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Las Vegas Postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, March 02, 2009

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Kyle Busch is on fire again this year
There were many of NASCAR's Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams whose Las Vegas luck ran up and down like a roller coaster. In the Cup event anticipated blown engines among the Toyota teams didn't happen and were replaced by the stunning news of Roush Yates engines popping. A Hendrick car once again popped out of gear and blew up. NASCAR's pit road officials worked way too hard with massive pit road penalties. The details from the Nationwide Series often hit bizarre levels. Throughout the weekend veteran drivers made very rare and completely unexpected  mistakes. All in all it was a rather lively weekend in Las Vegas as expected. Let's begin this week with:

BE IT EVER SO HUMBLE THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

Thumbs-Up for Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing. Whether you're a member of the "Rowdy" one's fan club or his harshest critic, anyone who's been paying attention to this young driver over the past 14 months has to admit that he really is that good. The numbers simply speak for themselves. The 2009 season is only three weeks old and Busch now has a victory in all three of NASCAR's three upper tier series: the Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series and now the Sprint Cup Series. He accomplished that in a period of eight days. Make no mistake about it, this is the real deal.

Sunday's Sprint Cup win was especially special for Busch because it was in front of a near capacity crowd in his hometown of Las Vegas. Commenting on the win at his home track, the race winner admitted that he had knots in his stomach when he crossed under the checkers. 

Another Thumbs-Up goes out to the Joe Gibbs Racing M&M's team for standing in the face of adversity the way they did. During the practice prior to qualifying on Friday they discovered a major problem in their Toyota's engine big enough to warrant a complete engine change. During the qualifying later that day Busch ripped off a lap of 29.033 seconds, 185,995 MPH, and set a new track record along with winning the Coors Light pole. Unfortunately, per NASCAR rules, the engine change meant he was going to have to start the race from the rear of the field.

Then Saturday, during the Sprint Cup happy hour final practice, Busch scraped the wall. The crew worked late Saturday evening and then arrived very early Sunday morning to finish repairs on the right side of the car. Obviously the extra effort paid off by late Sunday afternoon. Because he won the Coors Light pole, the team still got to keep their number one pit box selection on pit road. That, combined with some great pit service from the crew, played another huge role towards winning at Las Vegas. This entire team is a high quality total package and it certainly showed on Sunday.

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THEN THERE WAS SOME WHO QUITE FRANKLY JUST "BLEW IT"

What's Up with the Roush Fenway Racing Engines? This was the team that was expected to completely dominate the Las Vegas race. This was especially true of Matt Kenseth who was on the threshold of creating NASCAR history by winning the first three races in a row in a new season. On lap four of the race Kenseth brought his Ford onto pit road for what was initially perceived to be a problem with a spark plug wire. Upon returning to the race the car only ran two more laps before the engine just completely blew up. Kenseth found himself finishing an unbelievable 43d.

Unfortunately the Roush Fenway headaches didn't end there. On lap 72 David Ragan's engine blew and he wound up finishing 42nd. Then on the white flag lap Carl Edwards, who was looking at a top five finish, blew his engine and had to settle for a 19th place finish. Meanwhile a very worried Greg Biffle reported that his engine was "surging" which is a term that usually indicates a broken valve spring. However Biffle's engine stayed together and he finished seventh. Jamie McMurray, who finished ninth, was the only Roush Fenway Ford who seemed to be free and clear of engine worries.

Roush Fenway has a technical alliance with Yates Racing for engine construction. It's a safe Las Vegas bet that there was a very extensive investigation when the teams returned to their North Carolina shops after the race.

What's Up with Mark Martin blowing an engine for the second race in a row? The Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet's engine expired on lap 121 and Martin had to settle for a 40th place finish. He reported that the car jumped out of gear and caused the engine to over rev. This is basically the same situation that happened to him, as well as teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr, at the Auto Club Speedway the week before. A batch of bad parts from a vendor was reportedly the reason. It's another safe Las Vegas bet that Rick Hendrick, for the second week in a row, will be having a heated conference call with his parts suppliers.         

A combo What's Up/Thumbs-Up goes out to TRD. Toyota Racing Development was the big story on Saturday because of anticipated engine problems. It was believed that their power plants were not receiving enough oil pressure to properly lubricate the cam shaft area. The Toyota teams from Red Bull, Michael Waltrip and JTG/Daugherty Racing were forced into pre race engine changes which meant the cars had to move to the back of the starting field. By the way Lucas Oil makes a wonderful, and very affordable, product that can help ease that situation.

Sunday race day found these Toyota teams literally biting their nails with worry. No one was sure if the engines were going to be able to finish the race. The anticipated plume of white smoke we all expected to see from the rear of these Toyotas never happened. In fact TRD drivers David Reutimann and Brian Vickers had outstanding runs in this race. Reutimann was in position to go the distance on fuel during the final laps and had a good chance of winning the race before a late caution eradicated any fuel issues connected with this event. He brought his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota to a very impressive fourth place finish. Vickers also ran strong in his Red Bull Toyota and finished eighth. You can bet that TRD was glad to escape the piece of racing drama.

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HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS AND THE UNEXPLAINABLE

What's Up with Martin Truex Jr's axle? Early in the race Truex's Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet had its rear axle shaft hanging out of the left rear wheel by about two feet. It was later determined that the bolts on the metal cap that holds the axle in place were not properly tightened. Truex went four laps down due to the unscheduled stop and had to settle for a disappointing 32nd place finish. When you consider the detailed and lengthy pre-race check list these teams use you have to wonder how did those loose bolts not get detected? 

A double Thumbs-Up goes out to Jamie McMurray for two very good reasons. First off, during the race, McMurray's car was accidentally tapped in the rear bumper by Joey Logano. McMurray's Ford was literally dirt tracking sideways all the way down the backstretch and he did a magnificent job of saving the car.

The second Thumbs-Up is for McMurray being a tough guy under dire circumstances. The Roush Fenway Racing driver was suffering from a severe case of the flu. During a radio transmission he said that whenever he drove into the corners the G force inside of the car actually hurt his eyes. Despite the illness he managed to turn in a ninth place finish.

Thumbs-Up for young Joey Logano. The rookie driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, due to the cycling of pit stops, led his first official Sprint Cup Series lap and then shortly afterwards performed his first ever series green flag pit stop which was flawless. He finished the race in 13th but, more importantly, garnered a lot of valuable Sprint Cup seat time during the process.

What's Up with Jeff Gordon missing pit road? This was one of those unexplainable moments of this race came when Gordon made a rare miscue and missed the entry to pit road in the process of trying to make a yellow flag pit stop. When he slammed on the brakes while trying to get on pit road, he flat spotted his tires. He resumed around the track to try in again but unfortunately his left front tire blew and caused major damage to the fender.

That leads to a Thumbs-Up for Gordon's crew, the Rainbow Warriors, who replaced the tire and kept him on the lead lap. Despite this Gordon rallied to finish sixth in the race and also left Las Vegas as the new Sprint Cup points leader. 

An additional Thumbs-Up goes out to Gordon because the 17 laps he led in the race put him on the list of drivers who have led 20,000 or more laps in the Sprint Cup Series. Gordon is now seventh on NASCAR's all time laps led listing. 

What's Up with Jimmie Johnson? There were three very rarely seen moments for the reigning NASCAR champion during this race. First, during the course of making a pit stop he completely over shot his pit stall and came perilously close to running over one of his crew members. The car had to pushed back inside of the pit box before any work could start which was a major loss in track position. During the following stop Johnson almost had a pit road collision with Bobby Labonte's car. But the biggest blow of all came in the final moments of the race when Johnson just flat lost the handle of his car and slammed into the wall. It's something that you rarely see from him and a sure fire top ten finish turned into a 24th place. 

Thumbs-Up for Richard Childress Racing drivers Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. The Las Vegas Motor Speedway has not been very kind to  the Childress teams over the years but the two drivers over came that. Burton's Chevrolet was strong and led 61 laps of the race enroute to a third place finish. Bowyer finished second and left Las Vegas second in the driver's points standings just 18 markers behind series leader Jeff Gordon.

Thumbs-Up for Bobby Labonte and a strong fifth place finish in his Yates/Hall Of Fame Racing Ford. In January Labonte was even sure if he had a ride for 2009 before this deal came along. The top five is a major boost for this team and moved Labonte to tenth in the points standings.

Thumbs-Up for Dale Earnhardt Jr's tenth place finish while finally getting that monkey off of his back. No, we're not talking about crew chief Tony Eury Jr. Following double disaster during the first two races of the season, Earnhardt was sitting on the very bottom of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. Sunday's solid finish moves him to 29th in the owner's rankings.

Thumbs-Up to Greg Biffle for winning Saturday's Sam's Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race. The win eliminated a 76 race winless streak for Biffle in the series and it's a Las Vegas bet that he was very tired of hearing about that streak from the racing media.

But that leads to What's Up with the computer dude who was calculating Biffle's fuel mileage? While leading the race Biffle was told that his next pit stop was due in approximately six laps. 30 seconds later the car ran out of gas which prompted the question: how in the world does someone miscalculate fuel mileage by a whopping six laps? It's another Las Vegas safe bet that this computer dude's respiratory system returned to normal breathing status after Biffle parked the car in victory lane.     

Thumbs-Up for Scott Speed for winning the pole position for Saturday's Sam's Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race. Speed was driving a Toyota owned by Michael Waltrip Racing. This race was the first time Speed has ever driven a Nationwide Series car and setting the fast time was most impressive.     

But that in turn leads to a Kyle Busch What's Up that unfortunately involved Scott Speed. In a rare, and uncharacteristic, incident Busch lost control of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and spun the car in turn four. Speed had absolutely no place to go and got collected in the wreck. The two drivers, who were expected to be major players in this race, finished 39th and 40th respectively.

Another What's Up goes out to Denny Hamlin, also in a Joe Gibbs Toyota, who had a horrible day in the Nationwide Series race. First off Hamlin was caught speeding on pit road and had to do a drive by penalty. Adding insult to injury was the fact that, after observing his penalty, he was caught by NASCAR officials for leaving pit road too fast. Hamlin finally ended this long day by destroying the car following a lap 196 crash.

Thumbs-Up for eagle eye NASCAR officials during the process of enforcing the law on pit road during the Nationwide Series race. There were a whopping 32 pit road violations during the race that ranged from speeding, lug nuts not properly tightened and even a case of too may crew members over the pit wall.

That, in turn, leads to a What's Up with the drivers, many of whom are distinguished Sprint Cup/Nationwide Series veterans, who kept making all of those pit road miscues? 
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QUIPS AND QUOTES THAT WERE JUST TOO GOOD TO IGNORE

Thumbs-Up for some very fun comments that were aired both on the Fox and Speed networks during the Las Vegas weekend:

The first one goes to race winner Kyle Busch. With 17 laps left in the race Busch made his race winning pass on Jeff Burton. Once the move was completed Busch came on his radio and said "good night Gracie."

When Tony Stewart was asked about Las Vegas casino fun he replied "I've already taken the ultimate gamble, I'm a team owner now."

After Matt Kenseth won the first two races of the season, the Speed Channel decided to do a survey last Sunday to see who, in the NASCAR garage, could correctly spell the last name of the team's crew chief Drew Blickensderfer. Greg Zipadelli, Joey Logano’s chief, said he had no idea how to spell it and added "I'm just glad to hear there's someone else in the garage area that has trouble with a last name."

Steve Addington, Kyle Busch's chief, said "I think you spell it W-I-N-N-E-R."

Then there was Darrell Waltrip who arrived late for a scheduled interview with Jeff Gordon. DW explained that he was detained by security at the garage gate because he didn't have his NASCAR hard card pass with. Yeah right, like a security guy doesn't know who DW is. After the Fox Network aired the interview, DW smiled and said "actually I didn't have the heart to tell Jeff I was late because I was busy interviewing drivers who are actually winning races." 

Earnhardt Ganassi driver Aric Almirola's race ended early when his Tom Tom Chevrolet hit the wall. His sponsor, Tom Tom, is a firm that manufacturers GPS, global positioning systems, for automobiles. Following Almirola's wreck Darrell Waltrip said "I think Tom Tom is done done." That comment was backed by Larry McReynolds who said "perhaps he can use that GPS system to find the garage area."

The Shelby 427 was named in honor of internationally known custom car builder Carroll Shelby. Despite being in his 80's, and having to endure both a heart and kidney transplant, Shelby still continues to design and build amazing automobiles. During an interview he was asked what he thought his legacy should be. Shelby replied "I don't know, I'm still thinking about building the next car."

During the final moment of the race, when Kyle Busch was pulling away from the field, Darrell Waltrip quipped "everybody else has Goodyears, Kyle has goodbyes."

Prior to Saturday's Nationwide Series race, Kevin Harvick was being interviewed and was congratulated because he and his wife, DeLana were celebrating their eighth wedding anniversary. When asked if he did anything special to honor the occasion Harvick said "I never was very good about talking about this sort of thing but I do tell her that everyday is like Christmas for her."

Kellogg’s Pop Tarts was the primary sponsor for Mark Martins’ Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in this race. When Martin's race ended early due to a blown engine Darrell Waltrip said "I think those Pop Tarts are toasted now."

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AND FINALLY

Thumbs-Up to David Gilliland and TRG Motorsports. Just prior to the Las Vegas race the team learned that Capital Windows, a well known investment firm, agreed to sign a multi race sponsorship deal with them. This is a major shot in the arm that the team really needed. TRG, which stands for The Racing Group, put Mike Wallace in the car at Daytona but they failed to make the field. Gilliland was named to drive the car at the Auto Club Speedway and presented the team with a decent finish. He did the same Sunday in Las Vegas by finishing 14th which netted the team a nice check worth $100,000 plus. That run moves the team up to 36th in NASCAR's 2009 owner's points standing. The team is now a mere two points away from that coveted top 35 which will guarantee them a starting berth after race number five when NASCAR begins referring to the 2009 owner's standings.

Here's a What's Up that a lot of NASCAR fans probably won't agree with. The "Digger" campaign is starting to get a little tired and Fox Sports needs to make some adjustments here. A few years ago the sight of that little underground gopher sticking his head above the surface in the middle of a race was cute. However the animated "Digger" cartoons that Fox is airing during their pre race is frankly a little on the lame side. Maybe Fox can cut a deal with the Speed Channel and borrow the services of Jimmy Spencer. The sight of Spencer sticking his head out of that hole while yelling something outrageous could turn out to be very funny.
 
Thumbs-Up to the Kurt Busch Foundation. Operating under the logo "Sprint For The Kids," this foundation hosted a fund raiser last weekend in Las Vegas at the Pole Position Raceway a local go kart track. Busch, and a lot of his NASCAR Sprint Cup friends, participated in a one hour endurance kart race backed by sponsorship pledges from major companies and individuals. The foundation donates money all over the country to organizations that benefits children's causes. A good example of their work was the recent $1 million donation to the Victory Junction Camp, an organization founded by the Petty family, which puts smiles on the faces of seriously ill children.     

Thumbs-Up to the NASCAR fans for supporting the Shelby 427 by filling an estimated 140,000 seats during these tough economic times. Another Thumbs-Up goes out to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for their discount ticket offer, from Saturday to race time Sunday, that helped fill some of those seats.

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