Las Vegas Rear View Mirror

Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth celebrates the win in the Kobalt Tools 400. (Photo: Getty Images)

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For NASCAR’s sake what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas.

Sunday’s debut of the Gen-6 Sprint Cup Series car on an intermediate-sized track turned out to be perhaps the best race of the young season.

There was enough side-by-side racing and passes for the lead to provide NASCAR with some much-needed positives for its brand new Cup machine after a controversial week.

Denny Hamlin’s post Phoenix comments that were deemed derogatory by the sanctioning body overshadowed nearly everything heading into Sunday’s race. With NASCAR already losing that battle in the court of public opinion, the last thing needed was a snoozer of a race in Vegas.

While nobody will ever confuse racing at LVMS or any other 1.5-mile track with the tight quarters of say a Martinsville, Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 had its share of excitement. Not surprisingly much of the action took place on restarts, maybe the most electric coming when Kyle Busch dove down to the apron to muscle his way into the top spot.

But there were many examples of two and sometimes three-wide racing throughout the pack and position changes at the front of the field to keep fans’ attention.

Maybe the best news for NASCAR is all three manufacturers have now won in the first trio of races this season with Toyota joining Chevrolet and Ford in Victory Lane on Sunday.

But there are some more challenges ahead in the next few weeks. Although Bristol and Martinsville are in the calendar mix so are Fontana, Texas and Kansas. If it turns out Sunday’s Vegas race was an aberration and the intermediate track product continues to struggle, fans will again become restless.

But for now at least the first Gen-6 run on a mid-sized speedway has to be considered a success.

  • The day belonged to Matt Kenseth but it was an impressive day for the Hendrick Motorsports brigade with three drivers finishing in the top 10. Kasey Kahne was not able to run down Kenseth for the win so settled for second with his teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also notching a finish inside the first ten. Only Jeff Gordon struggled in Sin City a dark spot on an otherwise bright weekend in Las Vegas for Rick Hendrick’s organization.
  • The day’s final restart generated some controversy when it appeared Brad Keselowski jumped the green flag while Denny Hamlin lined up in three-wide formation back in the pack. NASCAR officials let things play out and did not wave off the green flag but the situation could have been a much bigger mess.
  • As many predicted it’s been a struggle for Danica Patrick after her impressive Daytona performance during Speedweeks. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver exited last week’s race in Phoenix early after a violent accident that was triggered when she blew a tire. Sunday in Vegas Patrick battled an ill-handling racecar pretty much all day. She can take some solace in the fact her teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman didn’t exactly tear things up either. It won’t get any easier for Patrick next week when she is faced with the challenge of the Bristol Motor Speedway high banks.
  • Despite a rocky start weather-wise when qualifying was rained out on Friday, there was solid attendance at LVMS this weekend. Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 Nationwide Series race drew a stellar crowd while Sunday’s main event might not have been sell-out, the Kobalt Tools 400 saw the grandstands nearly full. The first three weeks of the season have been very positive from a ticket sale standpoint. But all eyes will be on the seats next week at Bristol to see if the track’s controversial makeover from last season will result in bringing back the fans who claimed they missed the “old” style of Bristol racing.

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