The Sprint Cup Series concludes its two-week, West Coast tour with a stop at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday. It’s the first race of the season on a 1.5-mile oval, the most common distance for a NASCAR track in this division. Since being reconfigured with higher banking in the corners, LVMS has become an entirely different animal, going from “cookie cutter” to highly competitive throughout its 427-mile main event. With its asphalt ever aging, expect the racing to evolve even further this coming weekend. But when push comes to shove, LVMS is another intermediate oval, after all – which means it’s more than likely that come race’s end, the usual suspects from the sport’s biggest teams will be running up front. In 11 total races at this track, a car from Roush or Hendrick has stood in victory lane all but once, when Sterling Marlin pulled the upset for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2002.
As if following up Daytona with Fontana wasn’t enough of a letdown, Kyle Busch made sure that there would be no last lap fireworks this time around. Leading over 140 of the 150 laps run Saturday night, Busch followed up his Truck win earlier in the day with a dominant performance that saw the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team lay waste to the Nationwide Series field. The win was the first for the No. 18 team with Jason Ratcliffe on the pit box since his suspension at Michigan last August for tampering with a NASCAR chassis dyno. Busch also became the first driver in NASCAR history to win two national touring division races on the same day.
This week’s Rookie Report is based on the results of a rain-shortened Daytona 500. What is important to note is the race would’ve finished all 500 miles – if the green flag didn’t fall at the ridiculous start time of 3:40 p.m. ET. When are the networks going to realize that fans want racing, not marathon pre-race shows?
It only took three races for Tony Stewart to put a Chevrolet back in victory lane. After posting runner-up finishes in both the Budweiser Shootout and Gatorade Duels, Stewart’s first ride with Hendrick Motorsports landed Smoke back in the winner’s circle, collecting the eighth Nationwide Series victory of his career and his fourth in the last five years at Daytona. Unlike last year, though, which saw Stewart’s No. 20 Toyota all but untouchable, this one was far from a sure-fire thing. Though Stewart was a mainstay in the top 10 all day, it was not until late in the running that he got his No. 80 up front.
Sitting in the Chevrolet camp is perhaps the best chance a Nationwide regular has had to win the NNS title since Martin Truex Jr. scored back to back crowns in 2004 and 2005. And, once again, it’s a Dale Earnhardt Jr. protégé. I’m talking about Brad Keselowski.
After one of the most economically brutal NASCAR offseasons in recent history, it’s finally time to start focusing on performances on the stopwatch instead of on the balance sheet. This also spells good news for Professor Lumbis as I get to preview and critique this season’s rookies once again. The 2008 season was not kind to rookie drivers as only one, Sam Hornish Jr., still has a full-time ride in 2009. That success rate, or lack thereof, may have owners changing the way they think about who will give them the best chance of success behind the wheel. Instead of reaching out to the open-wheel talents of other series, general managers are instead opting for stock car veterans to pilot their machines. The result is a much smaller rookie class this season, as only two drivers will compete full time for the Rookie of the Year Award while a handful of others will make spot starts throughout the next several months.
NASCAR has claimed 15 new owners applied for licenses in the month of January. Is this a bunch of hot air, or are we going to see a higher-than-expected car count at the Daytona 500… and beyond? More importantly, can these small-time owners stand a chance against the four-car behemoths of Roush, Hendrick, etc.?
After a successful freshman campaign by Juan Pablo Montoya which included a win at Infineon, that trend set the tone for the freshman class of 2008, as four out of the six Rookie of the Year candidates were open-wheel converts. Just nine months later, there is a very real difference for those open wheelers that debuted in ’08 as compared to ’07 – just one of them appears ready to survive for a second season. What went wrong, and could their mistakes have been corrected? It’s now time for Professor Lumbis to grade their performance throughout the season, and take a look at the other new faces that emerged onto the scene and what the future may hold for them.
In the end, the excitement in the voices of the boys in the booth made the race seem as if Carl Edwards were nose to nose with another driver approaching the checkered flag. This was similar to last week’s end-of-the-race drama, as Jimmie Johnson passed almost the entire top 10 in the waning laps. Dave Burns’s heads up monitoring of and reporting of the No. 99 team’s radio communication was the key in breaking the improbable fuel gamble story during Sunday’s race. Kudos go to Burns, the producers, and the person in charge of archiving the radio traffic for bringing this incredible development to light. The rest of the pit-road team may have turned in one of their best performances of the season.
Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR, and all our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members and car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what a select few were thinking following the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.