The boys return to the East Coast this weekend for one of NASCAR's fastest tracks–"Hot-Lanta."
But before we head down south, we must first look back at the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past weekend.
The race was exciting—depending on who you like—and provided a decent finish, although I would have loved to have seen Clint Bowyer run down Rowdy Busch and collect a win.
Anyway, here is a look back at some of the Surprising, and Not Surprising things from Sunday's race.
Surprising: Roush Fenway Racing Blows an Engine
Not only did one Roush Fenway Ford suffer defeat, but three of them expired before the end of the 427 miles. (Gee, who would've thought that extra 27 miles would do so much damage?)
Matt Kenseth, winner of the first two races this season, never had a chance to show what his team had on Sunday, as his No. 17 expired before lap 10.
Kenseth said it himself after the race: "You're going to break stuff once in a while. I think it's the first engine we broke in two years. It's bound to happen sooner or later. We didn't even really get to race today, and we qualified bad, so it was a pretty long weekend for nothing."
Two years since a Roush Ford has had problems, and then three in one day? Sounds to me like we have a poor supplier sending parts to these NASCAR teams. Hendrick lost two engines at Auto Club Speedway, and Toyota struggled with problems this weekend as well.
Not Surprising: Kyle Busch Finally Wins at Home Track
Sure, he hadn't won there in his five previous visits, but we all knew it was bound to happen sooner, rather than later.
Busch averaged a finish of 13.2 at the track in his five previous starts. Take out the 41st he collected in his first trip to his home track, and that average was a cool 6.3.
Now, that average (with the 41st included) is 9.5.
Busch won the pole, but was forced to drop to the rear of the field after changing engines during practice. He meticulously worked his way through the field and took the lead when it mattered most.
Suprising: David Reutimann Finishes Fourth
This may not be surprising to some, but to me, Reutimann is surprising me a lot this year.
Not only has he shown he can drive, but the entire Michael Waltrip Racing camp has proven they are contenders each week (see below).
Reutimann finished 37th at this track one year ago, but drove the perfect race on Sunday. He stayed out of trouble, kept his nose clean, and finished inside the top-five for the first time in his young career.
Not Suprising: The Cream is Rising to the Top
Early in the season, it's easy to look at the top-10 in points and think, "What the heck?"
Usually a few guys have a couple good runs in the Daytona 500 and Auto Club 500 and hang around in the top-10 for awhile.
After Vegas, the cream begins to rise to the top and the drivers who will remain in Chase contention the entire year, start to take their positions.
Heading into "Hot-Lanta" next week, the Chase contenders are as follows:
1) Jeff Gordon 459
2) Clint Bowyer 441 -18
3) Matt Kenseth 419 -40 [2 wins]
4) Greg Biffle 419 -40
5) David Reutimann 408 -51
6) Kyle Busch 405 -54 [1 win]
7) Kurt Busch 393 -66
8) Tony Stewart 379 -80
9) Carl Edwards 377 -82
10) Bobby Labonte 360 -99
11) Kevin Harvick 351 -113
12) Michael Waltrip 346 -113
No surprise to see guys like Gordon, Bowyer, Kenseth, Biffle, Busch, Busch, Stewart, Edwards and Harvick in there. Previously, teams like AJ Allmendinger and Elliot Sadler staked spots in the top-10.
After Atlanta this weekend, I'd say the points will be even more defined.
Surprising: Michael Waltrip Racing Has Two Teams in the Top-12
To go along with the not surprising aspect of the teams that everyone knows will be in the top-12, MWR has surprised everyone with two teams there.
This is the same team that struggled mightily in 2007 to make races, and in 2008 to remain in the top-35 in points.
Now, two of the team's drivers are competing for a spot in the Chase. Sure, we have 23 races until the cut-off, but Reutimann and Waltrip have proven they aren't going to roll over and let people pass them, both on the track and in the points.
Not Surprising: A Cup Star Won the Nationwide Series Event
Greg Biffle won the Nationwide Series event on Saturday, giving Cup regulars a 3-0 advantage over the Nationwide only drivers. I know, this is beating a dead horse, but it just irks me week in and week out.
Take a look at 2008 results:
• Cup drivers won 29 of the 36 races
• Of the six races won, Brad Keselowski won twice (Nashville and Bristol), Scott Wimmer won once (Nashville), Joey Logano won once (Kentucky), Ron Fellows won once (Montreal) and Marcos Ambrose won once (Watkins Glen).
• Average number of Cup guys in those six races: 7 (10 in Bristol and 12 at Watkins Glen threw the average higher, by the way)
• Average number of Cup guys in the other 29 races: 11
To me, that's just crazy!
Surprising: Jeff Gordon Does Well on a 1.5-mile Track (With a Torn-Up Car)
This team struggled mightily on 1.5-mile tracks recently and appears to have things back on track (which is good considering the number of tracks on the NASCAR circuit that are 1.5-mile.)
Gordon and crew chief Steve LeTarte appear to be working great together and things are rolling comfortably for the four-time NASCAR Cup champion again.
Last season? It was a toss-out.
The No. 24 team didn't fare well on most of the 1.5-mile tracks and didn't collect a win for the first time since Gordon's rookie season.
What was even more surprising, however, was that Gordon brought home a sixth-place finish with a torn-up car.
Gordon had a tire blow out, and when it did, it took the entire front fender of the DuPont Chevrolet with it.
Usually, damage to that extent would slow a car down, but Gordon fought back and finished the race strong. Things are looking up for the No. 24 team as he now leads the points, could this be the hear he gets that one for the thumb?
Not Surprising: Cup Stars Are Back Inside the Top 35 in Points
Last week, as part of my Surprising, I mentioned some top name drivers that were either outside—or just about there—of the coveted top 35. Those included Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who was 35th) and rookie sensation Joey Logano (37th).
Both put together solid runs at Las Vegas, and now sit inside the top 35. Earnhardt is 29th, 63 points ahead of 36th and Logano is 32nd, 44 points inside.
Neither driver can relax, however.
One more bad race finish in the next two races, and either could be right back outside looking in.
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