NASCAR Race Weekend Central

_Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday's race? Amy Henderson has you covered with each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H…the Big Six._ *Who…gets my shoutout of the race?* While he only led 12 laps on Sunday, *Brad Keselowski* reminded everyone why he's the reigning champion on Sunday. Keselowski waged fierce on-track battles for position all day long and never once backed down from a challenge. His dogged fight with Kyle Busch for third place showed what the 29-year-old is made of. Keselowski never gave an inch, but he never crossed the line into over-aggression, though he's had issues with Busch in the past. What did Keselowski show on Sunday that makes him a champion? First, he's willing to take a risk during a race, even if it's not for the lead. Lots of drivers are willing to settle for a point or two less in the late going rather than risking a crash and the loss of many points, but Keselowski isn't. Two, he knows that if you ruffle too many feathers, it will come back to bite you. He races as hard as anybody, but with nothing but respect (though he will drive others the way they driver him if he feels the need to send a reminder), and that means his peers will remember that down the road. Three, Keselowski knows how to take care of his equipment while racing for a top finish, and that's not something that just anyone can do. In short, if anyone doubts that Brad Keselowski is the real deal after his 2012 title, they had better adjust their thinking in a hurry—this driver is goin to be a title contender for years to come. *What… was THAT?* It was kind of funny that when NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton discussed the fine levied against Denny Hamlin last week for his comments about the new Gen-6 cars being difficult to race, he said that constructive criticism was acceptable. Really? Because if you listen to the comments Hamlin was fined for, that's exactly what they were. They didn't slam the car or the racing, unlike the comments fired by Kyle Busch when the CoT was rolled out (Busch as not fined for flat out saying the car sucked). I'm sure the back helicopters were circling for the conspiracy-minded when Hamlin, who has said he will not pay NASCAR's fine, was penalized for speeding on pit road, too. So what gives? For fans who want to hear their favorite drivers discuss their races and not off-track news, *it has to be frustrating knowing they're being throttled at every attempt and will soon be afraid to say anything*. This is exactly the type of thing that makes so many drivers seem so very bland—they're afraid to bite the hand that feeds them, be it sponsor or sanctioning body. It doesn't matter how genuine or funny they are outside the sound bites, because a lot of people aren't looking beyond the broadcasts to see their personalities. If NASCAR—and team sponsors—want to see more fans following them, they need to consider what's really important here. And this week, NASCAR failed miserably to put things in perspective. *Where…did the defending race winner wind up?* For Tony Stewart, winning at Las Vegas last spring was the case of a driver still riding the wave of momentum from his 2011 Cup title, and it made Stewart an early favorite to repeat in 2012. It was the first of three wins for Stewart last year, but not the start of a fourth overall title run. Stewart, who has been known to heat up with the weather, didn't get nearly as hot as the summer sun, and his repeat bid faded to a ninth-place points result. This week's performance, while not as engaging as a year ago, was more in line with Stewart's career numbers at LVMS. Stewart finished *11th* on Sunday, slightly ahead of his 12.7 average finish. Last year's winning performance was the only Vegas victory for Stewart, who was not among the eight drivers to lead this week. Still, it was uneventful, and that's exactly what Stewart needs after finishing 41st at Daytona. After finishing eighth last week, Stewart climbed to 18th in driver points this week, up five sports form Phoenix. *When…will I be loved?* I'm sure there will be fans clamoring to blame the Gen-6 car for a lack of competitiveness on Sunday, but here's the thing: it could, and did, pass without getting all upset. What it couldn't do (and neither could its predecessor) was catch the cars in front of it. I heard a rumor that NASCAR is considering limiting horsepower using a graduated spacer like they use in the Nationwide Series, but that's not enough. *If NASCAR wants tighter racing, they need to slow the cars down by about 30 miles an hour.* There are several ways they could limit the horsepower if they chose to do so. Faster isn't always better, and as speeds rise, the racing is getting less and less competitive. Couple that with the points racing NASCAR has created (that's all on them), and well, you get what you saw Sunday. The Gen-6 can race side by side, and it can pass, but it can't fix problems NASCAR won't address in the right way. *Why…worry now?* It's still a whole lot of too early to pick favorites to make the Chase, let alone win the title, but there are a few trends forming early that warrant a look. *Hendrick Motorsports* is looking strong early, with all four of its drivers in the top 14 in points, including point leader Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in third. Johnson and Earnhardt, in particular, look to be very comfortable in the Gen-6 cars at this point, and Kasey Kahne is rapidly catching on. Still, it's very early, and an advantage with the Gen-6 now doesn't mean it will still be there when the Chase rolls around, and there are other teams looking to pounce as they gain on the car. *Roush Fenway Racing* has three drivers in the top 11, including last week's winner, Carl Edwards, and rookie Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Greg Biffle and Stenhouse stumbled a bit at LVMS, though, while Edwards put up a fifth-place run. What puts RFR just a tick behind Hendrick in recent years is the team's seeming inability to sustain top finishes for all three teams; at least one has been a step behind as the season wears on. Brad Keselowski is picking up right where he left off for *Penske Racing* as the only driver with three straight top-5 runs to open 2013, but new teammate Joey Logano hasn't gotten up to speed as quickly, having yet to score a top-10 finish. *Joe Gibbs Racing* should be there when it counts, but engine and mechanical woes have plagued them early. Matt Kenseth's birthday win was a step in the right direction, and Kenseth knows how to win a title—something neither Denny Hamlin nor Kyle Busch has proven able to do yet. Finally, *Michael Waltrip Racing* is looking to show that 2012 wasn't a fluke, and are off to a good start, with both Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer in the top 10 (though Martin won't stay there due to a partial schedule; the team could still post a strong owner point run). *How…did the little guys do?* *Furniture Row Racing; Kurt Busch* (No. 78 Furniture Row / Serta Chevy): FRR was the only small team to land among the top 20 on Sunday, with Busch's 20th-place effort. Busch was the first driver to finish a lap down to Matt Kenseth, but it looked to be a 50-50 proposition for the Earnhardt-Childress Engine crowd this week anyway; while Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard finished in the top 10, Busch and Jeff Burton finished the day midpack, with Busch besting Burton by six spots. *Phoenix Racing; Austin Dillon* (No. 51 Tag Heuer Chevy): Dillon had a solid day given the equipment he's in. His 21st-place finish was second-best among this group, not bad for a driver with limited experience on a track where the small teams are unlikely to compete with the poerhouses. It was also Dillon's best result in his four-race Cup experience, so it wasn't a bad day for this team, just an average one. *Wood Brothers Racing; Trevor Bayne* (No 21 Motorcraft Ford): Bayne is a better intermediate-track driver than his Cup results show, but he's one of the drivers whose day hinges more on the engine the team is given from Roush-Yates, and Wood Brothers is about eighth in line in that hierarchy. Bayne finished the day a lap down in 23rd place. *Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley*(No 7 SANY Chevy & No. 36 Accell Construction Chevy): It wasn't an easy day for the TBR drivers, but it wasn't a start & park day, either. This is a team that wants to go the distance every week, but were often forced to the garage early last year when the money wasn't there. Blaney had the better finish of the two TBR drivers on Sunday, finishing 24th, a lap behind the leaders, while Yeley had a rougher go of it, ending the West Coast trip eight laps down in 36th. *Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland* (No. 34 Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport' Riviera Hotel & Casino Ford & No. 38 Long John Silver's Ford): Just one of the three FRM cars managed a top-30 result in Sin City, with David Gilliland leading the team to a 28th-place finish. Unsponsored David Ragan ended up 31st, and Josh Wise came home 35th, seven laps down. This is one team who is probably glad NASCAR did away with the top 35 rule-not one of the FRM cars is among that group this year so far. *Germain Racing; Casey Mears* (No. 13 GEICO Ford): Here is a team that's shown vast improvement in the last couple of years-Mears entered the day 19th in driver points after a top 15 run last week and has been strong in the last several restrictor-plate races—but is in the same boat as the other small teams on the intermediate tracks. Perhaps even a smaller, leaker boat; if Wood Bros. Racing is eighth in the engine line, Germain is somewhere between ninth and 12th every week, and that shows up on this type of track. Mears also fought an ill-handling car all day en route to his 29th-place finish, two laps off the pace. *JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte* (No. 47 Kingsford Toyota): Labonte had a tough day on Sunday, going for a spin late in the race. Still, the veteran driver was able to recover enough to finish 30th, four laps behind. Labonte may not be the championship driver he once was, and he's certainly not in championship caliber equipment, but one thing you can say for the 2000 champ is that if he can find a way to salvage at least a halfway decent run, he will do it. *Swan Racing; David Stremme* (No. 30 Swan Racing / Lean1 Toyota): Perhaps the most memorable moment for this team on Sunday was in the closing laps, when Matt Kenseth was pleading with his spotter to ask lapped traffic to give him the top lane, and Stremme was the only one to challenge him, giving Kenseth and his fans a momentary fright before their victory. Still, this new team was running at the end and not in the garage as so many start-ups find themselves early. Stremme wound up six laps behind Kenseth in 32nd spot. *BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil * (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): At times on Sunday, it looked more like Reutimann and Kvapil were simply trying to survive the day, staying out of the way of the leaders and trying to keep their cars in one piece. Reutimann limed home six laps down in 33rd, but Kvapil's engine gave up the ghost in the late going, leaving him in 39th. This team is one who should be showing more improvement from last fall to now. They were behind on building cars in early 2012, but that can only be the excuse for poor performance for so long. *FAS Lane Racing; Ken Schrader* (No. 32 Federated Auto Parts Ford): Frankie Stoddard's team is among the poorest of the poor, but you have to hand it to them, they don't pack it in early. This week, veteran Ken Schrader piloted the No. 32 to a 37th-place finish, next to last among the cars that were running at the end. You have to feel for Stoddard, who was among the best crew chiefs in the sport a decade ago, because he genuinely wants to make his team succeed despite the uphill battle they face every week. *NEMCO Motorsports; Joe Nemechek* (No. 87 MaddiesPlaceRocks.com Toyota): Nemechek, who has in the past, parked early to fund his Nationwide Series efforts, has tried to go the distance each week so far in 2013 with modest backing. A former NNS champion and Cup winner, Nemecheck was running at the end on Sunday, though he was more than 50 laps off the pace in 40th. *Leavine Family Racing; Scott Speed * (No. 95 Surrender the Sponsor Ford): Transmission failure or start and park? It was hard to tell with this team on Sunday, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and include them, since they raced past the halfway mark, which included having to make some pit stops, en route to their 41st-place result. However, if the trend continues, they'll be left off the list as a start & park effort.

_Charles Schultz,_ the creator of The Peanuts, crafted a line of books that followed the idea of: _Happiness is…_ Each page depicted different things from which a person should find - guess what? - happiness. The overall concept showed how the emotion comes in many forms, blah blah blah… this idea is not one that requires any kind of advanced degree. Well, Sunday's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway should, like Schultz's book serve to bring a little bit of happiness to everyone that follows NASCAR. Was the race outstanding? No, but it was not terrible either. For the first time, perhaps this season the racing the Gen-6 car provided gave fans at least a few solid nuggets of hope to hang their hats on. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, ones we've heard too often in recent weeks. First, by lap 35, the gap between first and tenth had already grown to ten seconds, which would hardly establish competitive racing. Even worse, by lap 60, half of the field had already fallen a lap behind. Maybe that is growing pains with the Gen-6 car, or maybe something was amiss, but any time half the Sprint Cup grid is already down a lap, a quarter into the race something is problematic. And then, almost by script, the mysterious debris caution arrived at lap 66. Any fan could have predicted this occurrence – they are as routine as Christmas, Easter, Independence Day, and taxes. Or the sun rising in the morning. To the surprise of no one, the magical debris failed to be shown. No need to mention the caution on lap 160 – just another reason to bunch the field, even though not only did Marcos Ambrose not spin, but blended back into traffic. Whatever. So where’s the good stuff, the happiness? Glad you asked. *Happiness is…* Darrell Waltrip. Thank you, Darrell Waltrip. You gave us another one. With “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity” as stale as a bag of marshmallows opened in 1998, you gave us another word to add to our lexicon. On lap 127, Waltrip referred to a gaggle of cars that impeded the leader Jimmie Johnson as a \"debalacle.\" The spelling may not be right, but any time viewers get treated to a mix of debacle, diabolical, and bottleneck all in one word, then everyone has gained something. What that something is – yet to be determined. Feel free to impress everyone by using debalacle in your conversations. Oh, right, there was racing. *Happiness is…* Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne battling to the end. Kahne looked like the proverbial \"class of the field\" all day, and when the green flag dropped on those last laps, Kenseth appeared to be nothing but a stepping stone on the way to Kahne’s victory. As Lee Corso would be happy to deliver – not so fast, my friend. Kahne could not muster the speed to pass Kenseth, even though the two of them ran within car lengths the final 20 laps. Was it good racing? The easy answer is yes. The more philosophical answer is: well, it wasn’t bad. *Happiness is…* The third and fourth place cars of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch battling for position. Fans have indicated that they want to see more racing on the track and with dual battles for the top 4 spots, there's reason to believe that some of what fans have been looking for might be showing up at the track, more consistently soon. Setting aside the fact that first and second had run away from the field, there's a sense of encouragement to be gleaned from a weekend in Sin City. The cars in the top 10 all raced with a certain amount of competitiveness; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin Truex, Jr. also were side-by-side at the end for seventh. One of the intentions of this car was to encourage this type of racing, on intermediates once again. It is possible, that even with a modicum of success they might have found something to work with down the road. *Happiness is…* Tires not being a factor. Kenseth drove to the victory on old tires and there was nary an issue throughout the race. After the problems that many faced at Phoenix, having their treads last so long allowed for crew chiefs and drivers to opt for varying strategies. Of course, the flip side of this notion is that Goodyear still has yet to make a tire that degrades in a way that provides tactical decision-making. But hey, it was better to watch drivers actually turn laps rather than waiting for one to pound it into the wall with another right-front blown like last week. *Happiness is…* Keeping your mouth shut. What’s that you say, Denny Hamlin? NASCAR showed its totalitarian rule by muzzling Hamlin and sending a message to all its drivers. With a программа, or program, straight out of the Cold War, the \"powers that be\" again showed a lack of vision. Isn’t the United States the country who established that whole freedom of speech idea? That may be the case, but it does not cover criticizing NASCAR. Tsk tsk, Denny, didn’t you know? *Happiness is…* Watching the cars a lap down have to race each other. Though FOX focused on the leaders, and for this race, with some good reason, many of the position battles in the back of the field were competitive. Overall, this notion indicates that while some teams may have nailed the Las Vegas set-up, that those still figuring it out are all in the same situation and will be fighting each other race by race. The monster organizations like Joe Gibbs, Hendrick, Roush, and even Childress are all going to sit in the front, as the past two races illustrate. The fluctuation, however, between those outside of the top 10 might be some of the more interesting competition as the season progresses. *Happiness is…* Looking forward to Bristol. Enjoy – or you don’t like warm puppies. *Connect with Huston!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/turtlewords\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Huston Ladner\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/40694/

_Did you miss an event during this busy week in racing? How about a late-night press release, an important sponsorship rumor, or a juicy piece of news? If you did, you’ve come to the right place! Each week, The Frontstretch will break down the racing, series by series, to bring you the biggest stories that you need to watch going forward for the week ahead. Let our experts help you get up to speed for the coming week, no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!_ *Sprint Cup: Kenseth Clawing Forward In No Time* Just three races removed from Roush Fenway Racing, after choosing a fresh start Matt Kenseth is making his presence felt with new owner Joe Gibbs. The driver winning on his birthday, just the third driver in Cup Series history to do so was special enough. But to cash in at Vegas, a place his former employer has dominated - Roush had captured seven of 15 Cup races here entering Sunday - made him that much more emotional. Everything, from screaming at his spotter during the final laps to thanking the Lord post-race felt out of character for the usually even-keeled, deadpan humor type from Wisconsin we've come to know. But it's clear that, whether it's disrespect he felt at RFR or simply nervousness about such a major career decision Kenseth has felt the need for instant success. \"I felt a lot of pressure that I put on myself to come in here and perform,\" he said. \"My goal was to win and to win early. You don't want to disappoint people.\" Clearly, Kenseth has done anything _but_ that, tied for seventh in the standings despite a DNF in this year's Daytona 500. In that one, he had the fastest car, putting forth a dominant performance before being sidelined by engine woes. Leading the circuit with 128 laps led, Kenseth has proven already the versatility required to be a champion. Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, above him have better consistency; but overall, through the first three races it appears JGR, through Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin have better overall speed. Will the two titans at the top have to make room for Kenseth and his crew? Early accounts point to a resounding \"yes.\" Kenseth has gotten off to this type of start before, winning the first two races of the season back in '09 but what we saw Sunday was a type of resolve that won't lend itself to a summer slowdown. Ladies and gentlemen, get used to the No. 20 running up front, consistently once again throughout 2013. _Tom Bowles_ *Nationwide: Vegas Is Sam's Town, Indeed…* A 36-race losing streak might pale in comparison to, say, Carl Edwards's 70-race run snapped at Phoenix, but for Sam Hornish Jr., a win in the NASCAR Nationwide Series couldn't come soon enough. Despite top equipment and a fourth-place finish in 2012 points, Hornish went without a win after his victory at Phoenix in late 2011, but the dry spell was snapped at Las Vegas in the Sam's Town 300. Hornish still may not be a favorite for the series title over the formidable lineup at Joe Gibbs Racing, but he takes a 19-point advantage into Bristol this weekend. Sure, that track can be unpredictable and the Penske driver could lose all of his lead and then some to pursuers Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler, but that big a lead is still that big a lead, and provides the Ohioan with a nice cushion. Last year he was a dark horse. This year, consider him a front runner. _Kevin Rutherford_ *ARCA: Enfinger Gets His Chance To Shine* Sometimes, good guys do finish first. Grant Enfinger has been a mainstay on the ARCA circuit for several years, trying in vain since '09 to win a series event. In the meantime, he's won in just about every other car he's ever driven but bad luck has caused potential ARCA victories to elude him… until this weekend. Mobile International Speedway is Enfinger's home track, for all intents and purposes and the perfect place for the veteran to \"cash in.\" When he rolled into Victory Lane, it was one of the biggest cheers heard in a long time at an ARCA race. The only louder cheer on Saturday was when Enfinger donned an Alabama Crimson Tide baseball cap during the victory celebration. 15-year-old Kyle Benjamin gave Enfinger a run for his money in his first ever ARCA start. Leading 26 laps, Benjamin was at the point when Enfinger grabbed the lead for the final time on a restart. Benjamin was making a move to reassume first place, putting himself in position when a final caution flew. Enfinger held the teenager off on a final restart to score his first win for himself and BCR racing. In addition to Benjamin, Anderson Bowen, another 15-year-old, crossed the finish line in third as the \"young guns\" took center stage. The two youngsters are 63 years younger than James Hylton, the 77-year-old driver who is the oldest competitor in the ARCA series. _Mike Neff_ *Short Tracks: Big Names Off To Big Starts* Lee Pulliam had a storybook 2012 that culminated with his claiming the National Championship in the Whelen All-American Series. The third-place finisher in the points last season was C.E. Falk. The two of them split the twin features at South Boston Speedway to kick off the season for the storied race track. Pulliam followed that win with a victory at Caraway Speedway, on Sunday as the Asheboro track started off their season as well. If this weekend is any indication, Pulliam and Falk might be preparing to have a season long duel for the National title. There are thousands of drivers across the United States that will have something to say about who takes the crown, but these two are certainly setting up to duke it out for supremacy in the state of Virginia if not the nation. Ronnie Bassett Jr. had some success during 2012 but he also had some difficulties. Bassett was disqualified from two different UARA races and was suspended indefinitely from NASCAR after a dispute about caution flag positioning during the Virginia is for Racing Lovers' 300. As the UARA kicked off their 2013 season, Bassett was back in Victory Lane, taking the win at Southern National Motorsports Park. Bassett finished off 2012 with four wins at the track so he obviously knows his way around. It will be interesting to see, should he be reinstated by NASCAR, will he run for the UARA title or begin chasing a NASCAR championship of some sort? _Mike Neff_ *Connect with Tom!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/NASCARBowles\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Tom Bowles\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14345/ *Connect with Kevin!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/surfwax83\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://facebook.com/surfwaxamerica\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Kevin Rutherford\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37802/ *Connect with Beth!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/Beth_Frntstrtch\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://www.facebook.com/writerbeth\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Beth Lunkenheimer\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14353/ *Connect with Rick!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/FrntstretchRick\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003916630748\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a> \"Contact Rick Lunkenheimer\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/38029/ *Connect with Mike!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/mneffshorttrack\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Mike Neff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

The 2012 season saw Sam Hornish Jr. solid but winless in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, despite ending 2011 on a high note with his first career win. Just three races into 2013, it's already another story entirely. Saturday, the driver of Penske Racing's No. 12 rolled into victory lane at Las Vegas for his second NASCAR win. His win didn't come easy. Though Hornish led four times for a total of 114 out of 200 laps, he was hotly pursued by Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers, the former attempting to score his second straight victory in the series after dominating at Phoenix. The threat of the hometown hero snagging a win coupled with the possibility of fuel mileage becoming a factor by race's end created a formidable match for the Defiance, Ohio, native, Hornish prevailed in the Sam's Town 300. Lady Luck didn't smile on a number of drivers during the race. Perhaps the most notable stroke of bad luck was the race's final caution, which saw rookie Kyle Larson total another car after getting caught up in a wreck with fellow youngster Joey Gase. Overall, the caution flag flew eight times for 37 laps, five of those for crash-related incidents. Winning pushed Hornish into the overall points lead after entering the race tied for first with Justin Allgaier. He now leads the standings by 19 over Allgaier, who could only manage a finish of 15th, one lap down. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15519.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"178\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Sam, Hornish, Jr. was the class of the field in the Sam's Town 300, leadin 114 laps en route to his second career victory.</p></div> Victory at his home track eluded Busch once again, but the driver of the No. 54 still finished a close second, followed by teammate Vickers in third. Trevor Bayne recovered from an early scuffle with Larson to finish fourth, while Elliott Sadler rounded out the top five. <b>Worth Noting</b> <b>The Good</b> <b>Sam Hornish Jr.</b> is rarely thought of as a major contender in the points race, but after a strong second half in 2012 and great start to 2013, it's time to change that. Many have said that in order for Hornish to win the championship, he simply had to win more. A win in the third race of the season isn't bad, is it? Plus, while it's early, a 19-point lead over second is sizable. Look out, Joe Gibbs Racing. Vegas saw <b>a lack of Cup regulars</b> in the field despite it being a companion event. Besides Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski were the only other major competitors, and Earnhardt wasn't even a factor at all, experiencing a flat tire late in the race to set him back, while Keselowski had a vibration mess up his day. Many cars sometimes housing Cup regulars either had younger guys (see: No. 33, Ty Dillon; No. 5, Brad Sweet) or didn't even travel to the track at all (see: No. 18). <b>The Bad</b> <b>Brad Keselowski</b> seemed to have something for his teammate, but after leading 18 laps, his No. 22 started a vibration that eventually ruined his day, relegating him to a disappointing 37th-place finish, 58 laps down. Luckily for Hornish, the same problems didn't affect his No. 12 to the same extent. <b>Eric McClure</b> kicked off 2013 with his first-ever top-10 Nationwide Series finish, a cool feat for a guy who's been running for quite a while. In the succeeding two races? 29th at Phoenix with an engine issue, and now a 40th in Vegas after an oil pump ended his race before it had even really began. It's a tough break for a veteran driver whose season started off on such a high note. <b>The Ugly</b> Three races, two wrecked cars. The year hasn't been kind to <b>Kyle Larson</b>, though his final result of 32nd was not his fault. While racing for the lead with Trevor Bayne, Bayne drifted up the track, clipping Larson's No. 32 and sending him into the wall. And later, Ryan Sieg ran into a slowing Joey Gase, knocking Gase into Larson's car and finishing it off entirely. Larson's bad luck puts him a mere 14th in points, which is a tough hole out of which to climb, despite it being only the year's third race. <b>Rain</b> canceled both Nationwide and Cup Series qualifying Friday, ending the weekend prematurely for Brendan Gaughan and Kevin Swindell, whose teams were showing up to the track for the first time in 2013. You have to feel for Gaughan especially; not only is Vegas his home track, but he also has a good history at the speedway, finishing fifth in a Richard Childress Racing car one year prior. And Swindell had been impressive in Biagi-DenBeste Racing's No. 98 during a limited trial in 2012; Vegas could have been more of the same for the part-time team. <b>Underdog Performer of the Race:</b> After becoming a casualty of the qualifying rain-out in Cup, <b>Mike Bliss</b> kept his No. 19 – a back-up car from teammate Eric McClure – out of trouble, coming home 17th overall. Considering McClure's misfortune, I think his fans, who dub themselves \"Blissfits,\" were mighty excited indeed. Alternate shoutout goes to Ryan Sieg, who finished 18th in only his second Nationwide start, subbing for Jeremy Clements. <b>Ill-Gotten Gains</b> Start-and-parkers occupied two of the 40 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $29,230 in purse money. Cup regulars scored one of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied four of the 40 starting positions, and took home $117,475 in purse money. <b>The Final Word</b> Kyle Busch didn't win. Is that good enough? Hint: It sure is. And Sam Hornish, who was on the cusp of breaking out in 2012 but never really got there completely, won a race and leads the points by a wide margin. Vegas didn't answer a lot of questions, nor did it pose many, but it has continued to establish Hornish as a guy to beat in 2013. Chances are he won't be throwing a Cup ride into the equation halfway through like he did last year, so the added focus might do well for him. If Saturday was any indication, he's a force to be reckoned with, especially if he can continue to drive past Busch as he did. *Connect with Kevin!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/surfwax83\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://facebook.com/surfwaxamerica\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Kevin Rutherford\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37802/

The Critic’s Annex 108- NextEra Energy Resources 250

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming. The original grandmaster plan was to cover SPEED’s Richard Petty special that premiered on February 18th. However, Saturday’s savage crash at Daytona put the kibosh on that. Substantial emphasis had to be placed on how the networks …

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NextEra Energy Resources 250 Recap

Johnny Sauter’s used to being the wreck at Daytona as his history here, in the Truck Series looks like a Demolition Derby. Entering Friday night, his four starts were DNF, wreck; DNF, wreck; 17th after a late spin; DNF, wreck. It’s the type of disastrous start that’ll kill your confidence. Until, of course, you put …

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The Critic’s Annex 107- UNOH Battle at the Beach

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming that we just plain cannot fit in the regular critiques. A welcomed addition to Speedweeks for 2013 was the UNOH Battle at the Beach, a trio of 150 lap races (plus heats and practice sessions) for the …

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Preseason

For the first time in seven years, we have a Sprint Cup Champion not named Stewart or Johnson. History was made during 2013 Daytona 500 qualifying, Stanica was born, Kevin Harvick isn’t acting like a lame duck and the Gen-6 car has finally brought back brand identity to NASCAR. All this news and the season hasn’t even started yet! The past three months have brought more excitement to the 2013 season than Junior jumping ship to Hendrick Motorsports…

Beyond The Cockpit: Gaughan Full Circle At Last

November 14, 2003. There are fewer than 40 laps to go in the then-Craftsman Truck Series season, and, as often seems to be the case in that series, several drivers are still in contention for the season title. But it’s sophomore driver Brendan Gaughan in control of the points as the laps wind down, leaving Travis Kvapil, Ted Musgrave, and Jack Sprague to try to be in position to capitalize on any mistake Gaughan might make, or to fight it out for second place. Gaughan, the 2002 Rookie of the Year, is already doing something the naysayers said was impossible — competing for the title with a family-owned, West Coast-based team. There are less than 40 laps left before he proves them wrong.

Short-Term Memory Loss: Earnhardt’s Concussion Issue Fading Into Background

If an NFL linebacker or an NHL enforcer came forward and admitted to having a handful of concussions, including two last year, and sought advice from you, what would you say to him?

Would you tell him that maybe it is time to hang up the helmet — call it a career? Would you tell him that as much as you love to watch him compete, there is more to life than sports? If you did want him to continue to compete, would you hold it against him if he suddenly retired?

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