Toyota teams leave engine woes behind
In the first two races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, reliability was a huge issue for the engines in the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing.
Figuratively speaking, blown power plants in the Sprint Cup Camrys created more noise than a July 4 fireworks celebration.
Though it might be too early to put those problems in the “solved” category, Toyota Racing Development, which partners with Gibbs to produce the Cup engines, had reason to rejoice on Sunday. Matt Kenseth won the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kyle Busch ran fourth— with the TRD engines lasting the full 400 miles. “We've had a tough couple of weeks, as everybody knows, and so I really appreciate our partner, Toyota,” team owner Joe Gibbs said after the race. “In tough times, everybody kind of bands together around our place, and we start fighting and we worked our way out of some tough things.
“I felt like today we had three good cars. Two of them were caught speeding on pit road (Busch and Denny Hamlin). I think Denny got caught so late it was hard for him to get back on sync.”
Hamlin finished 15th, but the consolation prize was that his engine was running at full strength at the finish.
Kenseth Frustrates Kahne
Kasey Kahne thought he’d be able to get around Matt Kenseth when it counted—and why not?
After all, Kahne led a race-high 114 laps on Sunday and earlier in the race had made short work of the strong cars of Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson when he caught them in traffic.
Kahne had taken right-side tires on Lap 226, while Kenseth opted for track position and took fuel only, beating the other lead-lap cars out of pits. With fresher rubber, Kahne was convinced he’d pass Kenseth eventually, but it didn’t happen, and Kenseth celebrated his 41st birthday with a race win.
“I just felt like I could have got there, the way the car handled throughout the race and how I could turn down in the center of the corner and carry a ton of speed doing it,” Kahne said. “I felt really confident, that when I got to him I'd be able to do that again like I had raced with Kyle and Jimmie earlier in the race.
“And when I got to Matt, I couldn't do it, so I was trying to brake in and mess with anything that I could, lift early, lift late, try it all, and just couldn't find a way past him. He just did a really good job of keeping his momentum up, keeping his speed. He was cutting across me off the corner. He just put up a great battle and pulled it off on told tires.”
NASCAR’s new Gen-6 Sprint Cup race car racked up some impressive statistics in Sunday’s race.
The official race reports read 22 lead changes among eight drivers, with the 22 lead changes being the most at Las Vegas since 2007, the year before the Gen-5 car (Car of Tomorrow) was introduced at intermediate race tracks.
Beyond those numbers, NASCAR’s loop data (stats measured at the 10 scoring loops around the 1.5-mile track) showed a phenomenal 2,342 green-flag passes throughout the race, compared with 1,301 last year.
In addition, there were 31 green-flag passes for the lead (including intra-lap passes scored at loops other than the finish line), the most since NASCAR started recording loop data in 2005.
Rough week for Patrick and Hamlin
Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service
There's no way around it-it's been a rough week for Danica Patrick.
On Sunday at Phoenix, a blown right front tire sent her Chevrolet SS into the outside wall and then into the path of David Ragan's Ford Fusion. The impact from Ragan's car literally blew the driver's- side door off Patrick's No. 10.
Patrick took a bone-jarring hit but was unhurt, aside from some expected soreness.
On Thursday night at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, she was watching a race, not competing in it, but that didn't keep Patrick out of harm's way.
"I feel like I have a concussion from last night," Patrick said Friday during a visit to the LVMS media center. "I got hit by a rock at The Dirt Track and I took it to the ground. So I feel like it's really sore… It hit me straight in the head. Good thing I had a hat on, or there would have been blood."
Though she was 19th fastest in Thursday's afternoon practice session, Patrick is getting little respect from Las Vegas bookmakers, who have her at roughly even odds to finish in the top 25 on Sunday. Patrick said she would take that bet.
"Yeah, I would bet on myself-yeah," Patrick said. "I was running there last year when I had even less of an idea what was going on and didn't have a full-time effort. It was only a partial schedule, obviously. So I would, but I think that even the best of us can have bad weekends and that they happen."
Perhaps the flying rock had more of an effect than Patrick realized- she has never run a Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas, though she finished fourth at the 1.5-mile track in the 2011 Nationwide Series event, the best-ever result for a woman in any of NASCAR's top three series.
Fined $25,000 for comments NASCAR considered derogatory to the sport, Denny Hamlin said Thursday night in a post on his Twitter account that he would appeal the sanctioning body's decision.
Joe Gibbs Racing issued a statement Friday indicating its support for Hamlin during the appeals process.
"We have spoken with NASCAR and will continue to keep an open dialogue with them on this matter, but we will keep those discussions between the parties involved," the JGR statement said. "We will fully support Denny in his appeal process."
Hamlin indicated Thursday that he had been fined for drawing comparisons between the new Gen-6 race car and its predecessor.
Despite protestations to the contrary, fellow driver Jeff Gordon expects Hamlin to capitulate and pay the fine sooner or later.
"We are in Vegas, so we can try to count the odds of when the apology's going to be coming (or) the ‘We're all in this together to grow this sport' tweet is going to be coming," Gordon said. "Your guess is as good as mine. Listen, I think it's been an interesting story for somebody to challenge (NASCAR's) authority, and that's fine.
"But at the end of the day, I know whose sandbox I'm playing in, and I like the sandbox, and I like to play in it, and I want to have the best opportunity to have the most fun in that sandbox. And so sometimes, while you don't like it, you have to bite your tongue and just go out there and race."