It was a rather blustery day on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Here was what was surprising and not surprising from the 19th Annual Kobalt 400.
Surprising: Brad Keselowski ended Sunday the winner of Las Vegas, the first stop on NASCAR’s western swing.
Keselowski stayed out during the final couple of cautions for track position along with teammate Joey Logano and was able to get around both Logano and Kyle Busch in the final ten laps.
It was Keselowski’s first win in 33 races. His final victory was at Fontana, nearly a full year ago. It’s the 2012 Sprint Cup champion’s 18th career victory. Logano ended up finishing second while Busch fell to fourth, behind Jimmie Johnson in third.
It’s also the first win for Team Penske in any major race in its 50th anniversary season.
It wasn’t easy for Keselowski, who had to serve a pit road speeding penalty with just over 80 laps to go.
“Got that long run at the end,” Keselowski said after the race. “We knew we had a lot of long-run speed. Sure enough, we were able to hold off the 48, who was really, really fast on his own. Next thing I knew, we were closing in on our teammate. Took a long time to get by Joey. He put up a heck of a fight.
“Then, of course, the very end, to be able to pass Kyle and get the win. I know the local media is probably not very thrilled about that. But he did pass me to win the championship last year on the last race. Maybe some tradeoffs there.”
Not Surprising: It was a trying but ultimately good day for the Busch brothers at their home track.
Both Kurt and Kyle Busch were sidelined from competing last season at Las Vegas for differing reasons. Kurt was facing domestic violence abuse allegations while Kyle was out with injuries stemming from an accident in the opening XFINITY Series race at Daytona.
Kyle Busch was able to recover from a 23rd starting spot and a slow car to leading with just seven laps to go before a vibration caused the car to become too tight. He ended the day falling to fourth.
“If I were to grade our weekend, for progress it’s an A-plus, but for being as bad as we were and ending up right there it would probably be a B or B-minus,” the driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota said following the race.
Kurt Busch, meanwhile, started on the pole and led the race before being hit with a speeding penalty on pit road, some slow restarts, and getting caught up in the final wreck of the day. Busch was able to recover to finish ninth, however.
Surprising: Sunday’s race had to be one of the most windiest races in Sprint Cup history.
With gusts reaching to 50 mph, it swept plenty of sand around the track and caused problems on pit road all day long with the teams not being able to use pit signs.
Race winner Brad Keselowski might know this better than some, with the wind knocking the American Flag out of his car during his trademark victory celebration. It didn’t seem to affect his race, however.
“Certainly wasn’t an easy race with, like you said, the weather,” Keselowski said. “I didn’t think the weather was as big of a challenge as I thought it was going to be, specific to the wind. You could feel it, but it didn’t put us in anything that I thought was too risky.”
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch might also know the “sandstorms” better than most.
“This weather was horrible for the race fans,” Busch said. “I feel bad for all of them and having to deal with all the wind. The wind in the desert you get sand in your face and eyes and everything else. But for us being behind the wheel, it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t feel much of it.”
Not Surprising: Jimmie Johnson had a good day, finishing third a week after all but guaranteeing himself a Chase seed after winning Atlanta.
“Track position was pretty important,” Johnson told the media following the race. “The series of events leading up to that last restart kind of had us deeper in track position than we needed to be for the win. We still got a third, which is good, but those top three or four cars were pretty equal.
“It was just real hard to get there and get inside of somebody. I was impressed the No. 2 was able to sit behind the No. 22 that long and finally get by and not wear his stuff out in the process. But, decent day for us all-in-all.”
Another Chevrolet driver who had a good run was Austin Dillon. After a great weekend, the driver of the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet ended it fifth after staying out the last couple of cautions with the Team Penske cars. Dillon, however, is still hunting for that elusive first Sprint Cup victory.
“What a fast race car, we were running some lap times faster than the leader at one point in the middle of the race when we were laps down that we were really proud of,” Dillon said. “I wish the wind wouldn’t have been so bad today. I think it would have been an even better day for us. Just proud of the Dow/Intellifresh team, we have something to work with. I think you will see us in Victory Lane before the season is over.”
Surprising: A late-race wreck that brought out the final caution of the day took out multiple front runners.
Matt Kenseth, statistically the best active driver at Las Vegas, spun in turn two and collected Chase Elliott with just 40 laps to go. Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch also were a part of the chain reaction crash, although both were able to continue running.
Kenseth and Elliott finished 37th and 38th respectively after being in the top 10 for most of the day.
“I went into turn one and I wasn’t really hardly turning yet and just spun out before I had any idea what happened,” Kenseth said. “I don’t know, after that, I was just trying to save our DeWalt Toyota and got ran into from behind.”
It’s another frustrating finish for Elliott. The Rookie of the Year contender has run well so far in 2016 but had problems both here and at Daytona.
“Just disappointed, what a fast race car, I appreciate everybody working hard,” Elliott said. “I feel like we made a lot of gains this weekend. Just a terrible job on my behalf. That is pitiful. We have run three races and finished one. Just a bad job on my end. I ought to know better to miss a wreck like that.”
Not Surprising: Brian Vickers had a frustrating day subbing for Tony Stewart, finishing nine laps down after good practice results the last few days.
As expected, Tony Stewart announced on Friday that Vickers and Ty Dillon will substitute for him until “Smoke” has recovered from his back injury. Which driver is in the car week-to-week depends on the sponsor; Dillon will be in the No. 14 Chevrolet when it’s sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, while Vickers will be in the car when it isn’t.
The Sprint Cup series continues its western swing next weekend at Phoenix. Race coverage for the Good Sam 500 begins at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.