NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers offered glimpse of future in Las Vegas
By Lee Spencer FoxSports
Who wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall during the Roush Fenway Racing team meeting on Tuesday?
While there is no love lost between Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, chances are Sunday’s closing laps of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 400 only exacerbated the problem.
Edwards, who restarted fifth, dove down to the apron to pass teammates Kenseth and Biffle, three wide. Although Biffle avoided Edwards' No. 99 when it came back up the track, Kenseth wasn’t as lucky. When Edwards stalled into the corner, Kenseth made contact then slid up into the wall on the backstretch. After leading 21 laps and running in the top five most of the day, Kenseth had to settle for a 22nd-place finish and dropped from fourth to fifth in the points standings.
Kenseth said he “honestly” didn’t know what happened on the restart.
“Carl just laid back and got by me three wide and then it just didn’t seem like there was a lot of room getting into (Turn) 1,” Kenseth said. “And then I did get clear behind him and he just stopped in the middle of the corner.
“I got into him a little bit and then I don’t know if I got the air pulled off on the right side or what happened. I thought I got a good start. I was right with Tony (Stewart, the race winner).”
Edwards, who scored his first top five of the season and vaulted four positions to sixth in the standings, saw the incident a bit differently.
“Matt spun his tires a little bit and I got a run on him, and then Greg and I went around him and he ended up getting wrecked,” Edwards said. “I feel terrible. He did a really good job. The whole Roush Fenway team did a good job and at the end it was nice to have three cars up there with a shot at the win.”
Biffle was the big winner of the day. He finished third, earning his third top-five finish in as many races and assumed the points lead for the first time since midseason in 2005. Biffle defended Edwards, insisting drivers were battling for every position at the end.
“Well, you got to get what you can get,” Biffle said. “We saw the (No.) 14 (of Stewart) go three wide on the 2 car (of Brad Keselowski). Unfortunately, these days you got to race each car like you have to pass for position. Now, you're probably not going to put the guy out in the weeds, jeopardize him wrecking. But you got to do what you got to do.
“Yeah, so as long as we're not beating and shoving on each other, I suppose anything goes.”
With three uber-competitive racers under one roof, team owner Jack Roush should have his hands full this season. But that’s a good problem to have.
Here are 10 additional storylines to watch in the upcoming weeks.
1. Still a slow starter?
Tony Stewart's Las Vegas Motor Speedway win, in just the third race of the season, was a personal best. Although he’s won earlier in the calendar year – by one day at Atlanta in 2002 – only three of Stewart’s 45 career wins have come in the first 10 races of the season. The champ apparently wants to pick up where he left off in 2011 and doesn’t appear to be slowing down with six wins in the last 13 races.
2. Topping the Hendrick charts ...
... is NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. And the fans at LVMS went wild as Junior led 70 of the first 73 laps – more circuits than he led all of last season. Earnhardt has to be able to lead before he can win so think of this as baby steps. This was also Junior’s second top 10 at Vegas with crew chief Steve Letarte and his finish enabled the No. 88 team to move up to fourth in the points standings.
3. Speaking of Hendrick Motorsports
The company will participate in its appeal of the penalties to Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 team before the National Stock Car Commission on Tuesday to determine whether Chad Knaus will have to watch the next six races from somewhere other than the pit box and if Johnson has his 25 points reinstated. The penalties resulted from NASCAR's ruling that the C-Posts at Daytona International Speedway were illegal. Even with the penalty in place, Johnson has 61 points and climbed back into the top 25 in the standings with his second-place finish on Sunday. The additional 25 points would place JJ in a three-way tie with Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer for 13th.
4. Penske fuel problems
Brad Keselowski was running second in Sunday’s race with 17 laps to go when his fuel pump broke. His teammate, AJ Allmendinger, experienced a fuel-related issue as well, but his gremlins appeared on Lap 196 while running 20th. Crew chief Todd Gordon called the problem “a fuel delivery issue.” The team made changes to the car in the garage and believed the problem had been corrected, but inevitably changed the entire system. Both drivers led laps, but both finished outside the top 30. Expect the malfunction to be addressed this week.
5. Say it ain't so, Joe
Joe Gibbs Racing couldn’t place a car in the top 15 on Sunday, which is surprising given the strength of that operation this season. JGR’s top-finishing car was that of Joey Logano, in 16th. Hamlin (20th), who won last week, never factored into the event and Kyle Busch had multiple issues throughout the weekend and finally blew out a tire on Lap 260 and hit the Turn 4 wall. Busch gathered up his damaged machine for a 23rd-place finish.
6. Tire test pays off ...
... for Paul Menard with a career-best seventh-place finish at Las Vegas and his second top-10 finish of the year. Menard is currently 11th in points and outran his Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Brendan Gaughan on Sunday.
7. If it wasn't for bad luck ...
... Kurt Busch would have no luck at all. Busch proved on Sunday he had a fast car, now it’s up to Phoenix Racing to provide the former champion with a pit crew that matches the driver’s talent. Busch’s rear tire changer melted the air gun hose on the exhaust, which cost the No. 51 team valuable time in the pits. That incident, along with two leaking tires, combined for a lousy day for the Las Vegas driver in front of his hometown crowd. Pit stops will be even more critical at Bristol this weekend. It’s go time, folks.
8. Dodge ball
Now that we’ve seen the sexy new 2013 Charger, which was unveiled at LVMS on Sunday, we all want to know who will be behind the wheel next year. While Dodge officials left the door open as far as whether the manufacturer would actually race next season, we’re hopeful it will find a solution.
9. Your name here
Trevor Bayne scored his first top-10 finish since he won the 2011 Daytona 500 in this weekend's Sprint Cup race.
“A top 10 feels like a win to us, especially with how hard we had to fight all day,” Bayne said. But a sponsor would feel even better for the Knoxville native, who doesn’t have a ride yet at his home track of Bristol Motor Speedway for this weekend.
10. Make the most of it
Brian Vickers has a make-or-break opportunity with Michael Waltrip Racing as he substitutes for Mark Martin. Considering BV’s phone was not ringing off the hook with offers in the offseason, let’s hope he gained a little humility on the sidelines until now. But he has the chance to jump in a car that has led laps and scored two top 10s in the first three races. The only excuse Vickers will have this weekend is himself.