NASCAR in Vegas: Smith’s 350

Words by Matt Willis

A few weekends ago, Tim and I decided to head to Las Vegas to cover round five of the Global Rallycross circuit. It just so-happened that leading up to the GRC event was the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ Smith’s 350 race, so we kind of got a two-for-one deal. We’ve never covered a NASCAR race before, so the whole thing was a new experience; and an awesome one at that.

I think there is a fine line separating two types of motorsports fans — those who like NASCAR, and those who don’t. The common perceptions of the latter are that NASCAR events are too long of a race with all left-hand turns, that the driving involved doesn’t take any skill, and that it is more or less a ‘Southern’ sport. I say, think what you want — but having seen it behind the scenes, I know there is a lot more to it than that. Moreso than any other motorsport, pit strategy and execution play a huge role in the driver’s success on the track. Since everything is done traditionally (carbeurated motors, 5-lug pattern on the wheels, fuel level by mileage, and no speed indicators), there is an overwhelming amount of guesswork and variables involved in monitoring the cars performance. Out on the track, the driver has his hands full enough just trying to trying to draft around other cars and keep the balance between front and rear weight movement. Any slack that catches up between going from throttle to neutral, to brake and back on throttle again, could easily create a “loose” (oversteer) condition that sends the car into a spin. Just as fatal, going too aggressively into a turn can create a loss of grip (“tight” or understeer) that pushes the car up towards the barriers. Aerodynamics and downforce play a significant part in the game. A car that slipstreams behind another moves faster – but on the downside, the car is suffocated because air can’t move through the cooling system. So a driver has to find the ideal racing line in order to post the fastest lap times while still keeping the car in check. It’s all much more technical than people initially perceive, I think that’s a primary reason why NASCAR is as popular as it is today.

We arrived in Vegas a day before the actual event, and spent most of the Saturday photographing around the Lake Mead region. The event didn’t take place until later that night, so we didn’t arrive at the track until mid afternoon.

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We entered through the “Neon Garage” at the world-famous Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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I find it interesting that both the NASCAR Truck Series and the Cup (car) Series use the exact same tires, but the trucks use “Wrangler” badged ones and the cup cars use the “Eagle” badge. Haha…

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Just as we arrived, the trucks were being rolled out for the opening ceremonies.

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People were checking out the trailers and garage areas to get an inside view of what the teams were up to.

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Dodge Dart pace car…

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Drivers were introducted “Vegas-style”…

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Infield view of the media center…

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The National Anthem was performed.

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The bond and dedication between team members is incredible.

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Sunoco race fuel cans ready to go…

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The sun began to set, and the engines fired up…

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After a pace lap or two, the green flag was thrown out and the race began.

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One thing I noticed was that the pit boxes were always checked for debris and loose ends. Any small piece sucked into the car’s grill or suspension area could be a potential problem, so the crews have to make sure the area clean.

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Crew ready and waiting for the next pit stop.

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View from behind pit lane.

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The crew chief and close family/friends watch from the deck of the pit box.

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We spotted Speedhunters’ photographer Larry Chen covering the event as well.

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Rolling in for the first pit stop…

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Before the car even stops, the crew is out and getting into position.

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Right side comes first…

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The officials watch closely to make sure no mistakes are made and that nothing is tampered with outside of the rulebook.

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Then back to the left side.

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After a successful stop, the area is once again cleaned and inspected for no debris…

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Tires are checked for temperature and tread wear, and these results are factored into the next pit stop for pressure adjustments.

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After a caution flag, the traffic on the track becomes dense again…

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Oh the irony…

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Of course, everyone anticipates a spin or crash at any NASCAR race…

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Every caution period presents the opportunity for another pit stop. It is better to pit under caution because all drivers are given a fair shot at a restart, versus pitting during the race when seconds can easily be lost.

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Each pit box has an identifiable marker on a boom so the driver can easily spot where he needs to pull in. A missed pit box is detrimental because the driver cannot simply back up and try again; he must go around and re-attempt, which costs a substantial amount of time.

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First victim of the race…

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This car needed something out of the ordinary fixed on the driver side. Anything outside of the 13 to 14 second window of a normal pit stop feels like an eternity to the driver.

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After pit stops, the cars get lined up for another restart.

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It wasn’t long before another mishap, though…

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Photographers gathered around the start/finish line to catch the final few laps.

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Car No. 30, driven by Nelson Piquet Jr., was first across the finish line.

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So there was a bit of a celebration.

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Nelson and his team in Victory Lane…

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We congratulate Nelson and his entire Turner Motorsports team on the win…

Next up will be the coverage from the GRC event that followed…stay tuned!

- Matt

This entry was posted by fullcoupe.

One thought on “NASCAR in Vegas: Smith’s 350

  1. Pingback: Global Rallycross Championship 2012: Round Five @ Las Vegas « timscribbles.com

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