Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: How Pivotal Is Winning at Las Vegas?

How pivotal is winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and having two stress-free weekends? Does the winner establish themselves as the title favorite?

Mark Kristl: From a composure standpoint, winning at Vegas trumps all. Two stress-free weekends where you can go out and just drive without the worry of stage points and points; instead, just win, baby. Those who fall behind below the cut line after Vegas face immense pressure to excel to advance to the Championship 4, so their odds of faltering under pressure increase. It does not make the driver the favorite to win the championship, though.

Yes, winning at Vegas gives the driver and his team two straight weeks to plan for the Championship 4 race at Phoenix Raceway. But it’s a winner-take-all Game 7 moment. So if the Vegas winner has not thrived at Phoenix, then the label championship favorite isn’t accurate.

Taylor Kornhoff: Certainly. It’s extremely important to win at all in the Round of 8. With the championship being determined by only one race, making it into Championship 4 is nearly equal to winning the championship. Is the winner a title favorite? Well, Bubba Wallace nearly won at Texas Motor Speedway in the Round of 12. As good as he is, if that race was in the Round of 8, I wouldn’t have considered him a favorite, so my answer is no.

The same goes for Chase Briscoe throwing a Hail Mary at Martinsville Speedway last year. Of course it helps build momentum, but there are so many other factors at play, plus there will be two more winners in the round that will also get that confidence boost.

Luken Glover: History speaks for itself: It is absolutely an advantage. It obviously doesn’t guarantee that one will win the title, nor are they always the favorite. However, it is hard to deny the benefits of such a win. Four times, the winner of the Round of 8 opener claimed the title. Two of those occurrences happened in the last two years with Joey Logano and Kyle Larson. It gives teams two weeks to work on their cars for Phoenix, allowing them to pour more time and research into the setup. There are other factors that influence who the favorite is, but having two weeks to sleep well certainly carries value.

Phil Allaway: Having stress-free weekends does sound nice. However, this isn’t the wacky round in the playoffs. The Round of 12 was the wacky round. Things are a little bit more predictable and less loony here. If one of the drivers in the Round of 8 does win, it doesn’t mean that they’re the title favorite. It means that they’re guaranteed a shot at it, but Las Vegas and Phoenix are nothing alike. It’s neutral.

See also
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How beneficial will Matt Kenseth be to Legacy Motor Club’s success in 2024?

Glover: Matt Kenseth is another steady hand to help develop two young drivers, Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek. He brings a wealth of knowledge from his own craft, and pairing that with Jimmie Johnson will give those two up-and-comers valuable mentorship at their disposal. The negative is Kenseth has not raced the Next Gen car, but his past relationship with Toyota and his ability to quickly learn about the car will add another heavyweight in Legacy’s leadership corner.

Kristl: Kenseth enjoyed success at Joe Gibbs Racing and left the team in 2017. He likely still knows many of the JGR executives, an important key for Legacy as it joins Toyota in 2024. Therefore, if his role with Legacy is to help the organization be friendly with JGR and Toyota, he should be helpful. Also, from a marketing standpoint, Legacy now has three Cup champions in its administration: Kenseth, Johnson and Richard Petty. That should help the team acquire sponsorship too.

Allaway: Having younger blood at LMC is important. Maury Gallagher is around 74 and Mike Beam is getting into his late 60s. Kenseth may not have all that much experience (if any) in the front office, but he can instill a specific work ethic within the team. Also, he’s probably more important to the transition to Toyota than you’d think since he drove Toyotas for many years during his time with JGR.

Kornhoff: Kenseth has so much experience in the racing industry on all fronts that it is a no-brainer that he will be beneficial to Legacy, especially with its move to Toyota. However, I don’t think it will be a massive benefit since their drivers already have guidance from some big figures.

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Which of the three declared NASCAR Cup Series rookies for 2024 (Josh Berry, Carson Hocevar and Zane Smith) will have the best season?

Kornhoff: As poor as Stewart-Haas Racing’s speed has been in the past few seasons, Josh Berry is hands down the favorite for Rookie of the Year in 2024. Not only do SHR cars have debatably more potential than those from both Spire Motorsports and Trackhouse Racing, but Berry has far more experience than the other candidates by a long shot.

Kristl: Zane Smith will be the best thanks to his ride being an alliance between Spire and Trackhouse. Trackhouse full-time drivers Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain both boast race wins in the Next Gen era, something neither SHR nor Spire can say about their 2024 driver lineups. Smith has the 2022 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title on his resume, but the stat that stands out is his DNF rate: only eight out of his 90-race career. He will not tear up equipment, instead gaining positions as Berry falters in struggling SHR Fords and Spire struggles to keep Carson Hocevar inside the top 20.

Allaway: On paper, that driver will be Berry. He’s going to be driving for an established team with a strong crew chief. SHR may not be up to its own standards this season, but it is a better team than Spire. Even with the Gainbridge infusion, the No. 77 is not the strongest team. Smith’s the wild card here. It’s somewhat unclear what the Spire/Trackhouse hybrid team is going to look like.

Glover: Even if the standings say something different at the end of the year, Hocevar has put himself in the best position to have the best campaign. Hocevar was impressive right off the bat at World Wide Technology Raceway, quickly driving inside the top 20 with Spire before suffering a tire issue. With Legacy, he had four top 20s in five starts in a car that only had middling results before he got in the seat. Hocevar has proven that he can produce results better than how the car should perform, and while Cup competition is a much different animal, he is proving that it fits his style. He possesses a lot of talent, and it should be entertaining to see how high he can climb in the future.

With his walk-off win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, is Sam Mayer the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship favorite?

Allaway: No. He’s been strong on road courses this year, but they’re finished for the year. He’s going to be coming from behind in the Round of 8 to begin with. Let’s face it. This championship is going to go through either Nemechek, Austin Hill or Justin Allgaier. He’ll be fighting to be the fourth driver in the Championship 4. That’s assuming he can get off his recent snide. He has finished in the 30s in the last three straight oval races.

Glover: Does a dog meow? No, Mayer is definitely not the favorite. Listen, that directs no disrespect toward Mayer. He did a great job at the Roval and deserves a lot of merit for his walk-off victory. However, he nearly had a Martin Truex Jr.-like round and had to win to advance. In a slimmer playoff field and in a round with no road courses, that team cannot afford to make mistakes or have bad finishes. Nemechek, Allgaier and Hill are still very much at the top, and it would be an absolute upset if Mayer could defeat them for the championship.

Kornhoff: Whoa, whoa, whoa, not even close. All of his wins have been on road courses for one and despite being really fast during this stretch of races last year, he has been inconsistent this season in general. Faith is better placed in Allgaier, Nemechek, Hill and Cole Custer. There’s just too much good competition and you can’t have a single mediocre race.

Kristl: Based on Mayer’s performance at Phoenix, no, he is not the favorite. He has not earned a top five or top 10 there. Mayer might advance to the Championship 4 on the strength of the fourth-most playoff points, but in the last four Xfinity races at Phoenix, Mayer is sixth of the eight remaining playoff drivers in terms of laps led there.

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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Kevin in SoCal

It’s important to win at every track, its hard to pass at every track, pit road is difficult at every track, etc etc etc.

wildcats2016

How important is it to win at Vegas? Is that a trick question? It’s important to win EVERYWHERE. Doh, that’s kind of the point of racing. You race to win and if you can’t win, to get the best finish, but all of them IMO would be trying to win.

DoninAjax

They want to win or they want to get enough POINTS to be eligible for the farcical title.

Echo

Richard Petty sold, he no longer has any say about anything with Legacy. Jimmie is calling all the shots. Pay attention

Melvin terra

There’s there’s two drivers on the West Coast they are the best around Derek Thorne Jamie Doss they’re two Dynamite drivers they need to be Infinity race everywhere they go they win and win please check them out they are good drivers my God my dad used to race with Bill vocabic Sr and Joe Leonard anyway I live at the 99 speedway in Stockton and I seen those two men battle it out for $150 laps side by side please check them out Derek Thorne Jamie Doss and Jacob Gomez it’s one that I don’t have any time to Southwest tour champion thank you

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