We have had three races during the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season already, and not only have we had three different winners to Victory Lane, but each of the three manufacturers (Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota) have registered victories as well. It was the 50th victory on the Sprint Cup Series for Toyota.
On Sunday, Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing steered his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota to the checkered line first for his first victory with his new team. If that wasn’t special enough, he also did it on his 41st birthday, giving himself quite the present in the Nevada desert. He held off a charging Kasey Kahne of Hendrick Motorsports, who was forced to settle for a runner-up finish, his best showing of the early season by a long shot.
Kenseth has had a great car in each of his first three races, but something seemed to go wrong at inopportune times. He and teammate Kyle Busch had engine troubles, almost simultaneously, at Daytona two weeks ago to get the season started on a low note. Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway should really spur JGR on as they head to Bristol next week, a place teammate Busch has been superb over the years. Busch turned in one of his better performances at his home track, finishing in fourth place. JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, who was critical of the new Gen-6 cars, and was subsequently fined by NASCAR this past week, brought it home in 15th place.
Quote of the day
“I’m not a goal person, but my goal was to win and win early. Nobody put any pressure on me except for myself, but I also know that Coach (Joe Gibbs) hired me to come here and climb in the car and win races. You certainly want to do that – you don’t want to disappoint people. It’s still only week three, but I feel like this is the beginning.” – Matt Kenseth
Kenseth has now managed 25 career victories, and he has been to Victory Lane in 11 of his 14 seasons on the Sprint Cup Series.
The day was pretty good for Hendrick Motorsports, as standings leader Jimmie Johnson posted a sixth-place finish, four spots behind teammate Kahne. It was Johnson’s worst finish of the season, but hardly a disappointing run. His teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. was right on his bumper in seventh place. The day wasn’t as good for Jeff Gordon, who tumbled down the standings to 25th place.
It was another disappointing day for Stewart-Haas Racing. Sure, owner-driver Tony Stewart managed an 11th-place showing, which isn’t terrible, but Ryan Newman developed engine trouble and stumbled to a 38th-place finish. And Danica Patrick failed to live up to the tremendous hype yet again, struggling to a 33rd-place finish.
It was another good day for Roush-Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards, who posted his second straight Top 5 finish, ending up in fifth place. And defending Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski was right in the mix at the end, bringing it home in third. The big mover of the day was Paul Menard, who ended up in 10th place, vaulting himself three spots in the overall standings into the 12th position after three runs.
Five things we learned on Sunday
Candles, cake and checkers are a rarity: Kenseth became just the third driver to ever win on his birthday. The last driver to accomplish the feat was Kyle Busch, May 2, 2009 at Richmond on his 24th birthday. Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough also accomplished the feat twice, once in 1977 at North Wilkesboro, and again in 1983 at Atlanta.
Starting spot not a big factor at Vegas: Kenseth started 18th in Sunday’s race, but ended up in Victory Lane. He also holds the track record with the worst starting spot to win, starting 25th back in his 2004 victory at LVMS. In addition, only two times has a winner come from the front row in 16 races at Vegas, with four of the 16 winners coming from a starting position outside the Top 20.
Now, can he do it again?: There have been three drivers to win consecutive races at Las Vegas. Jeff Burton won back-to-back in 1999 and 2000, while Kenseth turned the trick in 2003 and 2004. Johnson won three straight Vegas runs from 2005-2007. We’ll find out next March if Kenseth can make a little history, but remember him next season when the drivers return to LVMS.
Green-white-checkered finish as rare as rain in Vegas: We have had just one green-white-checkered finish in the history of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and that last happened in 2006. Generally when the laps are ticking down at the end, what you see is what you get, with little fireworks at the finish. (By the way, it rained Friday in Las Vegas, wiping out qualifying. So rain is actually less rare than the G-W-C finish.)
Star power?: The fans in Las Vegas were treated to a flyover by the United States Air Force Thunderbirds. However, the national anthem was performed by Marie Osmond. Perhaps Garth Brooks couldn’t get away from the Wynn.
Looking ahead to next week
The Sprint Cup Series heads across Interstate 40 and up I-81 to Thunder Valley on the Tennessee-Virginia border for the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. It is the first of six short track runs for the season, and one of the favorites of drivers and fans alike.
As previously mentioned, Kyle Busch dominates at Bristol. He has started 16 races at Thunder Valley, winning five times, while turning in seven Top 5s, 11 Top 10s and 13 Top 20s while leading an amazing 1,374 laps to lead all active drivers. His lowest finish is 33rd place, and somehow he has never had a DNF at the track Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip describes as “racing in a blender.” Rowdy is a must-start Fantasy option any time the boys are at Bristol (or Richmond, for that matter).
Don’t forget about Little E, either. Sure, he has just one career victory at Bristol, but he owns an average-finish position of 11.8, which is second among all active drivers. He has 23 Top 20 finishes in 26 career starts, and just one DNF at the short track. He doesn’t necessarily qualify well here, posting an average starting spot of 21.3, but don’t let that dissuade you from adding him to your lineup. He makes up for it as the day goes on.
Other drivers you’ll want to remember at Bristol are Gordon, who has five career wins and an 11.9 average-finish, as well as Kenseth and his two wins and 12.1 average-finish.
As far as deep sleepers are concerned, Terry Labonte is on the entry list for the Food City 500, but he’ll need to qualify in his non-sponsored Ford No. 32 car. He is seventh among all active drivers at Bristol with a 13.1 average-finish position, and he owns two career wins, 19 Top 5s and 33 Top 10s in 57 career starts at the short track. If he makes his way into the field, he’ll be a great Fantasy option free-agent addition in re-draft leagues, and a low-priced must-start in salary-cap formats.
Other sleepers to consider will be Kurt Busch, who has five career wins at the track, and 13 Top 10s in 24 career starts. Marcos Ambrose also seems to enjoy racing at Bristol, posting two Top 5s, four Top 10s and six Top 20s in eight career starts while managing zero DNFs. Watch out for Mark Martin, too. He has won twice at Bristol, and he owns an average-finish of 13.7 in 46 career starts.