This week, the Generation 6 Sprint Cup Series racer made it's intermediate track debut, with it's first run at the progressively banked Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The result? Two fairly good, albeit not incredible, races. A full summary of both after the break.
(I'm trying something a bit different today, a more traditional summary of all the races on a given weekend designed with Jalopnik in mind. If you want to see more of this, or less of this, feel free to tell me in the comments. I already watch all the races, so I have no problem writing about whatever you guys want me to)
Nationwide Series Sam's Town 300 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway
With the Truck Series on it's traditional month-and-a-half post-Daytona hiatus, the only support series running this weekend was the Nationwide Series. Thanks to Friday rain, qualifying wasn't held and thus the field was set by last year's owner's points. This left Brian Vickers (who is driving the car shared by Joey Logano, Darrell Wallace Jr and Denny Hamlin last year) on the pole and Trevor Bayne (who is driving the car driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr last year) in second, but also left Kyle Busch (23rd) and Dale Earnhardt Jr (32nd) deep in the field.
As the race began, it became clear that the shuffled order wouldn't last for long, as though Brian Vickers and Trevor Bayne lead for a few laps each, it wasn't long before Kyle Busch and Sam Hornish Jr started charging through the field. Both dueled for the lead over a relatively uneventful first two stints.
80 laps into the event, a caution fell for debris, and some interesting tire strategy by the 6 of Trevor Bayne got the Roush-Fenway development driver back out front, with Kyle Larson starting on the outside. On the restart, Larson wouldn't let Bayne by out of 1 and 2 or 3 and 4, and looked ready to take the lead on the exit of 4. However, Bayne slid up into Larson, sending his 32 into the wall and damaging both cars. This put Sam Hornish Jr back into the lead.
Hornish spent the next 100 or so laps trading the lead with Kyle Busch, who would grab it from him on restarts only for Busch to again pull away. One of the many cautions in this stretch was for the 32 of Larson, who had returned to the track but was caught out trying to avoid a spinning Joey Gase, eliminating his car from the event with an even bigger hit that sheared the bodywork off his 32 for the third time in as many weeks.
This left a shootout with few laps to go, Hornish (who had at this point just one career Nationwide Series win) versus Busch (who had won just one week prior and has a clear grasp on the title of most wins in Nationwide Series history). Busch's restarts were clearly better, but he ceded over the radio that he didn't have the pace to keep up with Hornish over the course of a run. The question to most was not if Busch could pass Hornish on the start but if Hornish could get back by Busch before the end of the event. However, when the field came back to the green flag, Hornish cleared Busch, kept the lead and won his second career Nationwide Series event, resulting in the halfway-out-of-the-car burnout above. Hornish now leads the championship handily over Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier. Every notable championship contender save two, Parker Kligerman and Kyle Larson, now sits in the top 10 in the standings.
Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway
With rain all through Friday, the grid for the main event was also set by last year's championship standings. the 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski thus started on pole, and MWR's Clint Bowyer started on his outside. With less one-off cars in the Sprint Cup Series, the field was significantly less jumbled.
The race began with a series of long green flag runs, which saw some drivers flourish (most notably Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, who lead the majority of these segments) and others struggle (most notably Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer, who were so upset with the setups on their cars that they chose to pit only 10 laps into the first fuel run). The first 150 or so laps of the event were run at a relatively slow pace, as with few restarts many saw little reason to push early. When cautions did fall, there was a clear pattern: Kyle Busch would take the lead from second or third on the grid (often spectacularly, with one of these instances including a 3 wide move on the apron in the trioval), then in 3 to 5 laps either Kasey Kahne or Jimmie Johnson would get by and Busch would safely slot back to where he restarted.
Soon the racing got more heated, and during the last cycle of stops (which came under caution), Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski took two tires, allowing them to hold the front row late in the race. Keselowski fell lower into the top 5, but Kenseth began to fight Kasey Kahne for the lead of the race, and over the next 30 laps a great duel between the two began. Ultimately, Kenseth would win, but Kahne made five separate failed attempts to pass his 20 late in the race, only to find his preferred inside lane blocked by lapped traffic. This was Kenseth's first ever win with his new Joe Gibbs Racing team, in just his third start with them.
With a steady 6th place finish, Jimmie Johnson retains his grip on the championship lead, but it's clear that there's just three cars in his class right now: himself, his team mate Dale Earnhardt Jr and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski. The three are the only three drivers to finish in the top 10 in all three races so far, and by extent they hold a relatively large gap over 4th.
The NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series cars race next weekend at the high banked Bristol Motor Speedway short track.