NASCAR: Las Vegas provides fans with much-needed dose of reality

After two barn burners to open up the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season, Las Vegas produced about as predictable of an event as they come.
Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NASCAR
Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NASCAR / Chris Graythen/GettyImages

With the first two races of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season being superspeedway races, as opposed to just one (the Daytona 500) like in years past, many circled Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the start of the "real" season, per se, on this year's calendar.

The four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) Las Vegas, Nevada oval is a typical intermediate track where you really start to get a feel for who is in the right place and who has the most work to do as the season begins to heat up.

That was true again on Sunday, with heavy favorite Kyle Larson securing his first win of the season to cap off a dominant afternoon in which the result was never in doubt.

It also gave NASCAR fans a dose of reality after two barn burners to start the season.

Daytona International Speedway always produces a thriller when it comes to the "Great American Race", and Atlanta Motor Speedway produced the closest 1-2-3 finish in motorsports history, proving that a drafting race doesn't need a big wreck in the closing laps to produce a photo finish.

Sure, Sunday's Pennzoil 400 had its moments, and it was by no means a "boring"; Next Gen races at these tracks rarely are.

But it was a standard intermediate track race. There was nothing particularly special about it. Larson was the heavy favorite coming into the event, and once he took the lead two laps in, he was the man to beat, just as he has been in such races since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2021.

And there is nothing wrong with that. No two races are alike, and some provide more action than others. Races at different types of tracks also tend to produce different styles of racing. That was certainly true at the more "cookie cutter" Las Vegas track, compared to the previous two drafting tracks.

Announcer Mike Joy at one point tried to compare the three and four-wide action to that which is seen during a drafting race, but the difference is that drafting races produce such action for more than just a lap or two after a restart.

The 24 lead changes, the most at the track in the six most recent races, is a cool stat, but it doesn't mean all that much when you factor in the single-lap changes (of which there were seven) during the pit cycle. Larson led 181 laps and won the first two stages before winning the race.

And I don't care that Reddick closed the gap to Larson to above a tenth and a half of a second or so in the closing laps; we saw him close the gap in stage one and stage two as well, but he couldn't get around the No. 5 Chevrolet.

You were fooling yourself if you thought that was suddenly going to change at the end of the race. This isn't Chip Ganassi Racing's 2018 version of Kyle Larson who leads hundreds of laps and finds new ways to not win. He was not going to be denied on Sunday.

There will be plenty of people pleased with Sunday's race, and rightfully so. That said, it serves as a great reminder to other fans not to take for granted some of the nail-biting action we get at some of the other tracks on the schedule, especially not with bogus claims that it's "not real racing".

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The series' next race is the Shriners Children's 500, which is scheduled to take place this Sunday, March 10 at Phoenix Raceway. Fox is set to provide live coverage beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss it!