If not for a pit stop miscue Tony Stewart would have won Las Vegas Kobalt Tools 400 going away.
The lessons learned in the Kobalt Tools 400 may not help much in two weekends when the Cup teams arrive in Bristol, but they will help all the teams on the intermediate tracks that are predominant on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.
Tony Stewart and his crew learned the hardest lesson of the day during a frantic pit stop in the midst of the Las Vegas Kobalt Tools 400. The new fueling system and effort required to coordinate new responsibilities is going to be a challenge all season long.
Stewart was not happy with his second-place finish in the Kobalt Tools 400, but he and his team cannot afford to be disappointed with their performance on the intermediate track this Sunday.
As Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team have proven in the last five years, the teams that do well on the intermediate tracks will be within striking distance once the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase begins.
A blown engine ended Kyle Busch's day but a blown tire hindered him early.
Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon also learned tough lessons when their tires gave way during the Kobalt Tools 400. Kyle Busch was lucky compared to Gordon. Busch lost a tire and was lucky enough to limp to the pits when his tire let go coming off of Turn 2.
Gordon's tire blew heading into Turn 3 and the results were devastating to Gordon and his car. The No. 24 limped to the fifth stall on pit road and came to a rest. Gordon emerged, obviously shaken by the tough hit.
With this being the first intermediate race on a banked track, the issue of tire camber and aggressive adjustments may have explained Gordon and Busch's two tire issues. Other drivers who suffered tire issues were Matt Kenseth and David Gilliand. The tire Goodyear brought to the track was said to be their most durable tire they have ever brought to Las Vegas.
Blown tires have been an issue at Las Vegas since the higher banking was installed several years ago. Tire wear at Bristol may not be an issue but many notes will be used from the Las Vegas track when the drivers arrive in Texas on April 9th.
Another Carl Edwards flip in Las Vegas
Carl Edwards was not the only Roush Fenway who was strong this weekend. From the time all the Roush Fenway cars unloaded, the four drivers were fast. David Ragan was even at the top of the practice leader board this weekend.
Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth were snake bitten all day long, but their potential on the intermediate tracks will be tough to contain this season. The Roush Ford FR-9 was also under the hood of front-row newcomer Marcos Ambrose.
Ambrose and Richard Petty Motorsports teammate A.J. Allmendinger were strong and in the top 10 all day Sunday. The Fords are back and it is inevitable NASCAR will make some rule changes if the Fords continue this dominance on the intermediate tracks.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced up front most of the Las Vegas Cup race with Marcos Ambrose close by.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.has struggled in races on the fast Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but maybe his protege Danica Patrick inspired him to step it up on Cup day.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. locked up the best finish of any Hendrick Motorsports team and he looked impressive in traffic moving up through the field on several occasions throughout the day.
The day was important for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s confidence as the teams head into an off week and then on to Bristol and Fontana. Those are two tracks Dale Jr. has struggled with in the past.
Fueling miscues cost Greg Biffle a win and he was none to happy
Greg Biffle and his crew had one of the fastest cars all weekend, but they never had a chance to prove it. Biffle and his pit crew struggled with the fueling procedure all day. On one occasion, Biffle ran out of fuel well ahead of the rest of the field.
Compounding the problem, Biffle ran out of fuel on the tortuously-long pit stop to get the car fueled after it ran dry. Biffle was obviously frustrated judging by his terse comments following the debacle. Biffle said in frustration: "Everyone is beating us off pit road and we can't get it full." In one instance he left the pit box after receiving just one can of fuel.
Marcos Ambrose qualified on the front row for Sundays Kobalt Tools 400.
Marcos Ambrose made his best qualifying run ever on an intermediate track and he was a threat all day as he raced in the top 10. Ambrose was the most competitive he has ever been on an intermediate track and it may be a harbinger of positive things to come for the Richard Petty Motorsports teams.
Ambrose will need to use his new-found confidence and speed in the next two races especially. Bristol is still a horsepower track despite the small straightaways. Powering up off the corner is what wins at Bristol and the big track at Fontana is known for blowing up some of the best motors.
Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus never found the right combination Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson said it best when he emerged from his car on Sunday: "We struggled with pit stops and we didn't make adjustments on one stop when we should have."
Johnson appeared frustrated in the post-race interview and both he and crew chief Chad Knaus sounded out of sync most of the race. This is the first intermediate track with the new body style for the Cup car. Johnson and Knaus were so dominant with the original "Car of Tomorrow."
Moving forward to Bristol, it may be a hit-or-miss affair in two weeks. But Fontana is a track where Johnson and Knaus have dominated. If The No. 48 team does struggle in Fontana, look for many media members and blog posters to ratchet up the doom-and-gloom talk after the fifth race.
Jeff Gordon did not appreciate the 3D flames effect in Las Vegas.
Jeff Gordon has run well on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway but he has only one win to his credit on the intermediate track. Last year Gordon had a potential win snatched away from his teammate Jimmie Johnson and Gordon was not very happy.
Jeff Gordon's day ended with just 70 laps remaining when his tire blew and his car jumped hard to the right. The hit was significant and Gordon looked shaken when he emerged from the damaged car. Heading into the bye week, Gordon sounded happy to take the week off after he emerged from his car.
Gordon said quietly: "I think it will good to take a week off and regroup."
Bristol is a decent track for Gordon but Fontana is a horsepower track where the Hendrick Motorsports cars have performed well in the past. Gordon is also strong at Martinsville, which is coming up soon on the schedule.
Kyle Busch wrecked on Saturday and blew up on Sunday.
Kyle Busch had a weekend to forget in his hometown of Las Vegas. It began on Saturday when he pushed the envelope in the NASCAR Nationwide race, crashing out in the event. In the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, Busch blew a tire and then blew an engine to end a dismal weekend.
Busch now returns to the scene of the crime in August of last season. Last August Busch won the NASCAR Camping World Truck race, the NASCAR Nationwide race and the NASCAR Sprint Cup race. Now he returns to Bristol and he will return with a chip on his shoulder.
Look for Busch to win a minimum of two races in Bristol in two weeks and look for him to re-establish himself in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.
Carl Edwards is congratulated by Jack Roush.
Carl Edwards and Jack Roush combined for nine wins in 2008 and Edwards is looking like he has a golden opportunity to make another historic run in 2011. Edwards finished 2010 with two wins and he has already nabbed his first win in three races.
Edwards has already looked strong on a short track, a restrictor-plate track and an intermediate track this season. The next five races will be better measuring sticks for Edwards, and the next five tracks have been good tracks for Edwards.
Edwards has a recent win at Bristol and he has always run well in Fontana as well. Martinsville may be the one Achilles heel for Edwards, but races at Texas and Talladega bode well for Edwards and the No. 99 Roush team.
A critical mistake on pit road cost Tony Stewart a chance to check off Las Vegas on his to-do list.
Tony Stewart was not a happy camper when he exited his car on Sunday, and he did not dismiss possible team changes during the off week.
Stewart lost valuable time when a pit-crew member failed to remove an impact wrench and Stewart dragged the wrench down pit road upon exiting the pits.
Stewart was leading at the time and he was the fastest car on the track when leading. The positives were outweighed by the glaring negative and Stewart served notice to his team as he drove the aptly-named cool-down lap: "I want to know how we did not win this race today."
A sullen Stewart said in the post-race news conference: "Yeah, real disappointed. I honestly think we had the car to beat today, we just gave it away. I don’t know what happened on the pit stop there, but we had a miscue and had a penalty and had to go to the back, and unfortunately it kind of dealt our cards for us."
Stewart looked back on Phoenix also with frustration: "Just shot ourselves in the foot two weeks in a row now."
Stewart is strongest in Fontana and he will have the car to beat if he can get into clean air. Clean air may have been the most important lesson learned in Las Vegas. Watch for this strategy to be played out in every race on an intermediate track this year.