Two Wins Down, Kenseth Going For Three
In a display of virtual perfection on and off pit road this past Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 USG Ford) and crew became the fourth team in NASCAR history to win the Daytona 500 and the following event.
What is even more impressive is the No. 17 team has the opportunity to become the first to win the first three races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, and just might do it.
Kenseth joined some elite company by starting off 2-0. Ironically, the last driver to pull off such a feat was four-time series champion, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) in 1997, winning Daytona and Rockingham. Gordon, incidentally, battled Kenseth last weekend in the closing laps at ACS, finishing second.
The other two drivers to open with two wins are three-time series champion Cale Yarborough (1977, Daytona/Richmond); and seven-time champion, Richard Petty (1973, Daytona/Richmond).
After going all of 2008 without a win, the No. 17 team has turned it around by adding crew chief Drew Blickensderfer.
“I just feel great about the group we have assembled,” said Kenseth. “Everybody’s having fun. Everybody’s loose. Everybody’s performing at the same time. I think that, Drew has given the leadership and the spark they (the team) kind of needs.”
Kenseth heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway ready to keep the streak alive. He has a Loop Data Driver Rating of 107.8 at LVMS and an Average Running Position of 10.771 .
Kenseth has posted two wins, four top fives and five top 10s at Las Vegas in nine starts. Kenseth is first in the series standings 85-points ahead of Gordon.
Busch Brothers Head Home, Seeking Elusive Las Vegas Win
Las Vegas is the home of the Busch Brothers, Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), who grew up racing on the “bull-ring” dirt track across the street from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The Busch brothers had much success at the dirt track, but surprisingly, neither have won a NASCAR national series race at LVMS.
Both have kicked the ’09 season off to a good start. Kurt Busch is third in the series standings with a 10th-place finish at Daytona, and a fifth-place finish at Auto Club Speedway. Kurt has posted one top five and two top 10s in eight starts at LVMS. He has a Driver Rating of 89.9 and an Average Running Position of 13.354 at the 1.5-mile oval.
Kyle Busch is 18th in the series standings after finishing 41st in the Daytona 500 and third in the Auto Club 500.
He became the first driver ever to win a NASCAR Nationwide Series and a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in the same day this past Saturday, sweeping the doubleheader at Auto Club Speedway.
Kyle will attempt to carry his momentum to Las Vegas this weekend. He has two top fives, three top 10s and a pole (2008) at LVMS. Loop Data has him ranked first at the track in Average Running Position with (6.777), third in Driver Rating (109.8), second in Quality Passes with (174) and second in Laps in Top 15 (93.1%).
Gordon Second In Points — And 11 Laps Shy Of 20,000 For His Career
Turning up the heat. That’s exactly what Jeff Gordon did at Auto Club Speedway, battling for the lead with Matt Kenseth.
Gordon, for the second week in a row, had the best finish by a Hendrick Motorsports driver, finishing second in the Auto Club 500. That followed a 13th in the Daytona 500.
As a result, Gordon is second in the series standings 85-points back from Kenseth.
This weekend ,the No. 24 team heads to Las Vegas with the confidence that comes with improvement.
“I’m so excited about this race team right now,” said Gordon. “I just think we’re head and shoulders above where we were (last year).”
Gordon has posted one win, five top fives and five top 10s at LVMS in 11 starts.
The Las Vegas-specific Loop Data has him ranked second in Average Running Position (7.446), second in Driver Rating (111.4), first in Quality Passes (186) and first in Laps in Top 15 (93.5%).
Gordon has the opportunity to reach a career milestone this weekend at LVMS. He is currently 11 laps shy of 20,000 laps run in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.
Gordon’s teammates have not shared the same early success.
Of the three Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet) is fairing the best. He is 19th in the series standings after posting a 31st at Daytona and a ninth at the Auto Club Speedway.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a perfect place for Johnson to get the ball rolling.
Johnson has three consecutive wins (2005-’07), three top fives and four top 10s in seven starts at LVMS.
Mark Martin (No. 5 Pop-Tarts/CARQUEST Chevrolet) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet) had their weekends cut short at Auto Club Speedway after both their engines expired.
Martin is 27th in the standings but is likely to turn out a good finish at LVMS. He won the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup race there n 1998. He has since then posted five top fives and nine top 10s in 11 starts.
After being projected as a title contender in ’09, Earnhardt can’t seem to catch a break this season.
After finishing 27th at Daytona, and his engine letting go at Auto Club Speedway en route to a 39th-place result, he is 35th in the series standings.
Roush Fenway Racing Picks ’09 Up Where They Left ’08 — Victory Lane
Jack Roush and his five-car team Roush Fenway Racing are building on the momentum left over from the end of 2008.
Not only has Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 and the Auto Club 500, but Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) finished the 2008 season winning three of the last four races including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Roush also has four of his five cars in the top 10 in the 2009 series standings.
Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) is fifth in the standings after a 20th-place finish at Daytona and a fourth-place at Auto Club Speedway.
David Ragan (No. 6 UPS Ford) is eighth in the standings after a sixth-place finish at Daytona and a 17th-place at ACS.
Carl Edwards is ninth in the standings after an 18th-place finish at Daytona and a seventh at ACS.
Roush has accumulated five straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series February wins at Auto Club Speedway.
The one catalyst that has sparked the No. 17 team and the whole Roush Fenway Racing organization this season is Drew Blickensderfer, crew chief of the No. 17.
As a rookie NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief Blickensderfer is 2-0.
He began his motorsports career seven years ago when Roush Fenway Racing hired him as a tire changer. Since then he has worked his way up to crew chief.
“Drew has brought magic to the team,” said Jack Roush. “He knows how to capitalize on the energy within a team. We needed that.
“We had all the right team with the right skill sets on the team; we just needed somebody to create the magic. Drew has done that.”
The Roush Fenway camp heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend looking to keep there undefeated season alive.
Jack Roush leads all other car owners with six wins at LVMS.
Data Delivering Positive Outlook For Jimmie Johnson, Going Into Las Vegas
After two races, a number of 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup participants are facing a daunting uphill climb if they want to make the 2009 edition.
Luckily for them, Las Vegas should be a perfect place for many to erase their early season woes.
On the top of that list is Jimmie Johnson, winner of three consecutive Las Vegas races from 2005-2007. Johnson currently sits 19th in series points, but a launch up the standings seems likely — if his statistics hold true.
Johnson owns series-best stats in Driver Rating (112.0) and Fastest Laps Run (149) and has solid numbers in Average Running Position (11.6), Green Flag Speed (164.583 mph) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (70.2%).
Vegas native Kyle Busch is a spot ahead of Johnson, in 18th. That should improve this weekend, as Busch has a third-best Driver Rating of 109.8, a series-best Average Running Position of 6.8 and the fifth-most Fastest Laps Run (64).
Most figured Mark Martin would immediately jump to the top of the standings after rejoining the series on a full-time basis. That has yet to happen. Martin sits a surprising 27th, but is strong at Las Vegas. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, at Las Vegas, Martin has a Driver Rating of 96.8 (sixth-best), an Average Running Position of 12.2 (seventh), 36 Fastest Laps Run (eighth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 72.8% (fifth).
Even further back of the pack is Jeff Burton, who has made the Chase the last three years. Currently, he’s well off that pace — in 30th-place. But he, too, is strong at Las Vegas. At Vegas, Burton has a Driver Rating of 95.4 (seventh-best), an Average Running Position of 10.5 (third), 268 Green Flag Passes (second) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 80.9% (third).
Last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, Kevin Harvick ended a record-setting streak of 81 consecutive races running at the finish. His DNF knocked him to 16th in the standings. That position could improve, as he has a Driver Rating of 88.8 at Las Vegas.
Big Names “On The Bubble” Of The Top 35 Owner Standings
For the first five races of the season, the top 35 teams from the final 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car owner points get guaranteed starting spots. After the first five weeks, the guaranteed berths are based on the 2009 owner point standings. Already, there are some concerned teams out there.
Robby Gordon (No. 7 Jim Beam Toyota) Is currently 33rd in car owner points. As a car owner and driver, he has all the weight on his shoulders to stay in the top 35.
Gordon posted a 31st at Daytona and a 12th at Auto Club Speedway. His best finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was 12th in 2006.
Ryan Newman (No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet) joined Stewart-Haas Racing and car owner/driver Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet) this season. He is currently 34th in car owner points after posting a 36th at Daytona and 28th at Auto Club Speedway. Newman has amounted one top five, four top 10s, and a pole in eight starts at LVMS.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet) has had a rough two weeks to start the season and comes into Las Vegas 35th in car owner points. He finished 27th at Daytona and 39th at ACS.
Earnhardt has NEVER missed a race since becoming a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver in 2000. Earnhardt has posted two top-five and three top-10 finishes at Las Vegas in nine starts.
Aric Almirola (No. 8 TomTom Chevrolet) is 36th in the car owner point — two points behind 35th. Driving for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing he has posted a 30th at Daytona and 35th at ACS.
Almirola has only one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at LVMS in 2007 — he finished 41st.
Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) and Joe Gibbs currently are 37th in car owner points — 14 points back from 35th. In ’09 Logano has posted a 43rd at Daytona and a 26th at Auto Club Speedway. Practice on Friday, Feb. 27 will be the first laps Logano has run in any of NASCAR’s national series at LVMS.
Michael Waltrip Racing Continues To Improve In 2009
During the 2009 NASCAR Media Day in Daytona Beach, Fla. Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Toyota) said, “If I don’t see the results that I think can get the 55 car the results it deserves, then as an owner, I want to get somebody in there that can post those results.”
Apparently, by putting himself “in the hot seat,” he has elevated the entire Michael Waltrip Racing organization.
Waltrip is seventh in the series standings after a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a 15th in the Auto Club 500.
Waltrip’s teammate, David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota) has also started the season well. He is 12th in the series standings after posting a 12th-place finish at Daytona and a seventh at ACS.
A lot of the early success can be attributed to the shuffling of the crew chiefs at MWR.
This season Robert “Bootie” Barker has come on board to crew chief the No. 55 and Rodney Childers has come on for the No. 00.
It will be interesting to see if MWR can carry their early momentum to Las Vegas; a track both drivers have struggled at.
Waltrip has made 11 starts at LVMS and he has only one top-five finish.
Reutimann has started two races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Las Vegas with a best finish of 25th last season.
Off The Track …
Thursday, Feb. 26:
What: Las Vegas Strip to host the 2009 NASCAR Hauler Parade. The transporters will be staged at approximately 10 a.m. in the right lane of Las Vegas Boulevard just south of Russell Road. The haulers will proceed north, roughly five miles, to Sahara Avenue before returning to LVMS.
When: 10 a.m.
Where: Las Vegas Boulevard
Thursday, Feb. 26
What: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Greg Biffle, Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Stanley Dodge), Casey Mears No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet), Aric Almirola and retired driver Kyle Petty will take time out of their Las Vegas NASCAR race weekend schedules to attend the 11th annual Speedway Children’s Charities NASCAR Driver Auction at Sam’s Town Live!, inside Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall in Las Vegas, Nev. Proceeds from the event benefit the Las Vegas Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities.
Fans will have the opportunity to bid on a ride around the speedway in a convertible with their favorite NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series stars during driver introductions prior to the start of the Shelby 427 on Sunday, March 1 and before the Sam’s Town 300 on Saturday, February 28
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall in Las Vegas, Nev.
Thursday, Feb. 26
What: Kurt Busch Foundation’s Inaugural Sprint For The Kids Charity Event.
Participants will compete side-by-side in a celebrity endurance kart race featuring some of NASCAR’s finest drivers and celebrities. Jamie McMurray (No. 26 IRWIN Ford), Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge), David Stremme (No. 12 Penske Dodge), Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota), Greg Biffle, and Jamie Little are among those scheduled to attend and race in the charity event along with other drivers and celebrities to be announced.
When: 6-8 p.m.
Where: Pole Position Raceway
Sunday, March 1 What: Country singer and The Biggest Loser star Dan Evans to participate in
Speedway Children’s Charities Track Walk at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday morning.
When: 9 a.m.
Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Gordie Brown Part Of Pre-Race Lineup
Gordie Brown, a multi-talented impressionist, singer and entertainer, will headline the pre-race show prior to the Shelby 427 on Sunday.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Milestones
Jeff Burton (No. 31 CATERPILLAR Chevrolet) will reach a career milestone this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It will be his 450th consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start.
Other career milestones this week include:
Mark Martin making his 750th start in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition.
Greg Biffle making his 225th start in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition.
Jamie McMurray making his 225th start in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition.
Up Next: Atlanta Motor Speedway
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series journeys back east in Week 4 to Atlanta Motor Speedway in Atlanta, Ga., for the KOBALT Tools 500.
The Sunday, March 8 event will be televised by FOX and the pre-race show starts at 1:30 p.m. ET with the race starting at approximately 2 p.m.
Kyle Busch is the defending champion of the KOBALT Tools 500, while Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in career victories at AMS, with four.
The KOBALT Tools 500 will be the 50th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, dating back to the debut event in 1960, which Fireball Roberts won.
The Race: Shelby “427″
The Date: Sunday, March 1
The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway; 1.5-mile tri-oval
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 427.5 miles/285 laps
TV: FOX, 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN and Sirius Satellite; (Local PRN affiliate KDWN-AM 720)
2008 Polesitter: Kyle Busch
2008 Winner: Carl Edwards
Schedule: (All times local PT) Friday — Practice, 12-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday — Final Practice, 11:45 a.m.-12:50 p.m.