In the first race of the season at an intermediate track, the NASCAR Cup Series field got turned upside down.
Drivers by the likes of Matt DiBenedetto, Bubba Wallace, and Ty Dillon all found themselves in the Top 10.
Meanwhile, Kyle Busch at P15 was the highest finishing Toyota in the entire field. That’s something that was unheard of for the stout manufacturer last season.
For reference, in the 36 races during the 2019 season, Toyota never failed to have at least one car finish in the Top 10.
Underdogs flip the script on rest of Cup Field at Las Vegas
Part of the smaller names finishing near the front was because of Toyota’s struggles, but Sunday at Las Vegas, Chevrolet’s growth over the off-season showed.
Jimmie Johnson was able to pilot his No. 48 Camaro to a fifth-place finish for his first Top 5 since Daytona a season ago.
He was part of six Chevrolet’s that finished in the Top 10 at Las Vegas, one of the manufacturer’s best races in recent memory.
“To see four or five Chevy’s up front mixed in with those Fords, today, was really nice, I think a telling sign of what we needed to get us up front,” Johnson said.
This afternoon’s race saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – P3 – earn his first Top 5 since last year’s Coca Cola 600, as well as Austin Dillon – P4 – earn his first since 2018.
Wallace, in an improved No. 43 entry, finished sixth in his fifth career top 10 in his Cup Series career.
That type of finish was something that alluded him recently on intermediate courses, but on Sunday he was able to turn it into his best career mark on a 1.5-mile track.
The success of the Chevy’s comes in the work the manufacturer did in the off-season according to Johnson in his comments to Bob Pockrass.
“Last year we could make the cars drive well, but we couldn’t catch the car in front of us and the guy behind us would run us down,” Johnson said. “So far this year, (I’ve been able to) ease up on people and pull away from people behind me in the mirror. That was very nice.”
The lack of Toyota’s near the front also left a spot near the top for a hard-charging, late-race burst from Matt DiBenedetto.
The fan favorite was able to build a run into the top 10 with 60 or so laps remaining. He worked his way up to seventh when the final caution came out for Ross Chastain with six to go.
DiBenedetto would restart in fifth and jump to the inside of William Byron, making his way up to second as Stenhouse got hung up on the outside.
He didn’t have enough in the tank to make it past Joey Logano for the race lead, but certainly put on another show for his passionate fan base.
“This is all just too surreal,” DiBenedetto said on FOX after the race. “Tough to be that close, but, hey, this is only the second race of the season.”
Knowing Toyota, this won’t be a regular occurrence, but if there was any sure thing, these lesser names near the front is great for NASCAR, and the emergence of Chevrolet will help with that, too.