In the two practice sessions on Saturday in preparation for the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, Joe Gibbs Racing looked to be the team to beat. In each of the two one-hour sessions, it was a JGR Toyota who set down a fast lap in the opening minutes that would not be beat.
Over the span of the two hours there were three separate incidents that would send two teams to backup cars.
Carl Edwards paced the opening hour of practice at 187.906 mph. After qualifying fifth on Friday, the driver of the No. 19 car is looking to return to Victory Lane in Southern California for the first time since 2008.
He was just ahead of another Toyota, Martin Truex, Jr. with Furniture Row Racing. The No. 78 team welcomed back crew chief, Cole Pearn, following his one-race suspension last week in Phoenix. He put down a lap at 187.632 mph.
Third quick was Ryan Newman at 186.640 mph, more than two-tenths of a second off the fast time. Kyle Busch was fourth and pole-sitter Austin Dillon rounded out the top five at 186.587 mph.
Just outside of the top five was Paul Menard in sixth, making all three Richard Childress Racing cars inside of the top six. The top rookie was Brian Scott in seventh. Two winners so far this season were mired down below 20th, Denny Hamlin 23rd and defending winner Brad Keselowski was just 24th fastest in the morning session.
The first incident of the day came when Aric Almirola slid into the wall off Turn 2, causing significant cosmetic damage. The team would repair the car and return to the track in the second session. The No. 43 car was 19th fastest.
The latter incident came when Kurt Busch pounded the wall right where Almirola did 20 minutes prior. The No. 41 car was not as lucky as the Stewart-Haas Racing team pulled out the backup car, something that Busch appreciated because he was not happy with his primary car on Saturday morning.
In the first two minutes of Happy Hour, Matt Kenseth recorded a lap at 185.419 mph. This practice was in race condition as the Sprint Cup race on Sunday will start at the time that this practice ended.
After being quickest in the first practice, Edwards was second fast, .015 seconds behind his JGR teammate. The No. 19 car was also one of the best on the long runs as were all of the Toyota teams. Toyota is looking for its third win in the last four races at the Auto Club Speedway, which is the backyard of TRD's headquarters.
A trio of Fords filled the next three speeds, led by rookie Ryan Blaney at 185.161 mph. Joey Logano was fourth quickest and Almirola rounded out the top five after getting his car back on track following the incident in the opening session.
Dillon finished the session the lowest he's been all week in sixth, just under a tenth of a second behind Kenseth. Keselowski made improvements to his car and finish Happy Hour 12th.
While the one-lap speed didn't show it, Kevin Harvick had the fastest car on the long run. He was only 27th on the speed chart, but had very little fall off in his tires compared to other teams. The California native is a two-time winner at his home track, the last win coming in 2011 with RCR.
The biggest incident of the day came 32 minutes into final practice when Kyle Larson got loose getting into Turn 4, by the time he could correct it Greg Biffle drilled him in the rear and the tandem spun to the infield. The No. 16 car was on fresh tires, going approximately 20 mph faster than the No. 42 car at the time.
Larson would go to a backup car with a ton of cosmetic damage to the right rear of the car, while it looks like Biffle will remain in his primary car on Sunday. Before the incident the No. 42 team had the 26th fastest time, while the No. 16 team had the 15th fastest lap.
The green flag will drop at 3:30 p.m. Sunday to start the Auto Club 400 where another driver will look to clinch their birth into the Chase.
In what was one of the weirdest ranges of weather sequences in NASCAR history, Brad Keselowski left the field in the dust on his way to Victory Lane, picking up his first win of the season and 18th of his career.
With five laps to go in the Kobalt 400 on Sunday, Brad Keselowski passed Kyle Busch in what was the eventual race winning pass. This is his second triumph in Las Vegas in the last three years.
The No. 2 car was running third throughout the last stint of the race, but with roughly 10 laps to go was closing in on the lead and after passing his teammate Joey Logano then able to chase down Busch.
“This rules package, I love it,” Keselowski said. “You can be really fast at the start of the run or really fast at the end of the run and we had awesome speed at the end of every run. It seemed like we could just never put it all together with the way the cautions kept falling. At the end we got that big long run and couldn’t get going for the first few laps.”
Keselowski’s victory didn’t come without adversity. He was caught speeding on pit road with 90 laps to go. But after a caution with 53 laps to go, the No. 2 team stayed out when others decided to pit. He was able to go the distance on fuel and solidify himself into the 2016 edition of the Chase.
Logano came home second after a last lap pass on Busch. Leading 75 laps, the No. 22 team picked up its first top-five finish of the young season. However, he insisted that again, it is disappointing finishing second after so many second-place finishes in Daytona.
Atlanta winner, Jimmie Johnson came home third after also passing Busch on the final lap. The No. 48 car was out front for 76 circuits, the most of all drivers.
Dominating the middle potion of the race was what the six-time champion did. But after getting off-sequence with the rest of the field he needed to overcome other teams that took two tires when he took four.
The aforementioned Busch finished fourth at his home racetrack. On a restart with 44 laps to go the No. 18 car restarted sixth and by Turn 3 of that lap had made his way to the lead for the first time on the afternoon.
He led the remainder of the race until five laps to go when Keselowski passed him. He believed that it was a vibration that kept him out of the winner circle.
“Huge vibration,” Busch said as to why he lost the race. “I had a vibration when we put the rights on and it just kept getting worse and worse and worse. At the end I didn’t know if a tire was coming apart or what the deal was. I was giving it everything I had.”
Austin Dillon bounced back from a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 147 to a top-five finish. At one point of the race the No. 3 car was two laps down, after running in the top 10 all race long. On the same caution that Keselowski and Logano stayed out, so did Dillon for track position. This is his third career top-five finish.
Ryan Blaney was the highest finishing rookie on Sunday, finishing in sixth. Spending much of the day inside of the top 10, he needed to miss a wreck late in the race to come back to sixth.
That wreck with 43 laps to go came when one of the pre-race favorites Matt Kenseth slid up the track after getting loose where Chase Elliott rear-ended the No. 20 machine. Also caught up in the wreck were Carl Edwards and pole-sitter Kurt Busch.
Kenseth’s bad luck to start the season continued while getting caught up in that incident. After losing the Daytona 500 on the final lap, a pit road penalty in Atlanta, he was desperate for a good finish in Sin City. While leading nine laps, a 37th-place effort doesn’t help his causes.
The pole-sitter came back to finish in ninth. Outside of the No. 18 team, Joe Gibbs Racing struggled with Edwards in 18th the second-highest finisher out of that Toyota camp, Denny Hamlin was just behind in 19th.
Kevin Harvick finished seventh and he extended his consecutive top 10 streak to start the season. He is one of two drivers to finish in the top 10 in all three races, the other being 2015 champion Busch.
Next Sunday the Cup Series heads to Phoenix in the second of three west coast races. Harvick is the defending winner of the spring race and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the fall event in the desert.
Kurt Busch looking for first win at hometown track.
After winning the pole on Friday at a speed of 196.328 mph, Busch has had one of the fastest cars all weekend long in Sin City. He has never won at his hometown track, posting a best finish of third in 2005 while driving for Roush Fenway Racing.
The No. 41 car has been no lower than 10th on the speed chart all weekend long, that coming on Saturday in the morning practice.
Team Penske rebounding from last weekend.
Atlanta was a disappointing weekend for Team Penske. Though Brad Keselowski came home with a top-10 finish, the team struggled throughout the weekend. Joey Logano started 26th and failed to record a top 10 after a late race commitment cone penalty.
That race was the first with the new aerodynamic package. This weekend the two teammates have been atop or near the top of the leader board. The No. 2 car was fastest in opening practice on Friday with the No. 22 team in second. They qualified inside of the top five. But on Saturday the team struggled with only Keselowski inside of the top 10 on speed.
Kevin Harvick battling the flu.
The defending winner of this race has been sick all weekend long, thus causing the team to work harder than normal. It took Harvick three tries to advance out of the first round of qualifying. The car just kept getting faster, resulting in a sixth-place effort.
In the practices on Saturday Harvick was mired with 22nd best time. Can he go back-to-back in Sin City and start the West Coast swing with a bang?
Carl Edwards coming from the back.
The two-time Vegas winner crashed on Friday in the second round of qualifying. However, on Saturday the team rebounded, placing the car in first and second resptively in the two practice sessions. After struggling in the test session on Thursday and practice on Friday, Joe Gibbs Racing looks to be a threat for the win today. Matt Kenseth was fastest in Happy Hour.
Green flag racing.
In the first race with the new aerodynamic package at Atlanta, the first 210 laps stayed green. There was only one caution in the race until three laps to go when Ryan Newman cut a tire. In the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish there was pileup on the backstretch.
Normally, this race runs green for quite a while. The fewest number of cautions in a single race was two in 1998 and 2000. The most were in 2009 with 14. Just two years ago, won by Keselowski was the fastest race in track history at 154.633 mph.
After having an unusual Friday, Joe Gibbs Racing picked up the speed in race trim and swept both rounds of practice in Las Vegas led by Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.
In the morning practice that began at 8:30 a.m. Carl Edwards paced the field in a backup car at 191.564 mph. The No. 19 Toyota had to go to a backup car after following a crash in round two of qualifying on Friday. In the first round he was fourth fastest, but the team worked until the late hours on Friday evening to prepare the new car.
After qualifying fifth, Austin Dillon was second fast on one lap speed. The No. 3 car also was among the fastest on 10-lap speeds.
Casey Mears finished the session in third, .128 seconds behind Edwards. Kasey Kahne finished with the fourth best lap and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.
Polesitter Kurt Busch was the lowest on the speed chart that he had been all weekend at 10th, while his teammate and defending winner of this race Kevin Harvick was mired down in 22nd.
Struggling all weekend long has been Kyle Busch, who posted the 27th time. Joey Logano was a disappointing 30th on the board following the first session, though qualifying outside of the front row for Sunday’s 400-mile event.
Kenseth laid down a lap early on in the session that would remain atop the board for the entirety of the session. At 189.460 mph, the No. 20 Toyota laid down a lap that would be more similar to race conditions.
Edwards was able to finish out “Happy Hour” second quick. He self-admittedly was happy that the team is using the backup car because of the speed that it has shown throughout the first two practices.
Busch was just over a tenth of a second behind Kenseth in third. The Las Vegas native is looking for his first career win at his hometown track on Sunday.
Richard Childress Racing teammates Paul Menard and Ryan Newman finished out the top five. The No. 27 car ran 54 laps, the most of all teams as he is looking to take advantage of running at one of his best tracks this weekend.
Dillon had the 11th overall speed, but was the fastest on the 10 consecutive lap average. He was so happy with his car that they covered the car up with 20 minutes remaining in practice.
Busch and Logano were able to get their cars to a respectable speed of 14th and 17th. Just like the morning practice Harvick finished 22nd on the chart.
The third race of the Sprint Cup season will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday where one team will look to solidify itself in the Chase.
For the second consecutive week Kurt Busch will lead the Sprint Cup Series to the green flag to start the third race of the 2016 season. This is his 21st career pole and second at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his hometown track.
After setting a new track record in Round One of qualifying (196.378 mph) Busch needed to rebound after a slightly disappointing second where he was third quick. With just minutes remaining in the final round of qualifying he was able to barely edge Joey Logano by .067 seconds.
“It was insanely fast,” Busch said of his lap. “It’s amazing all the detail that goes into qualifying with finding that perfect lap three times out there. My second outing we were way tight and I didn’t know where it came from and (Tony) Gibson and crew went to town.”
The No. 41 Chevrolet was no lower than third on the leader board in the single practice session or any of the rounds of qualifying as he is looking for his first win in Sin City.
Logano will begin his third consecutive race in Las Vegas from the front row. After a disappointing qualifying session last week in Atlanta, the No. 22 team found what they were missing and are off to a good start this weekend.
Matt Kenseth made multiple adjustments throughout the day and when it counted he was third, the best he had been all day. The 2013 winner in Las Vegas is going into one of his best tracks with his best starting position the year.
Brad Keselowski will lineup fourth on Sunday in his Ford. The No. 2 car was quickest in the opening practice on Friday and he is looking for his second win on the 1.5-mile oval. In Round Two, he was fastest but fell to Busch, .093 seconds behind the pole winning speed.
Austin Dillon needed two attempts to make it out of the first round of qualifying. But in the final moments of the last round he slotted his car into the fifth position. On his first run he was complaining that his motor wasn’t running properly, but when he came in to cool his tires down the No. 3 team fixed the problem and he feels this is the start of good runs for his team this year.
One of the biggest stories in Round One was Kevin Harvick needing three attempts to improve his car, narrowly making it into Round Two. After making it through that round his car continued to pick up speed, resulting in a sixth-place effort.
After crashing in the test session on Thursday, Denny Hamlin will start Sunday’s race ninth. The Daytona 500 winner struggled in practice, but the Joe Gibbs Racing organization looks to have made major adjustments with two of its cars starting in the top 10.
Chase Elliott is the highest starting rookie in 13th. His closest competitor for Rookie of the Year Ryan Blaney will start alongside him in 14th.
Some notable drivers that struggled in qualifying were Brian Vickers who will begin the race from 19th, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 20th, Ryan Newman 21st and Kyle Busch 23rd. The No. 18 team struggled all day on Friday and was mired back in the mid 20s.
Just over three minutes into the second round of qualifying Carl Edwards No. 19 Toyota shot up the racetrack when something appeared to broke in the rear end of the car. After running the fourth quickest speed in Round One of qualifying, he will go to a backup car and start from the 24th position.
“I think the right rear was going down,” Edwards said. “It felt good going into the corner and there was a big bang and I think that was just the frame heights being low, hitting the ground. I thought it was the left rear, but it hit hard. I’m still not convinced that something didn’t break in the left rear.”
Other notable drivers that will start toward the rear are Greg Biffle in 26th, Jamie McMurray in 29th and Clint Bowyer in 35th.
McMurray will go to a backup car after slapping the wall in his qualifying attempt. He stated that his primary car has been a 30th-place car all weekend long.
The Cup teams will have two practice sessions on Saturday to tune their car up for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400.