[media-credit name=”David Yeazell” align=”alignright” width=”259″][/media-credit]Under a gloriously sunny sky and with an amazing flyover complements of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the green flag flew on the Kobalt Tools 400. Here is what was surprising and not surprising from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Surprising: Since the reigning champ is primarily known for heating up over the summer or in the Chase, it was surprising to see Tony Stewart capture the checkered flag this early in the season.
This was also Smoke’s first ever win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track that he felt definitely owed him one after a pit miscue cost him the victory last year.
“I don’t know that it’s important this early but we only get one shot at Vegas,” the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet said. “It was real hard leaving here last year. It’s nice to come here and have a car that was bad to the bone.”
It was also surprising that Steve Addington, Stewart’s new crew chief, won his first ever Cup race with a driver not named Busch. And although known for his calm, relaxed nature, Addington definitely felt the pressure of calling the race on his shoulders.
“I take it very personal every time that car goes on the race track,” Addington said. “I felt a ton of pressure on myself to get a win and I’m glad that’s under our belt.”
“The stars lined up and we won this race at Vegas.”
Not Surprising: With the penalty appeal scheduled to be heard during the upcoming week, it was not surprising to see Jimmie Johnson attempt to get the best finish and most points possible. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet scored the runner up spot in the race bearing his sponsor’s name.
Johnson had an eventful race weekend, crashing in the first lap of final practice, as well as having to go to the rear of the field in a backup car for the start of the race. So, although he wanted the win, he seemed satisfied with his second place run.
“Tony could just get through the gears better,” Johnson said of his final run with Smoke. “With everything we went through this weekend, I’ll take it.”
Surprising: Greg Biffle, behind the wheel of the No. 16 3M/Meguiars Ford, scored his third third place finish of the season. But even more surprising, the Biff is now the official points leader, with the chance to be the only driver to win a championship in all three of NASCAR’s top tier series.
“It certainly has started off to be a good season for us so far,” Biffle said. “We’re super excited about it but there again, we want to win like the 14 car did today so we’re going to keep our heads down and keep working hard.”
Not Surprising: With one half of the Stewart-Haas Race team in Victory Lane, it was no surprise that his teammate would not be far behind. Ryan Newman, in his No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for SHR, scored a top-5 finish as well.
“It was a hard fought day,” Newman said. “We struggled a bit in the pits but we got lucky on the last restart. It was an awesome day for Stewart-Haas.”
Surprising: As good as Jimmie Johnson was for Hendrick Motorsports, it was surprising to see four-time champion Jeff Gordon struggle so mightily. Gordon fought tight conditions most of the race, complaining that his car was plowing mightily.
Gordon did manage to bring his anniversary celebrating No. 24 Dupont 20 Years Chevrolet home in the twelfth position.
“Well, we weren’t very good,” Alan Gustafson, Gordon’s crew chief, said simply. “We struggled but we ended up with an okay finish. Sometimes you have to do that and we did it.”
“You’re never happy with 12th, but there was a point in time during the day when I would have been happy to finish 20th,” Gustafson continued. “So, it was okay.”
Not Surprising: In spite of the fact that the two are teammates, it was not surprising to see sparks fly yet again between the Roushketeers Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. The two tangled on the restart in the waning laps of the race.
Carl Edwards, in the No. 99 Alfac Ford, saw it this way.
“Matt spun his tires just a little bit on the restart and I went down to the apron,” Edwards said. “He gave me a ton of room but we just got all bunched up over there.”
Kenseth, behind the wheel of the brightly colored No. 17 Zest Ford, just seemed confused by it all.
“I honestly don’t really know what happened,” Kenseth said. “Carl just laid back and got by me three-wide and then it just didn’t seem like there was a lot of room getting into turn one.”
“And then I did get clear behind him and he just stopped in the middle of the corner.”
Edwards was able to finish well in the fifth position, while Kenseth finished 22nd in contrast.
Surprising: With their driver under the weather, it was surprising to see the No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet score an eighth place finish.
“Jamie (McMurray) showed up this morning and he was sick,” crew chief Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion, said “For him to come through like he did for us today was really big.”
“Going into this race, we felt really strong about our McDonald’s Chevrolet,” Manion continued. “All in all, it was a good day.”
Not Surprising: In spite of leading more laps than he did all last season and scoring a top-10 finish, it was not surprising to find a frustrated Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at the end of the race.
“I think we should have run better than that,” the driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet said. “We are just a little bit disappointed.”
“We were fast and I knew before the end of the race we were going to have to free my car up and I never let Steve (Letarte) do it,” Junior said. “It was more my fault than anything really. I didn’t give him enough information I guess.”
Surprising: Fresh faced youngster Trevor Bayne had a surprisingly good run in his No. 21 Motorcaft/Quick Lane Ford for the famed Wood Brothers.
“A top-10 feels like a win to us,” Bayne said simply. “We hadn’t had a top-10 since Daytona and it feels good to be back at it.”
Not Surprising: Unfortunately, it was not surprising that the Dodges again struggled early in this 2012 season. Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, finished 32nd and his teammate AJ Allmendinger fared even worse, finishing 37th in his No. 22 Pennzoil Dodge.
“We had a pretty decent Dodge Charger and we were going to give Tony a run for his money,” Keselowski said. “The fuel pump broke. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
“Man, this is not the start to the season any of us were expecting,” Allmendinger said. “Just when I knew we could make something solid, we started having fuel pressure issues.”
“We came into the garage and changed some things,” ‘Dinger continued. “My guys busted their butts but we’re not sure yet what the cause was.”
“But you know the guys back at the Penske shop will figure it out.”