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Dr. Diandra: Three reasons to bet on a Ross Chastain win at Las Vegas

Marty Snider, Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton reflect on the standout performances from Auto Club Speedway, including Trackhouse and RFK Racing who continued the strong start to their seasons on the West Coast.

Ross Chastain has the best odds of his career for his first Cup Series win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, even if Kyle Busch is the favorite after last week’s Auto Club Speedway win.

Trackhouse Racing surprised everyone in 2022 with three wins in its first year as a two-car team. Chastain won at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega, while teammate Daniel Suárez won at Sonoma.

Wins at two road courses and a superspeedway are a good start, but true championship teams must contend at all kinds of tracks. I think this is the year Chastain shows his real potential — starting with the 1.5-mile intermediate tracks.

Chastain’s record in other series

Chastain’s first win in any of NASCAR’s top three series was the 2018 Las Vegas Xfinity race. After wrangling three races in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 car that season, Chastain qualified on the pole for the first and won the second.

In 2019, Chastain earned his first win in a truck at Kansas’ 1.5-mile oval. Chastain also won the 2022 Craftsman Truck Series race at Charlotte’s intermediate track.

In the 2022 Cup Series — the only year for which we have Next Gen data — Chastain ranks first among active full-time drivers in average finish at intermediate tracks. His 7.0 average finish position includes:

  • Five out of seven finishes in the top 10
  • Three out of seven finishes in the top three
  • No finishes out of the top 15

His worst finish, a 15th at Charlotte, was impacted by a late-race wreck.

As you can see from the graph below, Chastain’s average finish on 1.5-mile tracks is 1.7 positions better than Denny Hamlin, who has the next-best finishing average.

A bar chart showing drivers with the best average finishing positions at intermediate tracks. Ross Chastain holds the best position, increasing his odds for a win at Las Vegas

On a side note: Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had the fourth- and fifth-best averages at intermediate tracks, despite both drivers having disappointing 2022 seasons.

Chastain coming off a strong 2022 Next Gen season

Chastain is one of the drivers who performed much better in the Next Gen car than in the Gen Six. The graph below shows drivers’ average 2022 finishes at intermediate tracks in yellow. Average finishing positions from 2017-2021 are blue. (I started with 2017 because it’s recent and covers the stage-racing era.)

A double bar graph comparing drivers' average finish positions at Intermediate track in 2022 with their averages in 2017-2021

Yellow: Drivers’ average finishing positions in 2022. Blue: Drivers’ average finishing positions in 2017-2021

Drivers who improved in the Next Gen car have a larger blue bar than yellow bar. The bigger the difference in bar sizes, the more of a change. Chastain was in lesser equipment prior to signing a full-time ride with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021; however, comparing 2021 to 2022 shows the same level of improvement. No driver improved more than Chastain — and not just on intermediate tracks.

That improvement drove a strong showing in last year’s playoffs. Trackhouse co-owner Justin Marks had 235 feet of curbing leading to the race shop painted in Phoenix Raceway teal. That’s the distance by which Chastain finished behind champion Joey Logano in the last race of the 2022 season.

Despite five DNFs and overaggressive driving that made him a prime payback target, Chastain finished 2022 with a 13.3 average finish position. He was second to Chase Elliott, who finished the season with a 12.5 overall average finish. Chastain also was fourth in laps led and had the most top 10s with 21.

At 1.5-mile tracks, Chastain earned the most points of any driver in 2022 with 296. Second-place Kyle Larson earned 261 points. Chastain also led the most laps of any driver at Las Vegas in 2022.

Chastain’s 2022 wins both came in the first 10 races of the season. It’s tempting to suggest his wins might be due to other drivers’ struggles with the Next Gen car. But Chastain finished the last four races of 2022 fourth or better, including second places at Las Vegas and Homestead.

Chastain’s 2023 season is off to a strong start

Chastain pulled out a ninth-place finish at Daytona, where only 18 cars finished on the lead lap and 17 cars failed to finish at all. Chastain and teammate Suárez both finished in the top five at Fontana. Including the last four races of 2022, Chastain has six top-10 finishes in the last six races, tying his career high.

But Chastain isn’t just finishing well. He’s running well, too. Chastain ranked first at Auto Club Speedway in:

  • Average running position (2.95)
  • Green-flag speed
  • Speed early in a run
  • Speed late in a run
  • Laps led

In addition, he had the second largest number of fastest laps and ranked fourth on restarts.

It’s difficult to compare Busch and Chastain based on 2022 data because Busch has a new team. They’re both helped by running Chevrolets. Chevy has won three of the last five Las Vegas races with Kurt Busch, Larson and Alex Bowman.

But based only on 2023 data, here’s the prime advantage over Busch that might signal a Chastain win at Las Vegas: Chastain has won three of the four stages run in points races this year.

Out of 11 Las Vegas races with stages, the Stage 1 winner won the race three times (27.3%). The Stage 2 winner won the race seven times (63.6%).