NASCAR’s annual visit to Sin City kicked off in fine fashion on Friday, when Las Vegas native Kurt Busch won the pole for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Here are five things we learned:
5. They fought the law and the law won — When Carl Edwards cut a tire and hit the wall during the second round of qualifying, NASCAR allowed Kasey Kahne to complete his qualifying lap, but not Brian Vickers, who was on a flyer when the red flew. Vickers’ car owner, Tony Stewart, tried to plead his case, but to no avail. Vickers will start Sunday’s race a respectable 19th, but nowhere near where he hoped given the speed of his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
4. Weather is a concern — No, it’s not supposed to rain on Sunday at LVMS. But temperatures are expected to fall from the mid-80s on Friday to the mid-60s, a steep drop. Worse yet, there are supposed to be wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour, which could make the low-downforce cars a handful.
"If it is constant it is okay," said second-qualifier Joey Logano of the wind. "If you get big gusts the car jumps out of the race track and leads you into the wall or spins you right out. It is going to be dangerous, treacherous for sure. It is going to be just crazy to think about what that wind is going to do."
3. Winners never quit — Kevin Harvick, the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and runner-up last year, was bad in the opening round of qualifying. So bad that he made two qualifying runs and didn’t crack the top 24, the position he needed to advance to the second round.
Harvick went out for a third time in Round 1 — something almost never done in NASCAR — and made it into the second round in his third and final attempt. And then he advanced into the final round, qualifying sixth, a remarkable performance, all things considered. Afterward, Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers was a happy man.
2. Penske power — The most impressive team on Friday was Team Penske, which was fast in both practice and qualifying. Brad Keselowski topped the speed charts in the day’s lone practice, with teammate Joey Logano second, the two Penske Fords pacing the field.
Qualifying wasn’t dominant, but it was still good, with Logano qualifying second and Keselowski fourth. They will be a force to be reckoned with on Sunday.
"All in all a really good day for us," said Keselowski. It was a good improvement from where we were last week and look forward to showcasing that same improvement in the race and getting another win here in Las Vegas."
1. A tale of two brothers — Kurt Busch was understandably thrilled to win his second consecutive pole and 21st of his career, especially since he is a Las Vegas native. His younger brother Kyle, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and the current points leader fared less well.
Kyle complained about having no rear grip and the rear end of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota bouncing around like a pogo stick, as he qualified 23rd.
"Obviously we were pretty disappointed with qualifying," said Kyle. "We struggled with qualifying trim in practice earlier along with qualifying itself. … We have two practices tomorrow to get it better for the race on Sunday and I know Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys will work hard tomorrow to try and get us where we need to be."
Kurt, meanwhile, was all smiles.
"I was hoping to put on a show for the home crowd, get the pole, but now we’ve got to go to work tomorrow," said the elder Busch. "I hope we can get the car dialed in for long-run speed for Sunday."