeks about the Ford dominance during Speedweeks and the lack of passing, Sunday's race showed me the racing was much different with 40 cars on the tracks rather than 20 in the Clash or Duels. I enjoyed it, and now plates are gone, or kind of.
I saw several driver comments and the speeds from the Las Vegas test session three weeks ago with this new package and came away with the notion that the huge edge elite teams had has been erased. The lower level teams may get closer to teams like Penske, Stewart Haas Racing and JGR.
Another team that is expected to get back to elite status this season is Hendrick Motorsports, particularly Jimmie Johnson, who went winless for the first time in his career last season.
“Leaving Daytona, we all certainly have a little spark of energy," said Johnson won the Clash two weeks ago. "To be able to recover from the wrecks we were involved in and be there at the end is certainly a great start. This weekend in Atlanta is a completely different deal as we roll out the 2019 rules package. In my eyes, the cars are going to be faster and we are all going to be closer together, there will be more passing, and there is going to be a lot of excitement with the 2019 package. I was able to test Las Vegas and we had some drafting sessions."
Johnson was fastest in one of the test sessions at 178.885 mph which is about 10 mph slower than the pole winner at Las Vegas last fall. He's a five-time winner at Atlanta (last time in 2016) and has 14 top-five finishes which are both the most among active drivers. In 27 starts he's had an 11th-place average finish. He's 25-to-1 to win at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook which should be attractive for all NASCAR bettors considering the new package, his performance in testing, a new sponsor, and a new crew chief.
Las Vegas and Atlanta are 1.5-mile high banked sister tracks and while both tracks race differently, the Las Vegas test, where each team sent one driver as a representative to take notes, is a good barometer to how they'll run Sunday.
One of the biggest surprises from three Vegas test sessions over two days was Austin Dillon,who was second-fastest in the final two sessions and fourth fastest in the first one.
“We had a successful test," said Dillon. "I enjoyed being out there and I felt like we had some good speed. I’m looking forward to getting to Atlanta Motor Speedway to see how that race is, and then Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be the next part of the rules package. I’m pumped. I think it’s going to be interesting for sure.”
The most interesting part is that the Superbook has Dillon 50-to-1 to win Sunday. Sure, he's never had a top-10 in six Atlanta starts, but I've also never seen the No. 3 with Dillon being among the elite during practices on any 1.5-mile track. Richard Childress Racing might be in the mix weekly again which would be amazing for the sport.
Without having any kind of data other than the Vegas test, I think we all have to throw our normal betting procedures away and learn on the go and listen intently to what these drivers and crew chiefs are saying.
READ MORE HERE....TOP-5 FINISH PREDICTION ON VEGASINSIDER.COM