Las Vegas Rear View Mirror

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards won his first race of the year. (Photo: Getty Images)

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The 2011 NASCAR season has gotten off to a great start and it continued with the third weekend of the year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
 
At least in some respects.
 
There was a sellout crowd on hand for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400, which came on the heels of a stellar turnout for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race. And that Nationwide race featured a thrilling finish with Brad Keselowski’s blown tire on the final lap opening up the door for Mark Martin to score career series win number 49.
 
The story lines also featured Danica Patrick’s impressive fourth-place finish to become the highest finishing female driver in a NASCAR top series since 1949.
 
Unfortunately Sunday’s Sprint Cup headliner didn’t pack quite the excitement or dramatic punch with Carl Edwards outdistancing the field after late race pit stops to notch his first win of the year and third in the last five starts dating back to last season.
 
Maybe that is a story worth delving into given the fact that at this time last year many were wondering what was wrong with Edwards, the Roush Fenway Racing stable and Ford in general.
 
Once things were figured out around the mid-point of last season, however, the fortunes for all have turned decidedly better.
 
Edwards has returned to the championship contending form that was expected of him two years ago and in reality has had a chance to win all three races this season. He came home second in the Daytona 500 and had by far the fastest car a week ago in Phoenix before getting swept up in an early incident with Kyle Busch.
 
His win Sunday in Vegas, the bread and butter type track for RFR’s success over the year, should solidify Edwards as a multiple victory favorite this year and certainly someone to watch for in the 2011 title race.
 
So while Sunday’s race wasn’t one of NASCAR’s barnburners, perhaps there was an interesting story that developed after all.
 
• While Edwards was celebrating his win Tony Stewart was fuming. Smoke looked like he had the day sewn up when a two-tire stop for track position gained fourteen positions for the No. 14 team and handed Stewart the lead. That turned out to be short lived though when the day’s final trip to pit road for four tires cost too much time for service and eventually the potential race win.

"Sorry about that. We let you down. Should have won that," said crew chief Darian Grubb to a very angry Stewart after the race. The Monday morning de-briefing at Stewart-Haas Racing will not be for the faint of heart.
 
• Kyle Busch can probably sympathize with what Edwards went through at Phoenix last week after his day in Vegas. Busch had a fast race car but wasn’t able to contend for the win when an engine failure ended his afternoon in a fiery blaze. While Busch was obviously disappointed with the turn of events, he handled himself well in the post-incident television and radio interviews, another sign of perhaps a different perspective from the fiery Busch in 2011.
 
• A couple of unlikely names found themselves in the first five finishers Sunday with Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose turning in great runs. Montoya rebounded from last year’s Las Vegas debacle when he tangled with teammate Jamie McMurray to post a third-place finish Sunday, and for a time was in contention to perhaps steal a victory. Montoya and crew chief Brian Pattie appear to have recaptured their 2009 magic in the early going of this season. Ambrose had a fourth-place finish for the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 9 squad and after a disappointing first two events showed the promise many had for him when he left JTG Daugherty for Richard Petty’s organization.
 
• With Edwards winning and Ambrose finishing well, Ford had a successful day overall on Sunday but it wasn’t all peaches and cream for the Blue Oval brigade. Greg Biffle in particular suffered through an extremely frustrating day with pit road miscues and fueling problems taking him from the ranks of contender. Biffle was obviously displeased with his crew through radio communication and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some personnel changes on pit road for the No. 16 team by the time Bristol rolls around.

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