In the land of Elvis, craps tables, and show girls, the third NASCAR race of the season had more ups and downs than the roller coaster in the casino New York, New York. Here is what was surprising and not surprising from this weekend’s 14th annual Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”290″][/media-credit]Surprising: After jumping off the Stratosphere and flying with the Thunderbirds, Carl Edwards was back flipping his way into Victory Lane. This was Edward’s first win of the young 2011 season, as well as his 19th career win. He now sits third in the point standings.
“I thought how cool would it be to go to Vegas, fly a bunch of women there in your private plane, race cars, and I did,” Edwards said. “I brought my mom, my mother-in-law, my daughter and Kate here and I’m having a blast.”
“It’s just a joy to drive these race cars right now,” Edwards said.
Edwards, however, has no intention of keeping his Kobalt Tools wrench trophy. He will be dropping it off at Nellis Air Force Base for his new friends from the Thunderbirds.
“I’ve got to thank the Air Force, the Thunderbirds,” Edwards said. “They let me fly with them on Thursday and this trophy is going over there in their hangar.”
“They taught me a lot about discipline and about believing in what you do,” Edwards said. “I can’t thank them and all our service men and women enough.”
Not Surprising: In contrast to the joy in Victory Lane and in spite of being the new Sprint Cup point’s leader, Tony Stewart was absolutely despondent over his second place finish. Stewart was devastated to have led the most laps yet still not bring home the trophy.
“Yeah, I’m real disappointed,” Stewart said. “I honestly think we had the car to beat today and we just gave it away.”
As did many other drivers, Stewart and his team made a major mistake on pit road. Stewart’s taking the air gun out of the pit box cost him a drive through penalty and a restart at the back of the back.
“I don’t know what happened on the pit stop there, but we had a miscue and a penalty and had to go to the back,” Stewart said. “Unfortunately it kind of dealt our cards for us. Just shot ourselves in the foot two weeks in a row now.”
Surprising: The struggles of the Busch brothers, who had been headlining the point standings as they came home to Las Vegas, were most surprising. Early in the race, both Kyle and Kurt Busch went for spins.
Kyle Busch had the worst brotherly luck, not only spinning but also wrecking and catching on fire.
“I’ve been blowing tires, mowing grass, knocking walls down and setting balls of fire down the backstretch,” Busch said. “It’s really unfortunate. We had a great race car.”
On the other hand, Kurt Busch who also took a spin, managed to rebound, finishing ninth. While brother Kyle plummeted to 14th in points, Kurt Busch maintained his second place standing.
“We gave it all we had,” Busch said. “I came up just a little bit short in my hometown.”
Not Surprising: Juan Pablo Montoya, who has been quietly finishing races and creeping forward in the points, had another good race. JPM brought his unusually blue colored No. 42 Clorox Chevrolet in for a third place finish at Vegas.
“Our car was very good all day,” Montoya said. “You know, we really needed a good result after last week and it was nice to get it here.”
Surprising: There were some surprising drivers in the top ten, having good luck at Vegas. Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Stanley Ford, finished fourth. Martin Truex, out of the Michael Waltrip Racing stable, had a solid top-10s, bringing his No. 56 NAPA Toyota to the finish line in sixth place.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., having qualified deep in the field, continued to show his strength and the strength of the partnership with his new crew chief Steve Letarte. Much to the delight of Junior nation, the driver and team continued to work on their car throughout the race, finishing in eighth and maintaining the tenth spot in the point standings.
“We made some great adjustments and the car just drove better and better,” Earnhardt, Jr. said. “I’m happy. It’s a fun team and I hope we keep doing well.”
Another surprise was the finish of Brian Vickers in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota. After a season away due to his battle with blood clots, Vickers finished top ten at Vegas.
“Today was finally the good start to our season we needed,” Vickers said. “We made the most of everything today and got every drop we could out of the car. That’s all you can ask for.”
Not Surprising: From the high of breaking his 66 race winless streak, the driver of the No. 24, this weekend in the traditional Dupont colors, experienced the low of crashing out of the race. Jeff Gordon seemed to have a fast car, running towards the front of the pack, until he hit the wall hard late in the race. Gordon finished 36th and fell to 19th in the point standings.
“There was no sign whatsoever,” Gordon said of his on-track problem. “I just drove into turn three and hit the wall. I’m glad for the safer barrier here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.”
As the NASCAR drivers, teams and fans bid farewell to Sin City, all will have an off weekend next week. The Cup Series will be back in action at Bristol Motor Speedway, racing on Sunday, March 20th. The Jeff Byrd 500 will run at Bristol and will be broadcast at 1:00 PM ET on FOX.