Who… should you be talking about after the race?
The South Point 400 looked like Ross Chastain’s race to lose at several points during the day, but a cluster of late restarts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway put him in third for the final restart and set up a battle for the win between the NASCAR Cup Series’ two most aggressive drivers.
But it was Joey Logano who fired the last shot, running down Chastain with fewer than 10 laps remaining. Logano shaved Chastain’s lead from over a second, passing the No. 1 with three laps to go to take the win and take his place in the title race in three weeks.
— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) October 16, 2022
Chastain didn’t make it easy, throwing hard block after hard block, but lapped traffic allowed Logano to get alongside Chastain. From there, the No. 22 made the winning pass and pulled away before Chastain could make a last-ditch run. Despite the drivers’ reputations, there were no on-track fireworks, but both put their tenacity on full display in a hard, clean race for the win.
And don’t forget Chase Briscoe. Briscoe was among the first four drivers to be eliminated on a lot of playoff brackets. But Briscoe, who won his way into the postseason at Phoenix Raceway last spring only to have a fairly mediocre regular season, avoided trouble and thus avoided first-round elimination. After making it past the second cut too, he recovered from early struggles that saw him among the back half of the field to contend for the win, leading six laps before fading to fourth on the final run.
Briscoe and his team took a Vegas gamble on track position amid the late mayhem that struck some drivers, and that paid off handsomely with a fourth-place finish. Briscoe is still nine points below the cut line with two races before the final elimination, but suddenly the championship race looks a lot more realistic for the second-year driver. And remember where that win came this spring?
What… is the buzz about?
It was racecar 2, drivers 0 heading into Las Vegas. Earlier this week, Alex Bowman announced that he’ll be out for at least another two weeks after following a concussion suffered at Texas Motor Speedway last month. That means, at minimum, five weeks out of the seat for Bowman.
Overshadowing almost everything else this week, though, was Kurt Busch’s announcement that he’ll miss at least most, if not all of 2023 due to the concussion he suffered at Pocono. That should underscore the severity of the crashes in this car as things stand. A champion driver who will not have the opportunity to leave the sport on his own terms because of an injury that should have been mitigated, not exacerbated, by the car’s design.
Busch choked back tears as he admitted he couldn’t be sure if he’d recover enough to race a few events next year, let alone make another title run. It wasn’t a retirement announcement, exactly, but the chances of Busch, 44, returning to full-time duty after missing over a year, are slim. He’ll be an excellent television analyst should he choose that path, but the choice came too soon.
It’s not the goodbye his fans deserve and certainly, Busch himself deserved better. He reinvented himself half a dozen times over the course of his career as he went from an overly brash young driver to damaged goods after several on- and off-track incidents, to a respected veteran. What he can’t reinvent is the passing of years and the injury that took some of those years away.
See you down the road, Kurt.
Where… did the other key players wind up?
Pole winner Tyler Reddick had a fast car on a short run. Unfortunately for Reddick, the race didn’t fit his needs, with long runs being the theme of the day. He led 32 of the first 33 laps right off the bat and made gains on restarts, but as the laps ground on, he faded. There were plenty of late restarts, but these proved to be chaotic enough that Reddick couldn’t make up the ground he hoped, getting squeezed on the final restart. Reddick finished eighth amid the news that he’ll take over Kurt Busch’s seat in 2023.
Defending fall winner Denny Hamlin had one of those days where he flew below the radar for much of the race, running in the top five and top 10, but not making a bid for the win. Despite not having a winning car, Hamlin rang up a top five and given the ever-changing championship picture, that’s a good number to sit on, leaving Las Vegas with two races to go.
Cup champion Kyle Larson loves Las Vegas but the love affair was cut short on Sunday. Larson pinched Bubba Wallace into the wall on lap 95, an overly aggressive but more or less clean move. Wallace responded by driving down into the right rear corner of Larson’s No. 5, ending both drivers’ day early.
The real loser in the Larson-Wallace spat was last week’s winner, Christopher Bell. Bell narrowly escaped playoff elimination last weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, winning his way out a hole too deep to get out of any other way. Now, Bell finds himself in the exact same situation after finishing 34th Sunday. He got clipped in the on-track incident, and there was too much damage to the No. 20 to repair.
Speaking of under the radar, active Las Vegas win leader Brad Keselowski was certainly under it. Keselowski ran midpack for much of the day and hung steady there in the late-lap craziness. Keselowski finished a bland 17th, and it’s easy to write off his season that way as well, but it’s not the truth.
RFK Racing had fallen a long way from its earlier days as a five-car elite team when Keselowski bought in, and he’s been slowly and methodically turning the team around. It has a win in 2022 courtesy Chris Buescher, who was also the last driver to win the team a title as the 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and has had some strong runs. You can’t turn a faltering team around overnight, and Keselowski deserves credit for what he’s done so far.
When… was the moment of truth?
It’s easy to look at Kyle Busch as a lame duck and nothing more. Now in his final weeks with Joe Gibbs Racing, the team doesn’t have a lot of reason to concentrate on the 2015 and 2019 Cup champion with two drivers still in the playoffs and one winless in 2022. Busch is probably a bit of an afterthought these days and is likely now excluded from a lot of technical discussion that has anything to do with aspects of the car proprietary to Toyota or JGR.
But that doesn’t mean Busch is going to lie down, even for his JGR teammates. He’d love nothing more than a win to put an exclamation point on his tenure. Busch spun through the infield grass early in the race, but at the end, he inserted himself in the picture.
Busch worked his way back into the top 10, and the late restarts played right into his hands. He charged his way to a third-place finish, the best among the non-playoff crowd. You might not have seen him coming, but he made damn sure everyone knew he was there.
Why… should you be paying attention this week?
The Cup Series makes its annual visit to Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday. The track has been one of the racier intermediates, and playoff drama aside, it could be that the Next Gen and the track are a perfect match. The car has been decent to very good on the intermediates this year, so Homestead will be yet another test and yet another opportunity for another winner as it’s the first time they’ll race there in this car.
For the playoff crowd, it’s not only a test but for those below the cut, the chances to make the title race are dwindling. There will be a number of agendas, and that should make for a good race.
Also, just when it seemed like Silly Season was grinding to a conclusion, there’s more to watch on that front.
Gene Haas on grid said he wants Cole Custer to return to 41 next yr but Tony Stewart wants to give Ryan Preece a shot so TBD for 2023 … Haas also said Kevin Harvick has indicated he won't return after 2023 (his deal up) but Haas trying to convince him to do an extension.
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) October 16, 2022
Ryan Preece deserves a full-time shot in a good car. He’s not a NASCAR champion for nothing, and Custer hasn’t shown much beyond his lone win at Kentucky Speedway in his rookie season. The change could be good for team and at least one driver.
As for Harvick, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him announce that 2023 will be his last full-time title chase in the Cup Series. At 46, he’s shown he can still win, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him go out while still at the top of his game. He saw Jimmie Johnson struggle in his final years and now he’s seen another veteran’s career ended by injury instead of choice. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him walk away a year from now.
How… far will NASCAR let the “boys, have at it” attitude go?
Will NASCAR penalize Wallace for a blatantly intentional move? It’s possible but its response to other incidents indicates that if anything, it’ll be a fine and move on.
In Wallace’s case, he also pushed a NASCAR official and it might behoove the sanctioning body to require anger management sessions for Wallace, a driver who has let his emotions get the better of him on occasion. In fact, it’s not a bad idea moving forward as standard for all drivers in similar situations.
Considering the safety issues with the Next Gen that won’t be fully addressed until 2023 and that Wallace’s teammate had his career ended by a crash in this car, drivers can’t afford to cause more crashes. NASCAR should be taking a hard line before it gets even more ridiculous than it’s been this year.
The other part of the problem is that the appeals board set a precedent by rescinding the only meaningful part of William Byron’s penalty for intentionally wrecking Hamlin under caution at Texas. That was, in recent memory, punishable not just by a relatively small point fine but by a full suspension. That’s what should have happened in the first place with Byron.
This racecar is already in the spotlight for its safety (or lack thereof). NASCAR can’t afford to let drivers play with safety any further.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.