Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Las Vegas: Why is Everyone in NASCAR so Darn Angry?

What happened?

Joey Logano ran down Ross Chastain and passed him with only three laps to go en route to winning the NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and punching his ticket into the Championship 4 on Oct. 16. Kyle Busch finished third with Chase Briscoe and Denny Hamlin in tow.

The victory marks Logano’s third win at Las Vegas and also will mark his fifth career appearance in the Cup Series Championship 4.

How did it happen?

In a series of late race restarts, the lead shuffled over a number of drivers in the last 60 laps of the race.

At first, a pit call, or lack thereof, by Kaulig Racing put full-time driver Justin Haley in the front of the field. The No. 31 restarted in the lead on lap 230 and was even able to keep it for 15 laps.

Then, it was Round of 8 underdog Briscoe’s turn. The playoff dark horse was able to clear the Kaulig Chevrolet and take the lead after the next restart on lap 246. For a minute, it really appeared that Briscoe may have a legitimate chance at shocking everyone and punching his ticket into the Championship 4 before anyone else.

But another caution dashed those hopes, as Chastain, who had not won a race since Talladega Superspeedway in April, was able to swing to the bottom of the dueling Briscoe and Haley and take the lead.

With a win and a shot at the title in sight, Chastain watched as the field behind him got smaller. He was able to increase his lead to a second over everyone else.

But with 10 laps to go, a yellow smudge in Chastain’s mirror broke away from the rest of them and only got bigger and bigger.

Logano, who was in ninth on the final restart with 16 laps to go, used his fresh tires to his advantage to run down the No. 1 Chevrolet. However, the Team Penske driver would have to wrestle the Trackhouse Racing Team driver for the win.

Chastain stole Logano’s high line and stalled the No. 22’s momentum. Logano lost ground momentarily before diving to the bottom of the Chevrolet and taking the lead with less than three laps to go.

From then on, Logano sailed away to win big in Vegas with the jackpot being a chance at another Cup Series title.

Who stood out?

Although still below the playoff cut line, and despite the circumstances that may or may not have happened to get him there, Briscoe became a little bit less of a championship underdog on Sunday.

The final few laps of the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL race produced a crazy shakeup that found reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson eliminated from the playoffs over a margin of two points.

Barely besting him was Briscoe, who now finds himself in the Round of 8 among some of the biggest names the sport can offer in only his sophomore year of racing in the Cup Series.

A championship order is tall for the No. 14 driver. After all, he’s the only Stewart-Haas Racing driver left to fight for a title and is the only driver out of the eight to have one career win.

Yet, on Sunday, Briscoe may not have shown the speed that those other seven playoff teams did, but he was there when it counted.

Really you can thank crew chief John Klausmeier for that, as the pit box leader opted to stay out rather than pit for that precious track position, and in the end, it was worth it.

See also
After Rough Las Vegas Start, Chase Briscoe Rebounds to Top-5 Finish

Had it not been for the caution on lap 247 with only 20 laps to go, there is a slight chance we could have seen a shock to the racing world. Briscoe, who cleared Haley on the penultimate restart for the lead, had a legitimate chance at earning a clutch win that would have seen him go to Phoenix Raceway with a chance at a championship.

While it didn’t work out in the end, the SHR driver still finished fourth, and in a day that saw many playoff teams stumble, that’s a respectable result. In fact, the No. 14 is now only nine points below the cut line with two races left before the year’s finale.

All it takes is a bad day for a few drivers to close that gap, and if Briscoe has a couple similar days to what he did on Sunday, he’ll be there to pounce.

Is it likely that he’ll make the Championship 4? Maybe not. But if he does make it somehow, could he actually win it all? Likely not, no.

But there’s certainly a chance. After all, that one career win came at Phoenix.

Who fell flat?

Let’s talk about the Bubba Wallace-shaped elephant in the room.

To start, Landon Cassill said it best around a decade ago.

And to think it started off as a great day for the No. 45 team.

Wallace and 23XI Racing were already favorites for some heading into the Las Vegas weekend. It was a return to a 1.5-mile track, which has been successful for the young team in 2022. After sweeping both races at Kansas Speedway this year, the organization continued to impress in the early running of the 400-miler on Sunday too.

The No. 45 driver won stage one and continued to run in the top 10 after leading 29 laps. It was an impressive showing, but shortly after Wallace found himself tangled with the No. 5 of Larson.

And in more ways than one.

First things first. Wallace was justified to be upset about the contact.

 

But the thing about retaliation in racing is it really doesn’t work if you wreck yourself in the process. That’s also not mentioning the fact that Wallace retaliated at speeds of over 160 mph in a race car that has earned a reputation of being unsafe over the last few months.

See also
Tempers Flare as Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson Crash Out in Las Vegas

Then, there’s the high school hallway-like squabble that occurred afterward, which usually isn’t a good look to initiate after you’ve taken both yourself and another driver out of the race that either one of you had a real chance of winning.

And to place the cherry on the playoff sundae, his pseudo-Toyota playoff-contending teammate Christopher Bell was collected in the crash, ending his day and putting him in a 23-point deficit under the cut line heading into Homestead-Miami Speedway next week.

We’ve seen a lot of tempers flare over the course of 2022, and that’s a normal thing for NASCAR. In fact, often times it’s welcomed.

But in the playoffs, it seems like drivers are on the edge now more than ever.

What did this race prove?

Is it just me, or does it seem like nobody is having fun anymore?

It makes sense that the playoffs are a stressful time for many drivers. Some are racing for a championship while others are still trying to end the season on a high note for their teams, whether they’re staying with them or not.

But the incident with Wallace and Larson seemed just a little too much, didn’t it? Like maybe Busch and Ron Hornaday at Texas Motor Speedway in 2011 too much?

Yet it seems almost expected at this point. Before we could say that all of that drama stays on the racetrack. But nowadays, it seems like it’s bleeding over out of the car and onto Twitter or even on the NBC broadcasts.

Or under caution.

It’s not even among only active NASCAR drivers either.

It’s okay to see a thrown punch or two between a couple heated drivers after a race or incident. After all, this sport was built on fights, or rather a fight. However, nobody wants to see drivers be downright miserable while doing what is arguably the coolest job in the world.

This could be the result of a NASCAR writer who was really enjoying the 2022 season up until a couple weeks ago, and maybe it’s something that’s just common to expect with the playoffs and everything will be great again once we get back to Daytona International Speedway in February.

But one thing seems sure. There’s been a drastic tone shift in the sport that was highlighted on Sunday, and it’s not for the better.

Better than last time?

Despite a dark, seemingly angry cloud hovering over Las Vegas on Sunday, the racing was fun to watch.

The 1.5-mile circuits have been nothing short of an improvement over previous years with the exception of Texas. For that we can thank the Next Gen car. Is it still okay to do that?

While Sunday’s race was not as competitive as it was in March, seeing as how it only had 18 lead changes compared to 24 earlier this year, it still had that playoff drama adding some spice to the mix.

Las Vegas has seen some bores for playoff events in the last few years with a car and package that couldn’t pass and required very little skill to operate.

But on Sunday, we saw Logano come from ninth to first in only 16 laps and have a thrilling battle with Chastain in the process to cap it off.

Best race of the year? Hardly, but it does make one excited for Homestead.

Paint scheme of the race

Fill-in driver Noah Gragson got to parade one of the best paint schemes of the year for the No. 48 team at his home track.

In part of the spooky season of October, Gragson got to drive a Danny Count Coker-inspired black paint scheme with pink highlights, bats and lightning bolts.

It’s a similar design to Jeff Burton’s classic Exide Batteries car from a couple decades ago. While that likely isn’t what the inspiration is from, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still an excellent look.

What’s next?

The Cup Series heads to the Sunshine State one more time with a visit to Homestead-Miami Speedway for its annual 400-miler and second race of the playoffs Round of 8. Cup qualifying for the Dixie Vodka 400 begins on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 10:50 a.m. ET with the race televised live on NBC on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Follow @PitLaneLT

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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johndawgchapman

I can’t agree with Larson on this. I think NASCAR has to send a strong message to the entire sport with the way they handle the Wallace deal, & I’m not a Wallace hater.
They were willing to pretty much flush Byron’s entire season over a relatively harmless retaliation under caution speed.
Now they’re faced with a much more dangerous, high speed act of vengeance that all but trashed the 20 team’s season, as well as taking out both cars directly involved.
This could of easily created the same kind of injury that has 3 drivers sidelined now.
This can’t be papered over with a hand slap, & have the officiating retain any shred of credibility.

janice

i must have different race on my tv. i didn’t see larsen get into wallace, maybe he took the air off the car, but when they were racing on the track i didn’t see any contact.

nascar needs to do something as hitting a competitor with your car is downright unsafe and wrong. but of course, i’ll be surprised if they do because of who the offending driver is. i can already see tony stewart boiling if no penalty is issued by nascar.

the aggression is a result of the crappy car and drivers and crews not having time off during the season. i’m sure, in the back of their minds, potential injury might be a reason as well. sure race car drivers wreck, but this year 2 are out with concussions.

be interesting to see how homestead plays out. i think it will be awesome if wallace and larsen start next to each other.

Carl D.

The wife and I sat here watching the replays and we didn’t see contact from Larson either. But we’re old and so are our eyes…

Jeremy

Larson won’t do anything – he has everything to lose and nothing to gain. Remember who has already done time in NASCAR timeout for being “racist”? He’s lucky to have ever been let back in ANY car, let alone a Hendrick car – and I’m sure will be very careful to avoid destroying his career a second time.

Bill B

Excellent point that I haven’t heard anyone else mention. His hands are kind of tied on some things because he has “priors” (LOL).

Tom B

It was the first thing I thought. Now a days if it is 5 months old, it is ancient history.

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