The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Las Vegas Race Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday March 11, 2013

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Las Vegas Race Recap

Mike Neff · Monday March 11, 2013


Editor’s Note: Mike Neff is writing Matt’s column this week.

The Key Moment – On the penultimate caution of the race, Matt Kenseth took fuel only while Kasey Kahne, who appeared to have the dominant car, took two tires and had to check up exiting his pit box. As a result, Kahne restarted sixth, had to fight his way to the front and ended up without enough ability to stick on the bottom and pass Matt Kenseth. That left the driver of the No. 20, in just his third race with new team Joe Gibbs Racing taking the checkers on his birthday.

In a Nutshell – The drivers mixed it up, from top to bottom on restarts until the tires heated up; then, it was single-file racing. There was some on-track passing, which might be a little more than we used to see, but there is still plenty of work to do with this new car.

Dramatic Moment – Kasey Kahne got to second place with 26 laps left and was making ground in the high lane. As he came up on Kenseth, eight circuits later, everyone was holding their breath for fireworks. But as Kahne prepared to make a bid for the lead, Kenseth moved up and took the lane away. We didn’t know it then… but that was all she wrote. For the remainder of the race, Kahne made every run he could, lagging back, pushing hard, driving on the apron, but none of them gave him enough of a run to pull alongside the leader.

Kyle Busch made a hairy, three-wide move on a restart with 100 laps remaining to both take the lead and earn consolation prize in this category

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler on Monday*

After the senseless, $25,000 fine of Denny Hamlin, for speaking his mind about the difficulty in passing with the new car at Phoenix, almost every driver nearly threw their backs out Sunday, bending over backwards to compliment the new car. Let’s not fool ourselves after freedom of speech was no longer guaranteed to earn the drivers a healthy paycheck. As Sunday showed, despite some promising moments the first few races with a new car will be a challenge until the teams figure out how to make them fast and how they’ll respond to mechanical adjustments. Until then, NASCAR, please let the drivers speak their minds again. Fans have begged and pleaded for them to have a personality; instead, as soon as one emerges NASCAR makes a habit of jumping down their throat. Hamlin was the latest case in point.

Goodyear is back to the rock hard tires again. Kasey Kahne kept his left sides on for the last 106 laps of the race; Kenseth won with right sides 42 laps older than his closest competition. We heard talk of the fuel mileage card being played before the fourth caution of the race Sunday; why? It’s because teams can keep tires on forever. Phoenix was headed in the right direction, despite what most fans thought with tires wearing out and actually giving a benefit to those who took four tires versus two or none. This weekend, with a track that has lost some grip thanks to the harsh heat of the Vegas environment, Goodyear could have gone softer and made conservation key; that would have helped cause a dropoff in speed, leading to more passing over those long, green-flag runs. Instead? They opted for the Flintstones again, throwing NASCAR back into the stone age unnecessarily…

With all that said, despite much criticism over NASCAR’s Gen-6 car the moments of brilliance we saw gave us hope. On lap 148, Martin Truex, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and David Reutimann went four-wide at a 1.5-mile oval. The car can obviously do some passing when someone is obviously faster than the car in front of you; now, if we can just get to happen when the car is only slightly faster.

We all know that NASCAR is embracing Social Media. Well, that’s great and all… but do we really need to shove sponsorship into that mess? During the beginning of the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas, our friends at FOX showed the Kobalt Tools Social Media Command Center. Seriously?!? How about the Kobalt Tools community aid center? Or the Kobalt Tools center to assist unemployed craftsmen? It would go a lot further for a sponsor to spend some money on helping people instead of enabling the ability to Tweet.

There’s no question this new car is a work in progress, but one thing is still never mentioned which would make the biggest difference of all. The problem with cars behind other cars, in the Sprint Cup Series is they don’t get enough air to the nose. That is primarily because there is no air coming from underneath the car in front. My solution would be to raise the nose of these cars so they can’t get closer to the ground than three or four inches. You do that and the entire “aero loose” principle disappears like magic.

One more note on the Gen-6: The cars are really fast. That’s right; race cars should be fast. That’s the point. Some folks are suggesting that we slow the cars down to make the racing a little better. Just a thought… isn’t that was we do with the restrictor plates? Yes, having throttle response would help but if you slow these cars down to 170, they’re going to go flat out every lap and we’ll be watching high-speed parades where cars can’t get away from each other.

Week three of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season and it’s the third week of hearing how tough it is to get on Pit Road. Note to FOX broadcasters: it is always hard to slow a car down from 190 to 50, or 120 to 50 when you’re going from “as fast as you can” to near school zone speeds. Let’s just acknowledge slowing down a 3,300-pound stock car really fast is a bitch and just move on.

Three races in, each manufacturer involved in the sport has won. NASCAR loves to trumpet parity and, at least in Victory Lane this year, mission accomplished for Ford, Chevy, and Toyota.

Pit road penalties set back some of the front runners during the race… but we don’t have the evidence as to why. That gaping hole in the process, for fans and even other teams needs to change, ASAP. We have the technology to show little balloons above the cars and display telemetry for how fast cars are traveling. So let’s get into the 21st century and use GPS technology, enforcing the speed from one end of the pit road to the other with data visible to all teams. This voodoo science of timing loops and average speed is getting old.

Sam Hornish, Jr. put his Nationwide ride in Victory Lane ahead of Kyle Busch on Saturday. Guess they should cancel the press release that announced Busch won every single race he entered in 2013. Yes, there’s no question Busch will win his fair share, now that he’s back in Nationwide with the support of dominant Joe Gibbs Racing. But 100 percent Cup drivers, all the time in that series? Absolutely not going to happen.

Caution flags were all but non-existent during the first half of the race. Just a suggestion to NASCAR officials, though; make sure the cars actually wreck before throwing the yellow rag. Marcos Ambrose got all kinds of sideways in turn four trying to make it to pit road, saved the car and kept on going. But NASCAR threw the yellow, taking advantage to bunch up the cars because Ambrose almost spun. C’mon, folks; let’s be a little more judicious than that.

As long as Michael Waltrip is in the booth, there is hope for every person in the world who can speak some form of English to be a race announcer.

Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Ryan Newman started the season with a fifth-place finish at Daytona. That seems like eons ago. One week after a Talladega Nights fire scene at Phoenix – running from his crashed vehicle he strapped in Sunday and missed a shift. A blown engine now leaves him with two DNFs in three races, a reminder of no contract for 2014 and hopefully no extra Vegas gambling debt.

Jeff Gordon must have drawn the short straw during the Tuesday Morning meeting at Hendrick Motorsports. While Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran in the top 10 all day, Gordon’s car was the proverbial “tub of S^&t!” that A.J. Foyt had at Indianapolis for qualifying in the early ’80s. Already, Gordon has two finishes in the twenties to dig himself a second straight early season hole.

The folks at BK Racing had a whopper of a bad Sunday as Travis Kvapil done blowed up on lap 217. David Reutimann, in perhaps a more embarrassing moment came home one spot behind Danica Patrick (34th). The team that continues to try and establish themselves in the sport is doing everything they can to be competitive, but the difficulties that face smaller, startup outfits continue to come up and bite them in the butt.

Kyle Larson is a phenomenal talent and will almost surely win a race in NASCAR’s upper divisions before this season wraps up. For now, though he’s off to a rough start in the Nationwide Series, where he’s running for Rookie of the Year. A Daytona debut led to a respectable 13th, but his car was in 1,300 pieces, along with his heart after fans were injured by its flying debris. Then, after a decent run at Phoenix he was wrecked out this weekend through no fault of his own again. Larson’s going to make some rookie mistakes; let’s just hope he has enough cars to learn them all before they pay off in wins.

Try as he might to downplay it, the emergence of the runner-up jinx is starting to haunt Clint Bowyer. While avoiding the horrendous luck that plagued Carl Edwards last season, we’re only three races in. Bowyer’s car was simply junk all day at Vegas. He is ninth in points, so we won’t bury him yet, but we will keep an eye on his fortunes going forward.

The “Seven-Come-For-Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Matt Kenseth rolled the dice, with no tires on his final stop then made his car as wide as he possibly could over the final 40 laps to score the first win of his Joe Gibbs Racing career.

GoDaddy Domains sponsored Danica Patrick this weekend and got more air time for a 33rd-place driver since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. put National Guard and AMP all over TV screens while getting shut out of Victory Lane for over three years.

Jamie McMurray done blowed up in Saturday practice. He wasn’t the best on Sunday, but managed to get on the lead lap late in the race and score a top-15 finish. The crew members who screwed up, installing the engine in his car in preparation for Vegas have to be feeling a little better today, too.

Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch spent most of the last 20 laps of the race driving it like they stole it. Fortunately, they did not get together and wreck each other. It is great to see drivers going for it so hard, late in the race when one point gained could cost you double digits due to a wreck.

Tony Stewart was pretty much out to lunch for most of the day. However, he got back on the lead lap with 67 laps to go and made the most of it, recording an 11th-place finish when the checkered flag flew. Hopefully, he won enough dough to compensate Rick Hendrick for the engine his teammate Ryan Newman grenaded.

Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard gave notice RCR is on the way back to the top of the heap rather than the scrap heap, scoring two top-10 finishes this weekend. RCR has been up and down for several years but it looks like 2013 is going to be one of the up ones.

Denny Hamlin spoke his mind after Phoenix, was fined and told the sanctioning body that he isn’t going to pay. That typically means the bulls-eye is on your back; however, on the next-to-last restart Hamlin was three-wide but NASCAR chose not to penalize him.

Worth Noting

  • Matt Kenseth won a race for the 11th of his 14 full-time years racing the Cup Series.
  • Brad Keselowski is the only driver with top-5 finishes in all three races of 2013.
  • Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. are the only trio who have top-10 finishes in all three races this year.
  • There were 22 lead changes among eight drivers during Sunday’s race. Seven of those lead changes took place on the track.
  • The Top 10 at Phoenix, by manufacturer:

Chevrolet – 5
Toyota – 3
Ford – 2

  • Matt Kenseth became the third driver in history to win a Cup race on his birthday. He joins Cale Yarborough and Kyle Busch in that exclusive club. Amazingly, Kenseth claimed Sunday was his first time to ever run a Cup race on his birthday. Just a note for Matt: he ran the MBNA 500 at Atlanta on March 10th, 2002 and finished fourth.
  • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (18th) was the Rookie of the Race over girlfriend Danica, who finished 33rd.
  • Kasey Kahne (second) led the most laps in the race with 114.
  • 13 penalties were handed out for pit road violations on Sunday. Five of those were for speeding.

What’s the Points

Jimmie Johnson leaves Las Vegas atop the standings by five over Brad Keselowski. Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits third in points, 10 out of the lead. This trio already has some reasonable distance over their competition.

Denny Hamlin is sitting fourth, 27 back from Johnson while Carl Edwards rounds out the top five. Mark Martin is sixth, but is not running the whole season so he’ll be dropping out of the running. Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, former teammates, are tied for seventh, followed by Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola. Ricky Stenhouse and Paul Menard, in 11th and 12th, respectively are the only other drivers who are mathematically within one race of the point lead.

If the Chase began now, we’d have a really shortened race season and would be searching for something to do by Memorial Day. As it is, things are lining up and no one is sure at this point who is going to be better than anyone else. You can say the Toyotas have fired the first volley on Intermediates, so they are in the best position, but it is way too early to make any kind of assumption on who will dominate the Chase.

Overall Rating: (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — This one gets two cans of semi-chilled Buckhorn. If you don’t know what that is, Google it. If you do, you know I’ve made a toast to the fact the top four drivers raced like hell with each other over the last 20 or so laps to salvage what was going to be a rather boring event from the scrap heap of Busch Light.

Next Up: Bristol Motor Speedway. We’ll see how the ground track that was supposed to return bump and run racing can do now that it has had another year to age.

P.S. – Bristol is a great track. It is one of the favorites for most of the fans of the sport, but let’s get something straight. It is not the World’s Fastest Half Mile. Don’t believe me? Check out the video of JoJo Helberg’s 12.669 lap around another famed half-mile in Winchester, Indiana. Try as they might to tell you otherwise, the folks at Bristol can’t come up with something faster than 12.669.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



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03/11/2013 01:43 AM

I cant be the only person that saw Kenny Wallace on the SpeedTV pre-race shout to the cheering audience that they all make just $25,000 per year when he was giving his wise view of the Hamlin fine.

The audience sure got quiet in a hurry.

And curse that old out to pasture bugger DW for siding with Nascar on the FOX intro. He said Denny was wrong to speak because “people worked for three years on that car new car.” Well, if they screwed up and produced another tractor, when would someone be allowed to say it? When they unveiled the Gen6 all we got were audio clips of how they worked to fix the problems of the Gen5 car. Amazing how willing nascar was to talk about its faults then.

I’m just ashamed of the sport for not being able to be honest thanks to France and Helton’s old-time over sensitivty and need to control things that expose how inept they both are at overseeing what was once a popular sport. Did anyone see the empty stands in Vegas? The camera sure worked hard to avoid crowd shots.

The current incarnation of this sport will be dead in a few more years. It wont be gone, but it wont survive this prolonged “Emperors New Clothes” era of Brian France’s unwillingness to run ‘his’ sport like anything other than a Soviet state.

I cant wait to watch the current shill mouth pieces like Larry Mac and the Waltrips scurry for their next paycheque when it does.

03/11/2013 01:43 AM

I watched the race on fast forward until the last stop, so it took about 20 mins. I think the comment about the tyres is spot on, with Goodyear making them rock hard, it doesnt matter what you do to the cars they arent able to race. Instead of changing the cars, it would be a lot cheaper to get rid of Goodyear. Look at what Pirelli has done in F1. Also think that Kenseth is going to win a lot more races this year.

Bad Wolf
03/11/2013 02:37 AM

After the first 2 races I had enough of Nascar, Danica and Fox for one year, and only glanced at the race twice this afternoon. I did notice all the fans dressed as empty seats, and think if they cannot fill the stands in Las Vegas they are in deep trouble. Las Vegas is a destination all to itself, and as a fan of Nascar if you hit that race you get 3 days of hot Las Vegas action besides the race.

I will tune in next week for Bristol, just to see if the combo of the re-redone track and Gen6 COT will bring back the Bristol magic that the Chase, COT and boneheaded track reconfiguration took away.

03/11/2013 08:22 AM

only thing i’ll comment on is that one of the announcers during starting line up informed us that the 1 and 42 had engine problems and said they were hendrick engines. when did earnhardt/ganassi racing go to hendrick engines??

saw the beginning of the race and watched the last 20 laps. guess sunday was toyota’s day to win.

Glen H.
03/11/2013 09:27 AM

“But as Kahne prepared to make a bid for the lead, Kenseth moved up and took the lane away. We didn’t know it then… but that was all she wrote.”

Actually, once Kenseth got the lead on the resart, that wall all whe wrote. Like the Gen 5 car, if you’re close to having an equal car, you’re not going to pass the one in front once you hit the wall of air.

03/11/2013 09:45 AM

Side-by-side coverage: Commercials on the left side of your screen; video of the lead car circling the track on the right side of your screen. As usual, we turned down the sound and listened to PRN to acually hear about the little RACING that was going on.

03/11/2013 09:53 AM

This work in progress line is, to be polite bull. Other racing series produce new cars every year, not just a rebody, and it has to perform at the first race, no excuses.
Secondly, in F1, where aero is definitely king, they raise the nose to allow air under the car. Downforce is as easily generated by diffusers as by spoilers and harder to catch. So that may not be the easy answer it seems.

03/11/2013 10:10 AM

A side note about the races. On Saturday, a female driver, driving an underfunded car, started 20th, stayed out of trouble, and finished 19th, one lap down. On Sunday, a female driver, driving an extremely well funded car for the top organization in NASCAR, started, what, 39th, and finished 33rd, but five laps down. I would still like to see a seat swap between these two.

awww shucks
03/11/2013 10:45 AM

what do we expect new car bodies on old chassis to do? be a fix all? no way. the stands are empty due to financial struggles and commitements. i’d love to take the wife to vegas for a race. kids in activities and the cost just do not make it a realistic destination for many like it used to. like sponsorships, the races are pricing themselves out of full stands. lower the prices. a $100 ticket on top of hotel and travel costs makes this less tempting. the fans are not in vegas, or california. race fans TRAVEL there to watch the races and it is apparent to me that less can afford to play……

Carl D.
03/11/2013 11:17 AM

I have offically dubbed Darrell and Mikey “The Waltrip Tools”. Shame on both of them for siding with Nascar on the Denny Hamlin fine. Both are former drivers and Darrell was known for speaking his mind during his heyday. Now they tow the France line like the spineless milquetoasts they have become. If I were a driver I’d never give either of them a minute of my time. I have not even a smidgen of respect left for either of the Waltip Tools.

03/11/2013 11:27 AM

What I found humorous, or nauseating, was Kenny Wallace saying that race was great with a classic finish. Maybe I expect too much anymore but I would rather see a few lead changes during the battle. The other one was on ESPN news showing the hightlites and stating when Kvapil blew his engine that Danica hit the wall then and finished six laps down as a result. Guees the media and/or NASCAR feels they need to make up excuses for her finishes………..gonna be a long year……..

03/11/2013 11:55 AM

I didn’t think the race was terrible. There was some passing. FOX made it unbearable though.

The pit road speeding is a 100% easy, solvable problem with the use of a rev-limiter. The tired, tired, out of touch argument that a rev-limiter can give teams another place to cheat is ABSURD, and the fact is NASCAR seems to like torturing us with pit road penalties to “spice up” the competition.


03/11/2013 01:02 PM

Wasn’t dw nicname “jaws” he complained about everything and anything. When will FOX get smart and get rid of the mouth brothers?

03/11/2013 01:34 PM

I have been saying for years that if you want better racing, eliminate the valances on the front of the cars, so that air gets passed underneath.

This is why racing “back in the day” was good. There was no valance on the front of the car.

Of course Nascar will not allow this as they are, now more than ever, concerned about the car getting airborne.

Perhaps some sort of halfway measure like the 4 inch clearance you suggested would be an improvement.

03/11/2013 03:35 PM

Janice, EGR switched to Hendrick Enginges this year…

03/11/2013 03:52 PM

Wow you guys are all cranky. Bunch of grump old losers whining about the good old days. There wasn’t much wrong with yesterday’s race. Sure the tires didn’t wear, but the battle at the end was good and there seemed to be enough action to keep me interested. If you can’t accept it as moderately entertaining you should stop watching racing, as this isn’t for you/

03/11/2013 05:07 PM

Mike, be careful saying negative things about Gen6. I’m expecting NASCAR to start fining the media before long. I’m sure they’d fine the fans if they could figure out how to do it.
I didn’t watch much of the race yesterday and that was by design. I knew that DW, Mikey, Kenny and Larry, the mouthpieces of NASCAR would all band together and say Denny was wrong. I disagree. He didn’t say anything the fans weren’t already saying and only a bunch of fools – both NASCAR and the paid shills – believe that this car is a great race car. If NASCAR would simply admit that its a work in progress it would save them a lot of shoveling as they try and dig themselves out of the BS they get buried in.

I listened to the scanner on my computer and followed the race via twitter. I’m sure I got as much information as I would have trying to work around the Waltrip show.

Sabas, if you enjoyed the race yesterday, that’s great. Fortunately, it’s a free country and we can state differing opinions.

Be careful encouraging people to stop watching/attending races. People are already doing that all on their own.

03/11/2013 05:13 PM

Haven’t hit a NASCAR race in several years—by design. I would much rather be at a dirt track.

Andy D
03/11/2013 05:33 PM

Everyone else has brought up the points and corrections that I had intended to make…So let me just compliment Mike on this article. He doesn’t yet have all the honesty and humor that Matt brought us, but he’s getting darn close.

Bill B
03/11/2013 08:20 PM

I really think the blame for this race not being interesting came from the lack of coverage. Apparently there were lots of passes being made (if you believe NASCAR’s stats) too bad the tv guys can’t figure out how to show those passes. Damn it’s infuriating to know there is racing/passing going on somewhere on the track and all we see are the top 5 riding in line formation. All the while the guys in the booth rambling on about nothing instead of covering the race like MRN.

another Andy D
03/11/2013 09:44 PM

Have always been a Ford and Bill Elliott fan. It hurt when he was forced to go to Dodge, but I always was happy when he did well.
Started following Matt after that as my Ford driver. It’s a similar situation now, although not a Toyota fan.
The end of the race was good. I thought Kasey was going to pass Matt, but then not. After Kess passed Kyle, I though Kasey could win.
It became obvious the nose of the trailing car was going to be a problem when it came to passing the car out front.
The audio of Matt pleading to get the lap down cars out of the way added to drama.

03/11/2013 09:49 PM

i’m with you Bad Wolf.
after the first two races i was uninpressed. i didn’t watch it and frankly i’m tired of this sh… crap.
someone call me when there’s racing worth watching. then maybe then i’ll watch the dvr’ed events. (can’t really call them races if they are really that predictable now can we?)

and hahahahha awww shucks “new body old chassis” hits the nail on the head. it only half looks like a production car… from between the A and B pillar forward maybe. and the Busc… nation wide cars? those are no mustangs or camaros. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a street car that looked like that. do they really think we are that stupid? (rhetorical question)

Steve K
03/11/2013 11:48 PM

Another nugget to show how useless Goodyear’s tires are: On the last caution Montoya got the lucky dog to get on the lead lap and line up 19th. (I am making the assumption that Montoya got four new tires since FOX didn’t tell us. Actually calling the race is not what TV people do)

The 42 was looking at a top 15 finish since he has all that great fresh Goodyear rubber compared to the guys around him. He used that “advantage” to finish. . .19th. Buy Pirelli everyone.

03/12/2013 12:52 AM

To all of you so called experts that say the stands were empty, Go to a race! I was there, As I have been for the last 8 years running! This was a great year for Vegas! The grandstand on the north end, (turns 3&4),have been tarped over for the last 3 or 4 years! They were 3/4 full this year! We also have The best infield to watch a race from, (The Neon Garage). As far as Goodyear and the tires, It’s the track not the tire! Tire wear has not been a problem at Vegas for years! So all you armchair Crew Cheifs, get off the couch and go to a race before you try to fix the sport! And for the record, it was also 20 degrees hotter on race day than any day since they hit the track Thursday!!

03/12/2013 10:20 AM

It has just become the default response, Bear, and it’s hard to do anything else.

But like I said, the main problem is FOX’s horrible coverage, not the race itself.

The more and more this goes on, the more I’m convinced of it, because reports from fans in the stands are ALWAYS more positive, and the reports from MRN listeners are ALWAYS more positive. There was passing, we just didn’t see it. And I thought the end of the race was plenty dramatic.

The problem is, I don’t see a solution to make us happier. Not everyone wants to get an MRN subscription. Most of us can’t go to every race in person. So what can we do about it?

dave collins
03/12/2013 05:30 PM

I have thought for years they need to limit the travel on the front ends so that the car remains a few inches off the ground. They also need to adjust the gear rule so that some cars are faster at the end of the straight or they want to get off the corner quicker. Also the cars still look the same so they are going to handle the same.

03/13/2013 12:28 AM

Gen-6 ?

Don’t you mean Gen-Sicks?


Contact Mike Neff

Recent articles from Mike Neff:

Thinkin' Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
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