LAS VEGAS – Last Sunday at Atlanta, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers collectively were flagged for 13 pit road speeding penalties, with a late ticket to Kevin Harvick changing the entire tenor of the race.
Drivers had to deal with the addition of timing lines on pit road at Atlanta, creating scoring segments that were much smaller than those in play when the series visited the 1.54-mile track last year.
Similarly, for races this weekend at Las Vegas, drivers and crew chiefs are confronted with double the number of timing lines in place for last year’s events. To allow teams to get familiar with the smaller segments, NASCAR opened the timing loops for XFINITY Series practice on Friday and both Monster Energy Series practices on Saturday.
During Saturday’s first session, teams seemingly spent as much time huddled around computers showing the speeds in pit road sectors as they did congregating around the cars.
Ryan Blaney, who qualified third on Friday in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, was more concerned with getting in and out of his pit box cleanly than he was with speeding on pit road. That’s why crew chief Jeremy Bullins chose pit stall No. 40, closest to the entrance to pit road.
“You always want to be able to get in and out of your box clean and not have to worry about going around cars or cars coming around you,” said Blaney, who was sixth fastest in Saturday’s first practice. “You can speed anywhere on pit road. Nowadays, your box really has a small role in playing with timing lines ever since they added a bunch of them.
“You just have to watch your speed, but it maybe helps a little bit coming in just so you can get in your box and reset, but then you have to focus on getting down all of pit road (without speeding).”
Blaney is not one to take chances by pushing the pit road speed limit (45 mph at Las Vegas with a tolerance up to 50 mph).
“I’ve got other things to worry about,” Blaney said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about all the speeding penalties last week, but I’ve always been on the conservative side when it comes to that. I think giving up a little bit there is a lot more beneficial than having to come back down pit road, so I’ve always been on the conservative side of the pit road speed stuff.
“Now that I say that, I’ll probably get a penalty (on Sunday), but it’s not something I really worry about.”
Chase Elliott was fastest in Saturday’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, turning his best lap in 28.197 seconds (191.510 mph). In relative terms, that lap was a quantum leap quicker than the 28.599-second circuit turned in by second-place Kyle Larson (188.818 mph). Elliott also showed excellent speed over a 10-lap run, posting the fastest average at 186.480 mph, a run that included his session-best circuit on Lap 2. … In warmer conditions during a second practice that started at 11:30 a.m., Martin Truex Jr. topped the speed chart at 188.613 mph, with Elliott second fastest at 188.574 mph. Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was third quickest in the session at 188.436 mph. Earnhardt struggled with the handling of his No. 88 Chevrolet in Saturday’s first practice (running 17th) but made significant improvements in Happy Hour. … With roughly 15 minutes left in final practice, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scraped the outside wall near the apex of Turns 1 and 2 with his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and crinkled the right side of the car. After examining the primary car in the garage, Stenhouse’s team rolled out a backup Ford. Stenhouse, who qualified 29th on Friday, will start from the rear in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 with no laps on the backup car.