Joe Gibbs Racing Sweeps Saturday Practice Sessions in Las Vegas
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.
Kurt Busch Scores Pole in Hometown Las Vegas
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.
Brad Keselowski Quickest in Opening Practice at Las Vegas
Coming off of a disappointing weekend at Atlanta, Team Penske rebounded to pace the first practice session of the Sprint Cup weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Brad Keselowski led the way at 195.327 mph, .009 seconds faster than teammate Joey Logano.
Kurt Busch posted the third fastest time as the No. 41 car was among the fastest all morning long. The car would get faster in every run it made.
The first three drivers were all faster than last year’s pole winning run by Jeff Gordon.
Paul Menard recorded his hot lap after having a close moment with the outside wall. He finished the practice fourth fastest and was the first driver over a tenth of a second behind the lap posted by the No. 2 car.
Brian Vickers, filling in for Tony Stewart rounded out the top five after posting 117 laps in Thursday’s test session at the 1.5-mile racetrack.
Defending winner of the Kobalt Tools 400 Kevin Harvick was seventh fastest at 194.126 mph. The driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet has been battling the flu throughout the week as he looks to go back-to-back in Sin City.
The first Toyota was Matt Kenseth in 11th as the Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row teams struggled on one lap speed. Kyle Busch was the slowest among the five teams in 25th. Denny Hamlin finished the session 13th in his backup car after crashing his primary on Thursday.
All 39 teams took part in Friday’s opening practice in preparation for qualifying. The drivers will look to battle slick track conditions during qualifying. If practice is a fair representation of qualifying, then there will be a new track record set tonight in Las Vegas.
Jimmie Johnson Dislikes Current Point System
Regardless of his victory on Sunday at the Atlanta Motor Speedway one thing has remained the same Jimmie Johnson is not in favor of the NASCAR point system.
Much to the delight of winning five consecutive championships from 2006 to 2010, then adding another in 2013, Johnson accomplished these feats in a 10-race post-season, with the driver producing the most points winning the title.
The last two years have come down to one race-- Homestead-- with four drivers having a shot at a title. In those two seasons, the No. 48 car has not been among the battle in the final race.
In 2014, it took two rounds to eliminate Johnson and co. from contention of a seventh title. However, in 2015, it was a five-dollar mechanical part in his drive line that took him out of contention of a championship at his best track, Dover.
Heading into that elimination race in Delaware, Johnson was fifth in the standings, 27 markers ahead of the cutoff. But on Lap 102, when that part broke, his hopes were shattered.
“The weirdness at Dover was a tough one to swallow,” Johnson told Speedway Digest. “Especially to be top three or five in points all season long and it all ended in that one race. But it’s part of it and I’ve not been a big fan of it, but what I am a fan of is full grandstands. Our sport needs to be strong and healthy and I’m willing to not worry what’s best for me and worry for what’s best for our sport.”
Though the six-time champion is willing to take a back seat to NASCAR in terms of the growth of the sport, obviously he still wants to be at the top of his sport. And at 40 years old, posting 76 career victories, he will go down on the Mount Rushmore of NASCAR drivers.
If he had gotten through Dover, advancing into the next round, he still had trouble at Charlotte the following week. Thus, he wouldn’t have made the next round of the Chase since he would have needed to record a victory and failed to do so at Kansas or Talladega.
With all of the accolades that Johnson has accomplished in his tenure at Hendrick Motorsports, what else is there to prove?
He has been outspoken about wanting to be triumphant with the new points system. To get to Homestead, he knows that he needs to maintain the pace that the team sets throughout the regular season.
It marks two consecutive seasons when the No. 48 team has clinched a spot in the Chase at the second race of the season. Now that he has qualified for his 13th consecutive Chase, Johnson knows that his team needs to keep up and not fall behind at all throughout the season.
“I think in 2014 we just didn’t have it, so that was on us,” Johnson said. “In 2015, I think we would have been one of the final four if we didn’t have Dover and the Charlotte thing.”
Even if it was a down year for one of NASCAR’s elite teams, Johnson still finished the season with five victories, 14 top fives and 22 top-10 finishes. But since NASCAR has gone to this new system in 2014, he has had the worst two points finishes of his career with a 10th and 11th.
There is reason to believe that the No. 48 car will be dominant again this season with a victory at Atlanta and leading 70 laps in the first two races. Last season Johnson led 558 laps all season long, which is the least since 2006 when he led 854, the last time he led under 1,000 laps in a season.
Even though he just tied Dale Earnhardt with 76 career victories, Johnson has just one goal for 2016.
“I look at it today and it’s such a different way to crown a champion than I won my six,” Johnson said. “My real goal is to be one of the four at Homestead and then it’s every man for them self.”
As he is just about every year, Johnson was one of the pre-season favorites to win the Sprint Cup title. Before the season began he was tied with Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth for second in Las Vegas betting odds of claiming his seventh Cup title, only behind Kevin Harvick.
If the odds were in his favor, then by Vegas standards he would be among the final four when it comes to the 36th and final race of the season. Much like people that bet on him, he also believes that Hendrick Motorsports will be tough to beat in 2016.
“This team is capable of amazing things, without a doubt,” Johnson said. “With what I’ve seen over the off-season, I feel not only the No. 48 team but all four cars at Hendrick Motorsports are going in the right direction.”
As the Cup Series heads to Las Vegas it is an opportunity that he has to pick up his second victory of the season and his fifth at the 1.5-mile speedway. With a win next Sunday, the No. 48 team will solidify itself as quite possibly the team to beat in 2016.
Denny Hamlin Wins Daytona 500 in Closest Finish Ever
Denny Hamlin had the dominant car in the Daytona 500, leading a race-high 95 laps. The Sprint Unlimited winner last Saturday evening was victorious of Martin Truex, Jr. in the closest finish in the race’s 58-year history.
The No. 11 car margin of victory was .011 seconds. All day long it was Toyota’s in the front of the field, led by the foursome of Joe Gibbs Racing and contributed by Furniture Row Racing in its first race in a Camry.
Hamlin was running fourth as the field passed the finish line with one to go. Going into Turn 1 he made a bold move to the outside getting a push from Kevin Harvick, drafting him all the way to third when race leader Matt Kenseth went to block the No. 11 car, the two made contact sending the No. 20 team to the back.
It was then a dog fight down the front stretch to see who was going to claim victory, but in the end it was Hamlin who just edged Truex by inches.
“It’s storybook,” Hamlin said. “You want to win the close ones, it’s what makes it exciting. You make a pass on the last lap to win the Daytona 500. We all want to win for the Gibbs family because that is what they do. It’s good to see a family organization like this win the biggest race of the year.”
This marks Toyota’s first Daytona 500 win as an organization and its Joe Gibbs Racing’s first Daytona 500 win since 1993 when Dale Jarrett took the No. 18 team to victory.
In his first race back in a Toyota, Truex finished in a disappointing second and came up just short of writing his name in the history books as a Daytona 500 champion.
Though, he only led two laps on the afternoon, he was in a backup car after crashing in Thursday’s Can-Am Duels. He believes that the only shot he had at the victory was Kenseth’s move to block Hamlin.
“I felt like Matt (Kenseth) moving up to block that run, it gave us the best opportunity to win,” Truex said. “Without that we weren’t going to have that opportunity. I was really planning on trying to push Matt till off of four.”
365 days following his vicious crash in the XFINITY Series race at Daytona, Kyle Busch finished third in his first race back in the Great American Race since 2014.
There were stints in the race that the No. 18 car was the car out front pacing the field for 19 laps. This is his best career finish in a Daytona 500.
The first non-Toyota finisher was Kevin Harvick, whom finished fourth. The No. 4 car was near the front for the majority of the first run of the race, until the car wiggled off Turn 4, causing him to have an incredible save.
“The problem for us started early in the race when I got spun out and lost track position and never really got the track position back until the very end of the race,” Harvick said. “We were really in a good spot there as we were coming to the checkered flag. I just wanted to be that first car in the outside line and Denny wounded up popping out in front of us and winning the race.”
Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. He had to overcome an incident on Lap 56 where his No. 19 Camry got turned into the outside wall costing him to lose a couple of laps. After getting back on the lead lap, he methodically worked his way up to run with his teammates and evidently found them on the last restart with 12 laps to go.
The right front of the car was torn off following the checkered flag, causing Edwards to wonder how he was able to stay up in the lead pack, drafting and having a shot at the victory.
Last year’s Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano finished just outside the top five in sixth. He was very aggressive throughout the entirety of the event, but could never get his Fusion out front. With a couple of laps to go he made a move trying to gain track position and go to the front, but had no help.
Regan Smith placed eighth in the 500, one position short of his career best in this event. However, for a deal that got signed one month ago to the day, putting him back full-time in a Cup car with Tommy Baldwin Racing, he considered this experience as an “awesome race.”
After leading going into Turn 3 on the final lap Kenseth came home in a disappointing 14th. He was roughly 1000 yards from cementing his legacy has a three-time Daytona 500 winner, but dropped 13 positions in the time back to the checkered flag.
The No. 20 car was out front for 40 laps, second most of all drivers, but knows that the restrictor plate tracks fill the minority of the schedule.
The complex of the race changed on Lap 170 when pre-race favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spun into the inside wall. After having a big run on the outside he overcorrected his car in Turn 4 and lost control.
The disappointing 36th-place finish is not how the 13-time most popular driver wanted to start off his year. This put an end to his four consecutive top five-streak in the Daytona 500.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott had an eventful day from the very first lap. After being out front for the opening three circuits, the No. 24 lost control of his car out of Turn 4 much like his teammate did later in the race. A 37th-place result is not the way that the Cup rookie wanted to start off his campaign.
After one of the more exciting Daytona 500 in recent years, the Cup Series takes its circus to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend to truly start off the new season.