Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rating the Kobalt Tools 400: 3 Stars ***

The wild and crazy start to the season finally settled down in the unlikeliest of places: Las Vegas. But, that was the case as Tony Stewart dominated the day but couldn’t close the deal. The first race of the season without a big wreck gets a 3 Star Rating.

After two weeks of beating and banging and pedal-to-the-floor action, Vegas came across as tame. Even though it’s a mile-and-a-half racetrack, Vegas usually still has pretty good, tight racing, but everyone spread out for the most part in a race that had several long green flag runs.

This isn’t to say it was a terrible race. There will be worse this season, but this was the first one that looked like aerodynamics came into play. Some teams really hit the setup on the nose, and others struggled to move through the field.

Hopefully, the new nose won’t make it difficult to pass on these types of racetracks, and overall, I think the change in the nose will have less of an effect than the change to the spoiler last year.

Congratulations this week go to Carl Edwards, the #99 team and the entire Ford organization. Ford dominated the weekend, but small mistakes plagued its teams during the race as both Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle had issues that put them deep in the field.

Kenseth had a tire go down early in the race that put him a lap down, and he never fully recovered and came in 11th although he had arguably the fastest car in the field.

Biffle’s team had issues getting fuel in the car throughout the day, and he ended up three laps down in 28th.

However, Stewart had the car to beat as he led 163 laps and dominated the race like Jeff Gordon in the ‘90s. But, a pit road penalty where he pulled the air gun out of the pit box put him at the back of the field.

To recover, his crew chief, Darian Grubb, made the decision to take two tires on the second-to-last pit stop. This put Stewart out front, and he was able to pull away from the field with just two fresh tires, but then he had to take four tires on the final stop while everyone else took just two. His car was good enough to climb back to second, but time ran out and Mr. Backflip cruised into Victory Lane.

Pit road penalties affected several drivers Sunday, including Trevor Bayne, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton. It has always been tough to get slowed down coming on to pit road at Vegas, so these miscues should have been expected, but they were no less devastating.

Finally, a few drivers who should be recognized for strong efforts include Marcos Ambrose and Ryan Newman. This was the first time Ambrose has had a chance to shine in his new ride and Newman has quietly snuck into fifth in the points standings with back-to-back fifth place finishes after he led the most laps at Daytona. Newman could be a legit contender come Chase time.

Next up is Bristol in a couple of weeks. That darn early season off week interrupts these two races, but at least that will change next season when Daytona is a week later and this off week is eliminated. So, hopefully this week’s momentary lull translates into some great action at the bullring in Tennessee. Have a great week.


  1. Ah so thats what went down - for some reason my DVR didnt tape the race so I cant really comment on it. All I know is Kyle killed my fantasy team!

    Sounds like if I were to miss a race this one wasnt one for the memory book...

  2. Hey Jacob! (Hope that's right...)

    Whoever came up with Tony's pit strategy shot himself in the foot for the second race in this short season (Is it Tony himself making these calls?). Taking right sides only earlier in the race left Tony with no options late and the extra pit time just killed his chances whereas in an earlier race he followed the exact opposite tact and the drivers with four tires ate his lunch... Sometimes ya just can't win...

    Not the driver I wanted to see in VL... Give it a 2.

  3. klvalus - Same here with Kyle, lol. There just wasn't anything special about this race. Unless Edwards wins the championship, there won't be highlights from this one in the end-of-season recaps.

    Dwindy1 - Crew chief Darian Grubb has had circumstances work against him so far this year. Yes, the decisions turned out to be wrong, but the only way Stewart would have had a chance late was if everyone took four tires on the last stop and he took two. I don't think he would've won the race either way. Now, if the rear tire changer didn't hang the air gun, we'd have a whole different story.

  4. I had Kyle too! Couldn't decide between he and Carl... and took the wrong guy.

    Don't be surprised when Bristol comes down between those two also.

  5. Gene - Yeah I had Kyle at Vegas and Carl at Phoenix. Off to a rough start. Another battle between these guys at Bristol would be a great way to come back from an off-week.

  6. I heard one time on a show that the Vegas pit road comes up faster and is harder to slow down on than any other, so I guess all of the screw-ups weren't too surprising.

    RCR has really been struggling so far. It be interesting to see if they can get back on track at Bristol as they have had success there in the past.

  7. Brent - The Childress cars are going to have to get back to the front soon. It's never a good sign when Paul Menard is highest finishing driver for an organization. It will be interesting to see if this four-team setup brings RCR down again. It certainly did last time that organization expanded.