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NASCAR Las Vegas Postscript

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, March 09, 2011

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Edwards celebrates in Vegas
During the previous weekend at Las Vegas we witnessed the continuation of Roush inspired horsepower, we loved the sight of a well loved driver's return to a Nationwide Series victory lane, we watched a huge improvement in an Indy car driver's transition to stock cars and two drivers who weren't getting along late last year really aren't getting along now. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Carl Edwards for winning Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 marking his 19th NASCAR Sprint Cup career win and his second win at Las Vegas. Edwards and his Roush Fenway Racing team has now won three of their last five races after winning the final two events of the 2010 season.

Edwards gets another THUMBS-UP for his decision to donate his winner's trophy to the Air Force's Thunderbirds flying team headquartered at nearby Nellis Air Force Base. Edwards went on a high flying ride along with the Thunderbirds last Thursday and said "they taught me a lot about self discipline and about believing in what you can do. I can't thank them enough."

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WHAT'S-UP with Tony Stewart's pit road woes that cost the best car on the track a win at Las Vegas? During the course of a lap 155 pit stop, an air hose hung up on the back of the car and Stewart drug the impact wrench attached to it when he left his pit stall. The result was a return to pit road to serve a penalty and a huge loss in track position. The ensuing stop forced the team to only put on two tires in an effort to improve track position. Unfortunately that decision forced the team to take on four tires during their final stop, with 32 laps to go, due to extremely worn left side rubber. Edwards, on the other hand, had to option of only putting on two tires during his final stop and that turned out to be his winning edge.

Stewart put on a hard charge to catch the new race leader but time simply ran out. After the race he came on the radio and said "somebody please tell me how we lost this race today." The consolation here is the fact that Stewart left Las Vegas tied for the lead in the points standings with Kurt Busch.

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On the subject of frustrating pit stops, WHAT'S-UP with the fuel issues that plagued driver Greg Biffle? His Roush Fenway Ford was considered a pre race favorite but a pit road miscue involving the new vented gas can turned his day in Las Vegas into an afternoon loaded with anger and frustration. There appeared to be a hang up in the gas can's air vent tube which caused a long stop and a loss of track position. It also turned out that the tank wasn't quite full. When Biffle returned to pit road for his next stop on lap 148, he literally coasted to his pit stall completely out of gas. There was yet another miscue with the gas can leaving the team to wonder if, again, the tank was completely full.

An understandably angry Biffle, who was regulated to a 28th place finish three laps down, came over the radio and said "I hope all of you are feeling my pain, this is ridiculous."

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WHAT'S-UP with the Las Vegas luck suffered by pre race, and home town, favorite Kyle Busch last Sunday. The "Rowdy" one found himself having to dig out of an early race hole after a blown right front tire forced an unscheduled pit stop.

That turned out to be the least of his problems. It's very rare for Joe Gibbs Racing to suffer a blown engine. But Busch's engine blew big time on lap 107 while belching smoke inside of the car. A despondent driver came over the radio and said "there's flames in my face, load it up let's go to the house." Busch started the race leading the Sprint Cup points standings. His 38th place finish on Sunday caused a free fall to 14th in the points.

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THUMBS-UP to NASCAR for their special effort towards honoring the late, and legendary, Wendell Scott during the Las Vegas weekend. Now regarded as a true pioneer in the history of NASCAR, Scott was the first African-American to officially enter a NASCAR Sprint Cup event, in Spartanburg-South Carolina, back on March 4, 1961. Scott advanced his legacy a giant step further on December 1, 1963 when he became the first African-American to win a NASCAR race in Jacksonville-Florida. NASCAR celebrated the 50th anniversary of Scott's entry into the sport by issuing a special decal that was displayed on their Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series cars last weekend. His daughter, Deborah Scott, was at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to participate in this special remembrance.

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THUMBS-UP to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a well planned fan promotion that led to Sunday's Sprint Cup race being a sellout. The fan base for Saturday's Nationwide Series was also quite good. This lends additional credence to the popular theory that says Las Vegas deserves a second NASCAR weekend on the schedule. During the Fox Sports broadcast Darrell Waltrip said he would like to see a second Cup event in Las Vegas as the final race of the season which would lead right into champion's week. I find myself agreeing with that.

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THUMBS-UP to Mark Martin for his triumphant return to a Nationwide Series victory lane after winning Saturday's Sam's Town 300 in Las Vegas. Granted, he had some help when Brad Keselowski crashed on the final lap, but Martin put himself in position for the win by doing an outstanding job of conserving fuel during the latter stages of the race. Martin scored his 49th career win in the series.

A THUMBS-UP also goes to Turner Motorsports for scoring their first ever series win and backing that play with a one-two finish after Justin Allgaier finished second. Their other teams, driven by Jason Leffler and Reed Sorenson, also had strong finishes of ninth and 11th. Turner Motorsports also left Las Vegas with Sorenson leading the series' championship points standings with team mates Leffler and Allgaier ranked third and fifth.

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WHAT'S-UP with the horrible racing luck experienced by Brad Keselowski, and Roger Penske Racing, so far in the Nationwide Series? The trend started with the season opener at Daytona where Keselowski finished 30th following a crash. The news wasn't any better a week later in Phoenix where the team finished 34th also due to a crash.

But the absolute crushing blow came last weekend at Las Vegas. First off a practice crash forced the team to roll out their back up car. During the race Keselowski had to make up ground due to a pit road speeding penalty and then later just missed being caught up in someone else's wreck by a matter of inches. Keselowski took command of the Sam's Town 300 on lap 144. It appeared that he had removed the monkey on his back and was on the way to a win. That's when the right front tire blew and sent his Penske Dodge hard into wall on the white flag lap. However the driver does deserve a THUMBS-UP for limping his way under the checkers for a third place finish.

Doing a little bit of math, that's four wrecked race cars since February 19th. This is not a reflection on driver and team performance levels. This is just plain bad luck.

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WHAT'S-UP with "Rowdy" Busch's bonsai restart with 70 laps left in the race? During the course of a double file restart, Busch was lined up on the outside and then dived low all the way to the bottom of the apron in an effort to charge to the front. All of a sudden he moved up on the track and came perilously close to Brad Keselowski who barely had time to react to give him some racing room. Busch wound up sliding his Toyota across the infield grass and parked his car nose first into the inside turn one wall. After leading 81 laps of the race, a sure fire favorite to win had to take the car behind the wall and settle for a 30th place finish.

However, Busch does deserve a THUMBS-UP for taking full responsibility for the incident by saying "I screwed up, that's why I run these, (Nationwide Series), races so I can learn something for tomorrow."

WHAT'S-UP with Josh Wise and his wild ride through the infield grass? The Kobalt Tools 400 was barely underway when Wise's Ford went sailing through the infield with such force all four wheels left the ground. It was a good thing Wise wasn't playing golf. It would have taken forever to replace all of those divots.

WHAT'S-UP with the grass being there in the first place? I'll agree that the finely manicured lawn makes for some nice looking landscaping and it really brings out the color of those custom painted corporate logos. But when a race car slides into that grass it's like driving on ice and frequently a recipe for a major wreck. Perhaps it's time, in the name of safety, for all tracks on the NASCAR schedule to place a layer of asphalt over the pretty grass.

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THUMBS-UP to Danica Patrick for a job well done in the Sam's Town 300. After going two laps down early in the event, she drove her way to a fourth place, lead lap, finish. The effort made her the first ever female driver to score a top five finish in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race. She's also the highest finishing female driver in a NASCAR national touring series race. The previous record dates back to October 2, 1949 and was set by Sara Christian who finished fifth in a Sprint Cup event in Heidlberg-Pennsylvania.

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WHAT'S-UP with that altercation between drivers Robby Gordon and Kevin Conway? On Saturday morning NASCAR announced that Gordon had been placed on immediate probation for an unspecified period and the decision was based on what they termed an "emergency action." Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition, said the precise term of Gordon's probation would be announced on Tuesday. Conway was not placed on probation, but Pemberton did say that "Conway may not get a free pass either." He also noted that no NASCAR official actually witnessed the incident and that it was Conway himself who notified them of the situation.

There has been no real comments from anyone regarding this alleged altercation but it is known that Conway has filed an official complaint with the Las Vegas Police who are reported to be interviewing possible witnesses to determine if the investigation will be turned over to the Clark County District Attorney's office who will decide if official charges will be filed.

The hard feelings between these two drivers stems from last year when Robby Gordon Motorsports provided Conway, and his sponsor Extenze, with a car to drive for seven races. Gordon has since filed a California based lawsuit against Extenze citing non payment of their sponsor bill. Meanwhile Conway has filed a North Carolina based suit claiming Gordon owes him $27,000 in bonus money for winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year title. It's believed that the presence of these dual lawsuits has made both drivers hesitate to officially comment on what happened last Friday in the Las Vegas garage. However, Gordon did reportedly state that he would pay Conway the $27,000 when he receives his $690,000 from Extenze. Gordon did acknowledge that there was a heated confrontation with Conway but said it was verbal.

This incident has already launched a debate that raised the question why isn't this incident covered by the "have at it boys" policy implemented by NASCAR early last year? There also seems to be a question regarding why wasn't Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton punished for their nationally televised fight last year during the Texas race? The answers to those questions may come when we finally learn exactly what happened between Robby Gordon and Kevin Conway.

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Here's some THUMBS-UP for this week's NASCAR notable quoteables. The first two goes to the always fun Kyle Petty and some clever "Twitter" messages. A fan sent Petty a "Tweet" asking him if he thought there was a way for NASCAR to sanction a 24 hour endurance race. Petty replied "yes, it's called Pocono."

In a second "Tweet" Petty wrote "if I were a driver still, in every interview I would try to work in a Charlie Sheen quote, just saying."

Carrying that line of humor one step further was Fox Sports' NASCAR host Chris Meyers. Part of the network's pre race show is the popular "gas and go" segment with Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond. Making it a point to let us know that they had not seen the questions in advance, Meyers said "these questions were locked up, much like Charlie Sheen's sanity."

The absolute final WHAT'S-UP of the week goes to ESPN NASCAR analyst Brad Daugherty for his efforts to sing Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas." It was so bad that I'm amazed one of those famous Las Vegas Elvis impersonators didn't charge into the ESPN booth to make him stop.

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