Phase Two of NASCAR’s new intermediate track handling package for Monster Energy Cup Series cars kicks in this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Paul Menard and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team are among those wondering how the racing will be once a full field of cars is on the track.
At Atlanta Motor Speedway, portions of the new lower horsepower/higher downforce package were introduced. This week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will see the addition of aero ducts that transfer air to the side of the car away from the front tires, a feature that will be seen at several other tracks as well.
Menard said the racing at Las Vegas will be different than Atlanta, due to the aero ducts and the increase level of grip at Las Vegas compared to what drivers experienced on the worn asphalt at Atlanta.
“The way the racing plays out at Las Vegas will change,” he said. “The cars will be more packed up, and it’ll be less of a true handling race track.”
He said there will be similarities to the racing at Atlanta, especially just after restarts.
At Atlanta, drivers usually raced two-wide for a few laps, until tire wear began to kick in.
“At Las Vegas, we’ll see lots of three-wide on restarts, and it’ll stay that way until the handling starts to go away,” he said, adding that the new rules package will give the race a little bit of a restrictor-plate-race feel. “There will be drafting, but we won’t be two-wide the whole race.”
With the new rules at Atlanta, drivers could run wide-open all the way around the track for a lap or two. At Vegas, it may be wide open for much longer than that.
“At the test, after 25 laps you could still run wide open if you were in clean air,” he said.
Menard said that as the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team prepares for the Vegas weekend, it’ll be important to use practice time wisely.
“What you need for qualifying is not what you need for the race,” he said. “Las Vegas has higher grip, but you still need handling and driveability.”
Qualifying for the Pennzoil 400 is set for Friday at 4:40 p.m. (7:40 Eastern Time), and the race is scheduled to start just after 12:30 p.m. (3:30 Eastern) with TV coverage on FOX.