To the Point: Jimmie Johnson successfully defended his title at Las Vegas, taking his second straight Cup win at the track after charging to the checkered flag slightly ahead of Matt Kenseth in a thrilling side-by-side drag race to the line in the UAW Daimler-Chrysler 400. Johnson led only one lap in the race—- the last one—- in the third straight event decided by a green-white-checkered finish.
Who Should Have Won: Matt Kenseth. As this week’s race wound down to its closing stages, it appeared the 17 team was well on track to securing their second win in a row. Unlike the California event two weeks ago, where Kenseth benefited from others’ misfortunes, this time his DeWalt Ford was the class of the field in the race’s second half, as Kenseth ultimately led 146 of 270 laps. However, the late-race debris caution setting up a green-white-checkered finish came at the worst possible time for Kenseth; he was reporting the slow development of an engine problem, and it appeared he had just enough of a loss of power to allow Johnson to get the run he needed on the final lap to squeak by Kenseth for the win.
Five Questions You Should be Asking After the Race Weekend:
1) How many fans were still watching this week by the time the race headed towards its exciting last-lap finish?
No question about it, Sunday’s finish at Las Vegas was two laps of pure excitement. The problem lied within the other 268 times around the track. With the NCAA Tournament Brackets coming out around the race’s halfway mark, it’ll be interesting to see how many fans tuned out from a second consecutive ho-hum race and never came back. This track is being repaved Homestead-style after the weekend’s festivities"¦for many fans, the changes can’t come soon enough.
2) For the second week in a row, was there good enough reason to throw the final caution?
As was the case last week, the caution that caused overtime had nothing to do with either a driver crashing or a stopped car on the track—- it had to do with safety. Last race, a blown engine on the front straightaway out of the groove"¦this race, a piece of debris thrown off Kenny Wallace’s car that landed near the entrance to Turn 3. Both times, the safety of drivers were not seriously compromised"¦which makes the question continue to be, where do you draw the line on when to throw the caution for incidents like that?
3) What happened to Scott Riggs and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at the end of the race? And will Fox ever report on cars that head to the garage area not from a major team?
Both suffered two poorly reported speeding penalties that cost them over a dozen positions apiece at the end of the race"¦too bad nobody could clearly inform us as to what was going on. Nor did anyone clearly inform the average TV viewer why Travis Kvapil disappeared for over 30 laps (electrical problems), why Kevin LePage suddenly went several laps behind, or produced solid reports on Ken Schrader’s or Chad Chaffin’s woes. When will broadcasters learn the race is about 43 drivers, not just the one up front?
4) Forget the Tony Stewart "" Matt Kenseth feud"¦what is going on between Stewart and Kyle Busch?
Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart apparently had a conversation not too long ago about calming down the younger Busch’s aggressive driving style"¦apparently, Kyle wasn’t listening. The 5 car did his best to make Stewart’s life miserable as the 20 tried to pass him with over 80 laps remaining in the race, and his blocking maneuvers near the end of the event got Stewart to smack his car into the backstretch wall while frantically trying to find a way around him"¦the 20 car ended up with a cut tire and a 21st place finish. And this is all after Busch’s Mexico City Busch Series incident with Michel Jourdain, Jr. last weekend"¦looks like someone’s not too popular in the garage area right now!
5) Why didn’t Chris Myers just call in sick for the weekend?
Don’t get me wrong"¦an obviously under-the-weather Myers deserves kudos for attempting to work on a day he had no voice. The problem was, most people had a hard time understanding anything he was saying. Couldn’t Fox let him call in sick and get someone else to fill in for the weekend? Surely, Terry Bradshaw had to be around somewhere"¦now THAT would have led to some interesting VISA Race Breaks.
Kyle Busch – All contact with Stewart aside, the younger Busch had a great finish in his hometown race for the second straight year, following up last year’s runner-up effort with a 3rd place result on Sunday in a race where he spent 268 of his 270 laps in the Top 10, more than any other driver.
Jeff Gordon – Used to be that 5th was a ho-hum finish for the 24 bunch, but considering their runs on intermediate tracks the last few years, a Top 5 finish had to be like a win. Gordon ran solidly in the Top 10 all day, and despite a little physical contact with Greg Biffle, was able to survive a doughnut on the side of the car to come home strongest when you’re supposed to—- the end of the race.
Mark Martin – Certainly not the win most fans of the veteran were hoping for, but Martin’s AAA Ford led early and often, and despite slowly losing the handle of the car as the race went on, the 46-year-old found himself in sixth place by the time the checkered flag fell. Three Top 12 finishes to start off the year is what you want when you’re going for a championship.
Casey Mears – His third Top 10 of 2006 in as many races, Casey’s 9th place run Sunday was easily the hardest finish to come by this season. Falling out of the Top 25 for an extensive period of time, the 42 team and crew chief Donnie Wingo slowly but surely dialed the car in each stop to allow a slow but steady improvement to the Top 10 by race’s end.
Ryan Newman – Simply put, this weekend may have been one of the worst in Newman’s Cup career. A blown engine Saturday led to little practice and a shotgun start on the field, and the 12 car never got going from there, as Newman was lapped before the race’s first caution and caused its second, slapping the Turn 3 wall after losing a tire. Newman finished 43rd.
Tony Stewart – For the second week in a row, Stewart’s weekend was ruined late, as contact with the backstretch wall with 10 laps remaining caused a cut tire and a late pit stop that put him near the back of the pack. Despite a late yellow for debris, Stewart was only able to climb back to 21st by race’s end.
Sterling Marlin – The Marlin/MB2 experiment continues to struggle, as Marlin’s Sunday ended ten laps short with a blown engine after running out of the Top 25 virtually all day long. Marlin ended up 36th in the final rundown.
Jeff Green – One of the top teams in preseason testing at Las Vegas, Green never seemed to capitalize on that momentum. He qualified a disappointing 14th, then suffered through several pit road penalties en route to a mediocre 18th place finish.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. & Scott Riggs – Mentioned in the same vein as both drivers needed a good finish badly, both stopped for tires before the green-white-checkered finish, giving up positions in the Top 15 to do so, and both suffered through unbearable speeding penalties coming off pit road, throwing them at the back of the lead lap for that final restart. Solid runs were turned into 27th & 28th place finishes as a result.
"We never hit or anything, but I guess I have to go have another chitchat with him to figure out what I did wrong. I guess we can’t race each other, I don’t know." Kyle Busch
"What I’m upset about (with Kyle) is that with 80 laps to go we’re sitting there for 15-20 laps behind him trying to get by and he’s holding us up for no reason. With 80 laps to go, he’s holding us up and we all have another pit stop to make. Work on your car and go on. There’s just an etiquette"¦I’m frustrated with it and I honestly think I have every right to be." Tony Stewart
"This is an awesome race track. It’s a shame they’re going to tear this place up"¦It’s ridiculous." _Jeff Burton, 7th place finisher on Sunday who also has two career Nextel Cup wins at Las Vegas
"I think it’s apparent that there’s no big revelation in the Intrepid. I seem to be passing those guys, so is the Charger the answer? I don’t know. Is the Intrepid the answer? I don’t think so. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve just got to buckle down and get better." Casey Mears
Johnson’s win allowed him to pad his point lead, as he now leads new second place point man Matt Kenseth by 52 after 3 events. Kasey Kahne had a second straight solid run, placing 4th in the race and moving to 3rd in the standings, 85 behind Johnson. Casey Mears falls from 2nd to 4th in points, 86 back of the lead, with Mark Martin moving up one spot to 5th, already 110 points back of Johnson.
Kyle Busch, rookie Clint Bowyer, Elliott Sadler, Jeff Gordon, and Jeff Burton round out the Top 10, separated by just 30 points. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is 11th, just 4 points back of Burton but 171 behind Jimmie Johnson.
Among the drivers in a bit of early trouble include Stewart, 19th in points and 236 behind the leader; Carl Edwards, 23rd in points, 256 behind; Greg Biffle, 25th in points, 271 behind; and Michael Waltrip, 31st in points, 318 behind.
The Nextel Cup series turns its attention back east after its two-race West Coast swing, heading to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the annual spring running of the Golden Corral 500 next Sunday at around 1:30 P.M EST.
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