We stayed in the Mountain Time Zone this week, moving from Phoenix to Las Vegas, from dry to glitzy glam. From practice and qualifying results, it was evident that Chevy would play a factor in the way the race would end. As the start of the race came closer, the drivers began to realize the track would get more slick as the day went on. Sure enough, they battled with loose cars throughout the day, and only one could prevail. Here’s your rundown of the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
Tony Stewart’s 2011 season had a disappointing finish at Las Vegas; after dominating the race, a miscue in the pits cost him the win. Being one of the three tracks he hadn’t won at, this one-and-a-half mile venue was in his sights. He wanted a win to soften the blow of a 22nd finish at Phoenix, induced by an EFI issue, too. As soon as he got into clean air, he was gone, the car shot out of a cannon. The only one who could hang with the #14 was Jimmie Johnson, and it was a battle. Yet, Stewart prevailed and crossed LVMS off his Bucket List. A sweet victory for him and new crew chief Steve Addington, it looks like Tony is ready to get a head start on winning that championship again. We will see how Addington and Smoke fair in the long run.
When Kasey Kahne won the pole, many saw it as a sign that he found his place at Hendrick Motorsports. He had decent runs going at Daytona and Phoenix, but good finishes failed to come together. Kahne lost the lead as soon as the green flag dropped, and his performance was up and down throughout the whole race. Kenny Francis, however, got him to the front for the final restart. He put himself in position for at least a top three by riding the high line. In front of him, however, were the three Roush cars, and they wanted a shot at the win. Carl Edwards dove onto the apron, forcing Greg Biffle to give him more room, and made it three-wide with The Biff and Matt Kenseth. In the corner, Edwards came back up, and Kenseth had to pull out. Unfortunately, he got loose and drifted to the wall, hitting Kasey’s left rear quarter panel in the process. The injured #5 car slid back and came home in 19th place. The question isn’t if Kahne will get back on his feet, though: it is when he will. With stable ground underneath him for the first time since 2006, he must get use to having a contending car every week. Trust me, he will be fine with Hendrick, but it’s definitely not the beginning he, and a lot of people, expected.
One thing I noticed Sunday, and we saw it at Daytona and Phoenix, too, is that the competition is close already. The teams are all in, and it is barely a month into the season. The way last year’s Chase shook out sent a message to all the drivers: winning matters. Having multiple wins in your corner gives you the upper hand when those final ten races roll around, which is what NASCAR wanted to achieve with the new points system. Consistency may lock you into one of those Wild Card spots, but, as we saw with Carl Edwards, nobody assures that it will be enough. With some of the most exciting tracks coming up, like Bristol, Texas, and Talladega, we have a lot of good racing to look forward to in the next month or two.
Bristol Motor Speedway is the next stop on the schedule, a concrete soup bowl that measures half a mile. Nicknamed ‘Thunder Valley,’ Bristol is known to make sheet metal scream and shout, and it also causes tempers to flare. For the Nationwide race, I think Elliot Sadler and Justin Allgaier will post strong runs, Sadler most likely taking the win. On the Cup side of things, watch out for the man who won there in August, Brad Keselowski.