With rain in the desert setting the field and the Denny Hamlin fine all the talk, here is what else was surprising and not so surprising from the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Surprising: The transformation surprisingly continued for Matt Kenseth, who moved from lame duck last year at Roush Fenway Racing to winner this year in just the third race of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Thank you Lord for putting me here,” Kenseth said simply as he took the checkered flag.
This was the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota’s 25th career victory and the 101st victory for his new owner Joe Gibbs. And it was Kenseth’s 41st birthday to boot.
Not Surprising: It was a strong day for the Hendrick bunch, with one notable exception, Jeff Gordon, who brought up the rear with a disappointing 25th finish in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet.
Kasey Kahne, who had a strong No. 5 Farmer’s Insurance Chevrolet, gave Kenseth a run for his money but could not close the deal, finishing second.
“I had the car to beat today,” Kahne said. “We lost, but it was still a great run for all of our guys.”
Jimmie Johnson, behind the wheel of the No. 48 Lowes/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, finished sixth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy Orange Chevrolet, finished 7th.
“I lost a couple of spots in that last restart, but it was fun to race that fast,” Johnson said. “We were flying.”
“We had a real good race,” Junior said. “I enjoyed the race track and the raceability of the track was a lot of fun. I had a blast really.”
Not surprisingly, Hendrick Motorsports is also strong in the point standings, with Johnson in the lead, Junior in third, Gordon dropping five spots to 13th and Kahne moving up 17 spots to 14th after the Vegas race.
Surprising: While every other driver complained of being loose, Rookie of the Year contender Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. surprisingly complained about being tight.
“I kept telling them to free it up and we would get tighter and tighter,” the driver of the No. 17 Zest Ford said. “That is why we gave up all our track position.”
“Every pit stop we made we got tighter and tighter,” Stenhouse, Jr. continued. “I couldn’t go on a restart.”
Stenhouse Jr. finished 18th and is still in the lead in what he refers to as the ‘Ricky of the Year’ standings. He also led his first ever Cup lap after staying out while others headed to pit road.
Not Surprising: Stenhouse Jr.’s other half, Danica Patrick had ‘one of those days’ at the track. Not only did she struggle and finish 33rd in her GoDaddy.com Chevrolet but her team also had a tire outside the box violation on Lap 123, necessitating a pass through penalty.
“That’s alright, guys,” Patrick said. “If we’re going to have these days, might as well have them all together.”
“It was a real tough day, no doubt.”
Surprising: While both Earnhardt Ganassi Racing cars had to start from the rear of the field due to engine changes, both rebounded surprisingly well.
Jamie McMurray, behind the wheel of the No. 1 McDonalds Chevrolet, finished 13th and EGR teammate Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 AXE Apollo Chevrolet finished 19th.
Not Surprising: While Denny Hamlin paid the price for sharing his concerns publicly about the new Gen 6 car, many other drivers admitted to still trying to figure out their own race cars.
Top among that group, however, was Kyle Busch, who overcame a Lap 48 pit road speeding penalty to finish fourth in his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota.
“Man it was really unique,” Busch said. “When I was out front, I was fast as heck.”
“But behind others, then I was wrecking loose,” Busch continued. “All in all it was fun and today was the first part of figuring out the nuances of this race car.”
Surprising: In his 150th career start, Joey Logano, behind the wheel of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Fusion, made an uncharacteristic mistake. Just like his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, Logano sped down pit road on his first pit stop.
Logano rebounded, just like Busch, to finish in the 12th spot.
“I screwed up,” Logano said. “I went down a lap but never caught our break to go.”
“I felt like we had a top-five car but I made a dumb mistake.”
Not Surprising: Although not running a full-time season, NASCAR’s Iron Man Mark Martin continued to show his mettle, finishing 14th in his No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine and moving one spot up to sixth place in the point standings.
“It was fun,” Martin said. “I didn’t get a good restart on the last one but other than that, it was a good solid day by this team and car.”
Surprising: There is a bit of surprising name up there in the top ten in points and he just so happens to drive for the King. Aric Almirola, driver of the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Farmland Ford Fusion, may have finished 16th at Vegas but he remains right there in the tenth spot in the point standings.
“We probably had an 8th – 12th place car so I’m disappointed we finished 16th,” Almirola said. “We didn’t have any major mistakes and I think points-wise we are still decent.”
Almirola tweeted this after the race, “Headed to one of my favorite tracks next week in top 10 in points. Proud of my team!”
Not Surprising: Finally, the determination and grit of the reigning champ Brad Keselowski came through yet again. Keselowski posted his first top-ten finish at Las Vegas and brought the Blue Deuce home in the third spot.
“Never give up,” Keselowski said. “Never give up. This team doesn’t and we didn’t today.”
The champ is taking that attitude right into Bristol next weekend. And he admitted he has no idea how the new Gen 6 car will react on the first short track of the season.
“That’s why you’ve got to watch,” Keselowski said simply.