From the Team Penske pole repeat to the Most Interesting Man’s command to start the engines, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 17th annual Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Surprising: Boy, is he ever back…in so many surprising ways. With his crew chief Paul Wolfe back on top of the pit box after being out one race for the birth of his baby, driver Brad Keselowski sailed on past the out-of-gas Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make his way right back to Victory Lane.
The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford also went back to back for the race weekend, becoming the first driver to sweep both the Nationwide and Cup races at Las Vegas in the same weekend since 2000 when Jeff Burton did it.
Finally, Keselowski himself noted after crossing the finish line that he was back in the Chase, having scored the first win for Team Penske of the young 2014 season. He is also back in the point standings, just one point shy of the top spot.
Not Surprising: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. joined fellow competitor Martin Truex Jr. in trying to look on the bright side of life after finishes that did not quite live up to their expectations.
“We knew we were a lap short,” Junior said after finishing second on fumes. “We tried to save as much as we could.”
“We took a gamble and didn’t win the race, but it still worked in our favor to run second,” the driver of the No. 88 Mountain Dew Kickstart Chevrolet continued. “It sucks to lose like that, but we can’t let that be a negative. The only way to be productive is to be positive.”
“We have got to look at the positives in today and keep working toward our goal of winning some more races.”
“We were better than 14th, no question about that,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “We ran in the top-10 for most of the race but lost track position at the end.”
“On the bright side this was our best performance as a team, much better than last week at Phoenix,” the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet said. “We had good pit stops all day and I really like the gains we made this weekend.”
Adding to their bright sides was the fact that Martin Truex Jr. made his 300th career start and Dale Jr. became only the second driver, next to the King, to begin a race year with three top-2 finishes in a row.
Surprising: Danica Patrick was the best of the Stewart Haas crew, finishing 21st. Teammates Kurt Busch finished 26; Tony Stewart 33rd and Kevin Harvick 41st with a wheel hub issue putting him 30 laps down.
“Obviously you always want more, but I’m happy with it, especially after what we’ve gone through the last two weeks,” Patrick said. “It’s a good day and gives us something to build on going to Bristol.”
Driver and team owner summed up the surprisingly poor overall team performance with three words, “Something wasn’t right.” In fact, Stewart asked that his car at least not be touched after the race so it could return to North Carolina for diagnosis of its troubles.
Not Surprising: With a sense of urgency, given his wife was due with their first child at any minute, Paul Menard drove right up to the third spot in his No. 27 Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet. And not surprisingly given his record there, this ended up as Menard’s third top-10 finish in eight races in SinCity.
“It’s big for sure,” Menard said. “This Quaker State/Menards Chevy was hauling ass on long runs. Had a lot of those today and it kind of played in our favor.”
“And now I want to get home as soon as possible.”
Surprising: For the first time back on the race track since announcing his departure from full-time racing and his soon-to-be broadcast career and for his first time behind the wheel of a Toyota Camry, Jeff Burton had a surprisingly good run.
In fact, the driver of the No. 66 Let’s Go Places Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing brought it home top-20, finishing in the 17th spot.
“That was a lot of fun,” Burton said. “That was a good day for the No. 66 guys. Chad (Walter, crew chief) and the guys were a pleasure to work with this weekend.”
Not Surprising: While Carl Edwards was pleased with his top-5 finish in his No. 99 Aflac Ford, he could not help but mourn the passing of William Clay Ford, Sr., the grandson of Henry Ford.
“We’re all thinking of the Ford family,” Edwards said. “For Brad in a Ford to win both of those races (Nationwide and Cup), I think it says a lot.”
NASCAR echoed Edwards’ sentiments with Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO, issuing these words, “He will be remembered as a man of style, for both the automobiles he built and the life he led. He was a giant….who forever will be missed.”
Surprising: With the new Chase system focusing on race wins, it was surprising to hear at least one driver talk about a good points day after the Kobalt 400.
“It was a good effort for the team and it was a good points day,” Ryan Newman said after finishing seventh in his No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet. “If we keep running like that, we’ll put it in the top five and if we do that we’ll win.”
Not Surprising: That Austin Dillon is just good so it was not surprising that he not only had a good finish in 16th, the highest finishing rookie, but as a result, he now sits as the highest rookie in the point standings. In fact, Austin Dillon is 13th in the point standings, ahead of the likes of Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch.
Surprising: While Kyle Busch is usually a favorite with the kids due to the M&Ms candy on his car, he felt more like a kid’s toy, in this case a yoyo, after a grueling day in his home town.
“We had a really up and down day with our M&M’s Peanut Camry,” Busch said. “We started off getting blocked in the pits and had to come from the back.”
“The car was too loose on the first run and we tightened it up and it was really fast for a while,” Busch continued. “But, we kept adjusting on it to try and help the tight in the center of the corner and it was just getting looser and looser, especially on the last run. Just disappointing when we looked like we had a good car earlier in the race.”
Not Surprising: With three top-ten finishes to his name, Jeff Gordon is one happy camper so far this season. And to finish top-ten at Las Vegas, admittedly one of his struggles tracks, he was almost giddy.
“I knew today was going to be one of the most challenging races that we were going to have, possibly all year long,” Gordon said. “And so, I feel like this team did an incredible job. I think we were much better than ninth, but at the same time, this I think is one of my worst tracks right now.”
“We’re off to a fantastic start. We’re very motivated by that. We’re excited.”