Greetings! I was asked to start blogging for the LVMS website (my old Mustang used to blog, but I found some carb cleaner straightened it right out), giving a behind-the-scenes look at our circle track racing. This, I suppose, sets the tone for my blog. Behind the scenes as a circle track announcer.
I’m pretty sure everyone thinks you just show up, grab the microphone and have at it. That’s not necessarily true, at least in my experience. You need to prep with statistics (numerical data) and information (everything else). What may surprise many readers is the amount of prep required actually decreases as you move up in event status. In other words, my weekend working the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race requires much less prep than when I work the Bullring. How is that possible you ask? Let me explain.
When I enter the infield media center on the first day of the NASCAR “weekend” (it’s almost a week for me, as I work the Dirt Track events prior) NASCAR has a Sprint Cup media guide (506 pages), a Nationwide media guide (374 pages), a Kobalt Tools 400/Sams Town 300 media guide (umm… no page numbers, but maybe 75 or so) waiting for me. Not to mention updates put out by the teams and drivers. I literally have, at my finger tips, statistics an information on every driver, every track and everything associated with NASCAR. I’m talking statistics like:
Closest margin of victory- March 16, 2003 in Darlington: Ricky Craven over Kurt Busch by .002.
Driver Ken Wagner finished 50th in points back in 1949, making 3 starts and taking one pole. Oh yeah, and he had 3 DNF’s too.
Jeff Gordon had, prior to 2011, completed 3,292 laps of a possible 3,443 at Las Vegas in Sprint Cup competition.
The best part is, it’s gets more obscure from there. Who in the world references the “Fastest Speed in Traffic” (highest in 2010 was Jeff Burton) or the “Positions Improved in the Last 10 Percent of Laps” (highest in 2010 was Kevin Harvick, with an average spots gained of 2.0) statistics? (Oh wait. I’ll probably work that in now that I’ve read it.) Anyway, all this is provided, plus daily updates by NASCAR. The key is being able to find what you’re looking for quickly, but more on that later. Here’s another little bit of insider info… I got this guy on the radio who talks to me. I can’t see him, but he talks to me. His name is Eric and he works for Sprint Vision. He is a massive, and I do mean massive, wealth of information and statistics on NASCAR. He feeds me info on the fly and I have to try and seamlessly work it in because it coordinates with the Sprint Vision screens on the infield, as well as the other broadcasts taking place. Opening ceremonies for the Kobalt Tools 400, for example, is scheduled down to the second. Yep, you read that right… the second.
Anyway, as you can see, for NASCAR the stats and info is there and that’s more than half of the battle. Now let’s take a look at the Bullring.
My weekend at the Bullring starts, well… it actually never ends. I am constantly online checking driver’s web pages, Facebook, MyLaps.com and race results from other tracks. That’s where I get my statistics. Friday nights I hit the practice session just to talk to drivers, crews and officials, and this is where I get my information. I try to speak with everyone, or as many as I can, and those that I miss on Friday night I try to catch during practice on Saturday. And yes, sometimes I miss them altogether. Focus midgets look amazingly alike when the fuel cell is covered or off, and it’s crazy how hard it is to find a Bandolero that is pitted with a full size car. Regardless, it is during these talks that I pick up much of the info I pass on to you. While I’m wandering the pits, I also try to keep an eye on the practice sessions. Who is running well, who is having problems, so on and so forth. Much of this information I can just remember, but the statistics all go into the database on my computer. My database holds the information on every car/driver I’ve ever encountered at LVMS (I have info on over 700 dirt Modifieds alone) and I try to keep things current. Same concept as the media guides of NASCAR, but I’m the one generating the data, so you see how prep time increases at the lower levels of racing. On that same note, USAC and the SRL Southwest Tour send me all their stats/info ahead of time, so my prep time is reduced for those touring series.
During any race I have the loop data (that’s the information produced by the transponders on the cars passing over the timing loop at the start finish line) and my database or media guides in front of me. One of the somewhat questionable talents I have is the ability to talk and at the same time find info/statistics in my database, or media guide. Try it sometime. Attempt to describe a scene from the television in front of you while looking up the current driver points for the Bullring on the LVMS website. Now do that for about 3 straight hours.
Here is the best part: I love it. I love all of it. I love the statistics, I love doing the research, I love walking the pits, I love announcing the race and I really love seeing you having a good time. It doesn’t feel like work, it feels like being the luckiest fan alive. Everyone has something they love doing, and everyone knows how good it makes them feel when others enjoy it with them, so come on out to the Bullring this weekend, grab the edge of a seat and let’s be fans together.
Wrapping up the 14th annual Kobalt Tools 400:
5:40 p.m. – Comments from Carl Edwards, who won Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
“We have been performing really well and it is just a joy to drive these racecars right now. You look at the way we qualified and ran, the Fords are back and are strong. It is due to the work of these two guys next to me (team co-owner Jack Roush and crew chief Bob Osborne) and the guys back at the shop like (Roush Fenway Racing general manager) Robbie Reiser. Everyone has worked really well together. It is great to drive these race cars.”
(Have you ever started a season this well?) “This is the best start to a season that I have ever had and you know Daytona could have gone any way; that was a lot of luck involved in our good finish at Daytona. Phoenix was a very strong performance from everyone but we had bad luck there. I felt today we had a solid top-three car all day. Those are three different types of tracks with success on all three so I am really excited about the season. This is a great start.”
(What was your reaction when Tony Stewart was penalized and was there something wrong with your engine late in the race?) “We will find out when we take the engine apart but I definitely heard a different sound at the end of the straightaway. We are turning these engines really hard and I was trying to be careful with our engine all day. It very well could be just the five-laps-to-go jitters when you are leading but we will find out about that. With Tony, the first thing that went through my mind was that we would see him again in a minute because that car was spectacular. He did a great job driving it. That was a gift for us (for him) to have that penalty. In the end, it really put him in a position where he had to take two (tires) to get to the lead. Then he had to take four when we took two. It may have been the difference in the race there.”
(Over the past 10 days, you have jumped off a huge building, flown with the Thunderbirds and now you’ve won a Cup race.) “That is a really great week. I have had a blast. I don’t know what I am going to do this weekend. I really had a lot of fun and I am really excited to be able, for our whole team, to be able to give that trophy to the Thunderbirds. They were inspiring to hang around with.”
5:15 p.m. – Comments from Tony Stewart, who finished second in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 after leading 163 of 267 laps:
“Yeah, real disappointed. I honestly think we had the car to beat today – we just gave it away. I don't know what happened on the pit stop there, but we had a miscue and had a penalty and had to go to the back and, unfortunately, it kind of dealt our cards for us. Darian (Grubb, crew chief) made a good call getting us the track position back, but it also showed everybody else that they could do it, too, and we couldn't run two and a half runs on a set of left side tires. We just shot ourselves in the foot two weeks in a row now.”
(Can you take any solace in the fact that in three races in a row you had a shot to win?) “I probably should, but that's not in my makeup. I mean, it kills me to throw a race away like that, especially at a place we haven't won at yet. This was a big deal today and when you lead that many laps and have a car that's that fast and you lose it …I'm sure tomorrow when the emotion dies down, we'll look back and say it was a great weekend but, man, it does not sit good right now.”
5 p.m. – Comments from Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished third in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400:
“This Clorox Chevy was good all day. We were a little bit off the pace. We needed a little bit (more). Last run before we took the tires, I thought we were closer. To get a top-five here today in Vegas after what happened the last few years here is amazing. We had a really good Daytona, bad Phoenix and we ran good here. Three good finishes at least in points is good. We changed some guys on the pit crew and they did an amazing job. It's nice to see.
“There was nothing for Tony (Stewart). I think Tony had the dominant car. I think I could have been a little further ahead after the pit stop, if I had been a little more aggressive. We needed a good result for the team. As Tony said, he had the fastest car, but our car was very good all day. We battled between sixth and eighth place and then a little bit better and a little bit better. We were getting better but we just never closed in. We could make the car turn through the middle; we just couldn't touch the throttle and the other way around. It was just touch and go. You know, we really needed a good result after last week, and it was nice to get it here.”
4:50 p.m. – Comments from Marcos Ambrose, who finished fourth in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400:
“It was a great day. It was a great first top-five for RPM (Richard Petty Motorsports). I have to thank Richard Petty for believing in me and giving me a shot and Stanley (Tools) and everybody. It is going to be a great year. We had great pit stops and a good crew today. There was a ton of good energy out here today, just a ton of good energy. I am really happy with the finish.”
3:15 p.m. – Carl Edwards grabbed the race lead on lap 245 following a two-tire pit stop and held off Tony Stewart to win the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Stewart was second, Juan Pablo Montoya took third, Marcos Ambrose was fourth and Ryan Newman finished fifth.
Stay tuned for comments from the top drivers.
2:44 p.m. – Tony Stewart regained the race lead by taking only two tires and gaining 14 positions during a yellow-flag pit stop on lap 197. The top-10 running order after 200 of 267 laps in the Kobalt Tools 400:
1. Tony Stewart; 2. Juan Pablo Montoya; 3. Martin Truex Jr.; 4. Carl Edwards; 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.; 6. Marcos Ambrose; 7. Paul Menard; 8. Joey Logano; 9. Ryan Newman; 10. Denny Hamlin.
2:35 p.m. – David Gilliland was treated and released from the infield care center after he made contact with the wall in turn two on lap 150 of the Kobalt Tools 400.
“We just blew a right-front tire and we hadn’t had any tire issues all day,” Gilliland said. “For some reason, we just blew out. We didn’t have any signs of it at all. It is a tough day for our Taco Bell Ford Fusion. I don’t think we have seen a whole lot of tire issues through the weekend. That last lap we ran on the race track was as fast as we had run. It was tough – definitely a hard hit. I am thankful for those safer barriers.”
2:14 p.m. – Tony Stewart, who led 130 of the first 150 laps of the Kobalt Tools 400, ran over the air hose in his pits during a stop on lap 151. Stewart was penalized for the infraction and sent to the end of the lead-lap cars. He restarted the race in 23rd place and Carl Edwards inherited the race lead.
2:03 p.m. – The top-10 running order after 150 of 267 laps in the Kobalt Tools 400:
1. Tony Stewart; 2. Carl Edwards; 3. Juan Pablo Montoya; 4. Kevin Harvick; 5. Martin Truex, Jr.; 6. Paul Menard; 7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.; 8. Jeff Gordon; 9. Joey Logano; 10. Marcos Ambr
1:44 p.m. – Kyle Busch, a Las Vegas native, had nothing but misfortune in the early portion of the Kobalt Tolls 400. Busch had a tire go flat on lap 96 and he brushed the outside wall and then, on lap 108, the engine on his No. 18 Snickers Toyota blew up, putting him out of the race.
“It’s really unfortunate; we had a great racecar,” Busch said. “We chased down (race leader Tony) Stewart there but unfortunately the air’s so sensitive today that you get within like a 5-car-length cushion and you just can’t close anymore and I kind of got stuck behind him through traffic.
“The car was running awesome before that and then we had the tire go down there and it got us a little bit behind. The guys did a great job changing tires and we got and we were the Lucky Dog, fortunately. On the restart there, we were just going to bide the time and try to get back through traffic – still plenty of time to go – and then it just broke.”
1:20 p.m. – The top-10 running order after 100 of 267 laps in the Kobalt Tools 400:
1. Tony Stewart: 2. Juan Pablo Montoya; 3. Kurt Busch; 4. Greg Biffle; 5.Carl Edwards; 6. Jeff Gordon; 7. Marcos Ambrose; 8. Joey Logano; 9. Kevin Harvick; 10. Martin Truex, Jr.
12:16 p.m. – Pole-sitter Matt Kenseth leads the field of 43 cars to the green flag for the start of the 14th annual Kobalt Tools 400. Denny Hamlin, who qualified 17th, dropped to the rear of the field for the start because of an engine change.
11:55 a.m. – Kurt Busch, a Las Vegas native who is starting 22nd in today’s Kobalt Tools 400, was presented the “American Ethanol Green Restart Award” during pre-race ceremonies for having the best restart performance throughout last Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 400 at Phoenix International Raceway. Busch finished eighth in the race.
The $5,000 weekly award is given in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to the eligible driver who records the fastest average speed on restarts during an event and finishes the race on the lead lap. Sunoco Green E15 racing fuel will be in the tanks of every vehicle in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The racing fuel is a new 15-percent ethanol blend made with corn grown in the United States.
10:50 a.m. – Previewing the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
10:15 a.m. – Good morning from Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where a sellout crowd will be on hand for the 14th running of the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Forecasts call for a high today of 75 degrees under partly sunny skies. Driver introductions will get under way at 11:30 a.m. (PST) and the green flag will drop on the Kobalt Tools 400 shortly after noon.
Check back here often, as this blog will be updated throughout the day with news, stats, results and driver interviews.
4:45 p.m. – Good evening from Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 will get under way at 10:30 a.m. with pre-race activities. Driver introductions begin at 11:30 and the green flag is scheduled to fall shortly after noon. Spectator and Neon Garage gates open at 7 a.m.
4:40 p.m. – Comments from Mark Martin, who earned his 49th career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300:
“At the start of the race, we were really, really loose and (crew chief) Trent Owens and the Dollar General guys made the car better on every stop and after the last stop, the car was actually really, really good. Trent made a great call to come in and get our service there at that last caution (on lap 141) and put us in position that we only had, really, one chance to win the race and that was to make it on fuel and some of the guys in front of us, not. What we managed to do is pass all of the guys that was on our fuel strategy but one and when I caught Brad (Keselowski), I realized that it was going to take all the gas I had to get by him because he wanted to race. It wouldn’t do it us any good to run out of gas so I decided that we still had one chance to win and that was to make sure that we make it on fuel. Trent gave me great information and I managed to really back off the throttle and had to wait and see if Brad would make it or not and that was going to be the determination because I just didn’t feel confident that I could save enough gas to make it AND pass him.
“I can’t gloat; if Brad hadn’t had a tire problem, it looked to me like he was going to win. All I could do is make sure that I didn’t run out of gas because I knew we wouldn’t win if we did that. It worked out for us today. We got her back to the start/finish line first and that’s who gets the trophy. I have run good here in the past. Today, this was a culmination of strategy and experience.”
4:15 p.m. – Comments from Justin Allgaier, who finished second in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 and moved up three spots to fifth in the Nationwide Series points:
“The race today was actually a really good one for us because we battled through a lot of adversity. We started off the day and the car was really good and we went right up to the front in the first stint there. For whatever reason, we got the splitter on the ground and we couldn’t get it back up and we just really struggled with that the rest of the day. We had great pit calls and great pit stops and I think that was really a big deal – and good fuel mileage. These Turner Motorsports guys have done an awesome job of building quality racecars and the engines from Hendrick are phenomenal and I feel like we’re steadily building.
“To get beat by Mark Martin – as much as I wanted to win the race, I think that’s there’s only one person in this garage that I’d rather have beat me and if I couldn’t win, that would be Mark. He’s been a real asset to everybody at Turner Motorsports so that was really cool. At the end there, Jimmy Elledge, the crew chief, made the right call and got us the pit strategy that we needed and held on at the end. I guess Mark ran out (of fuel) right after the start/finish line. I was kind of hoping he would run out a little bit before so we could run 1-2 – just the other way around.”
3:40 p.m. – Comments from Brad Keselowski, who finished third in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 after cutting a tire on the final lap while leading the race:
“We started off this weekend and I didn’t (think we were) very good at all. We were atrociously bad and my team worked all weekend long and found speed in my car. We weren’t anywhere near as fast as the top three, but we were a fourth-place car and from there used great strategy and smarts to get ourselves in position to win the race. I drove up through the field and leveled off about sixth knowing that everyone in front of us was going to have to pit. I was trying to conserve my stuff and watch Mark (Martin) behind and watch my gap; I felt like I did a good job of that. I felt like we had it (won) but obviously didn’t. I didn’t push the car too hard, that’s for sure. I must have run over something because (the tire) went down quick and I’m sure that I ran over something.
It was just one of them days where you do everything right and don’t win. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I guess that’s why they call it racing because otherwise you’d go off the practice sheet and know who’d win the race. Obviously that’s not the way that it worked out today. I just feel bad for my guys. We’ve had three straight weeks in this Nationwide Series with three pretty good cars. I thought that we had the car to beat at Daytona and got wrecked there. I felt like we had a decent car at Phoenix to run in the top five and blew a tire. I felt like we could have at least run in the top five and steal a win. It looked like we were going to and something happened. It’s got to come back around. We’re just on downside of the roller coaster; I’m ready for it to come back up.”
(Were you OK on fuel at the end of the race?) “We were really good on fuel. I think that we had a solid five laps past a green-white-checkered. We were really good on fuel. It just wasn’t meant to be. I’ll have to ask the guys how much I had left, probably a solid five, 10 laps from what I calculated.”
3:30 p.m. – Comments from Danica Patrick, who finished fourth in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 and became the highest-finishing female in a NASCAR national series:
“It was a good day. We had a good car. I knew it from the beginning of the race after we settled in after a couple of laps. It just turned off of (turn) two so well and it turned off of four really well, too. As the race got later and later, until sort of the mid-point, it started getting looser and looser off of four and it was like the changes weren’t making a big enough impact on the car. I told Tony to take a swing at it for the last stop and he did because I was a little bit tight to start, I just couldn’t overdrive the entry and push up the track and get those front tires in an overheating position.
"I was just careful and I was still able to click off some (good) times so I couldn’t have been going too slow. I was just taking care of it. By the end of the race I was loose, for the last 20 or 30 laps, and right in the middle of three and four, which is ten kinds of fun when you’re trying to carry speed. That was kind of the position I was in all day so I just took care of my equipment and was smart and Tony Jr. made some good changes. Good job for Tony Jr. for being smart and going with the setup that going to work for us and be safe. We just had a good car – that’s all I can say and that’s what makes a difference in these things.”
(On making NASCAR history) “I don’t know. I guess that’s something I don’t really think about – and maybe that’s why it works out. I don’t think about trying to achieve the highest finishing position for a female. I think about trying to win the race and if I make history, then so be it.”
2:38 p.m. – Mark Martin slipped past Brad Keselowski on the final lap and earned his 49th career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory in the Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Justin Allgaier was second, Keselowski was third, Danica Patrick finished fourth and Trevor Bayne finished fifth.
Patrick’s finish was her best in the Nationwide Series and set a record for the highest finish by a female driver in a NASCAR national series race.
Stay tuned for comments from the top drivers.
1:23 p.m. – The top-10 running order at the halfway point (100 laps) of the Sam’s Town 300: 1. Carl Edwards; 2. Kyle Busch; 3. Denny Hamlin; 4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.; 5. Mark Martin; 6. Reed Sorenson; 7. Brad Keselowski; 8. Justin Allgaier; 9. Elliott Sadler; 10. Trevor Bayne.
11:33 a.m. – Pole-sitter Matt Kenseth paced the final practice session for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with a top speed of 184.112 mph. Kyle Busch, who will start fifth, was second fastest at 183.717 mph. Ryan Newman (183.680), Carl Edwards (183.630) and Greg Biffle (183.511) rounded out the top five.
Kurt Busch, who will start 22nd on Sunday, was 13th fastest, defending race winner Jimmie Johnson (starting 14th) was 15th in the session and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (starting 33rd) was 29th fastest.
Driver introductions for the Sam’s Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race have begun and the race is scheduled to start at noon.
10:10 a.m. – NASCAR has placed Sprint Cup Series driver Robby Gordon on indefinite probation as the result of an “incident” Friday between Gordon and an unnamed driver in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway garage area following qualifying. NASCAR officials did not name or penalize the other driver involved in the incident. Gordon will start 38th in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400.
10:02 a.m. – Carl Edwards won the pole for today’s Sam’s Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race with a lap of 181.824 mph, knocking hometown favorite Kyle Busch off of the provisional pole. Busch (181.616) will start on the outside of the front row. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (181.178), Kevin Harvick (180.626) and three-time Sam’s Town 300 race winner Mark Martin (179.988) rounded out the top five qualifiers.
9:20 a.m. – Some of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide drivers this week have commented on the bumps in the middle of turns 1 and 2 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Carl Edwards, who qualified third for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400, said the bumps add “character” to the track and hopes LVMS officials leave them as they are.
“The bumps are in the middle of turns 1 and 2 and a little bit on the entry side, so a little bit before center,” Edwards said. “I think it is where the (infield access) tunnel goes under the racetrack; I think that is settling there. I thought I could go around them on top, but it was just as bumpy on top of the racetrack for me. I think that is why you saw guys moving up.
“It’s really nothing to speak of. Don’t fix them – the bumps are awesome. You’ve got to have something out there to drive around and battle with. That’s what makes racing fun.”
8:45 a.m. – Good morning from Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the NASCAR Nationwide Series cars are beginning to fill pit road in anticipation of qualifying for the 15th annual Sam’s Town 300. The sun is shining and the forecast calls for a high today of 70 degrees.
Nationwide Series qualifying begins at 9:05 a.m. (PST) and the 200-lap race takes the green flag at noon. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars will be on the track from 10:10 to 11:25 for final practice for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400.
Be sure to check back here often for news, results and driver interviews.
6:40 p.m. – Good night from Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Saturday’s track schedule includes NASCAR Nationwide Series qualifying at 9:05 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup final practice at 10:10 a.m. and the Sam’s Town 300 Nationwide Series race at noon.
Be sure to check back here Saturday and Sunday for news, results and driver interviews.
6:30 p.m. – Comments from Kyle Busch, who qualified fifth for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race:
“We’ve been a little behind the 8-ball so far this weekend with our Snickers Peanut Butter Squared Camry. It’s coming along. The guys made some really good adjustments there and the car drove a lot better. Hopefully we can carry some of those into tomorrow and get a good race practice and get after them on Sunday.”
(Does the track change as the sun goes down?) “It doesn’t tell you a whole lot. It tells you the guys that are going to be fast, for sure. The sun going down and making shade in turns one and two makes for a lot of grip; you can really pick up a lot of speed down there. Still, turns three and four are really slick. The sun’s shining down there and it always shines down there. It’s kind of like Charlotte – it’s the treacherous turns three and four.”
6:20 p.m. – Comments from Carl Edwards, who qualified third for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race:
“It is good that the first two rows are Fords. That is a testament to how hard our guys are working at the shop and Doug Yates and everyone with the FR9 engine, they have done an amazing job. We talked about it earlier that we wanted to see how we ran in this first 1.5-mile track that would be a little bit of a test for the rest of the season. So far it looks really good. I am excited running in race trim tomorrow and we will see how we run in race trim but this is great for us.”
(On how he sees Sunday’s race developing) “I don’t think you can predict what is going to happen. It is going to be a cutthroat, competitive race from start to finish. I’d like to sit here and say that it is going to be really great and everyone is going to be cordial to one another, but I have a feeling it is going to be a really tough race. I hope it goes well, but that is the state of the sport right now – people are driving with their hearts out and fighting for everything they got. That is what you are going to see on Sunday.”
6:15 p.m. – Comments from Marcos Ambrose, who qualified second for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race:
“It’s just a great day for us. My Stanley team has been supporting me through a slow start, we had a crash at Daytona and we had a 16th place at Phoenix. Coming in here, I really wanted to step up and with the help of Ford we have an all-Ford front row. We’ve got a great bunch in Roush that help us get these cars dialed in like we do. I am thrilled for Richard Petty and thrilled for me and thrilled for Stanley. I took a chance and I really stuck my neck out to see if I had what it took. It’s just nice to be up here talking to you and hopefully it will be the same on Sunday.
“I have been second a few times now in my cup career in qualifying so I have been bumped out several times and it never feels any nicer. I am really pleased today. Matt (Kenseth) did a great lap and you can’t complain when someone beats you on speed. It isn’t like he lucked into it. He had the fastest car in practice and he delivered when it counted. No bad feelings today and I am just happy for Richard Petty Motorsports, who went through a lot at the end of last year. To be strong this early with A.J. (Allmendinger) running top three in points, it is just a good feeling over there and I’m looking forward to hopefully keeping this run going.”
6:05 p.m. – Comments from Matt Kenseth, who won the pole for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race:
“Five poles in 12 years – that’s a little better than I thought. It’s good to be on the pole and I look forward to the race on Sunday. We’ve worked pretty hard on race practice today and had a lot of speed. We need it to drive a little bit better but in qualifying trim, obviously, it had a lot of speed. This qualifying format is kind of nerve-wracking if you’re the fastest car in practice. It feels great to be on the pole. We don’t get them very often so it feels pretty cool to get one.
“I have to give Doug Yates’ engine shop a lot of credit. I think we had more power than we ever had last year. It started running better toward the end of last year. In Phoenix, we had awesome short-track engines. This weekend, to see all of the Fords up toward the top, they’ve got to be getting down the straightaway as well as through corners. He hasn’t told me that he’s had big gains but Doug seems like he’s been in a pretty good mood lately so I have a feeling that he thinks that we have big gains in the racecar and the speed is up.”
5:02 p.m. – Matt Kenseth captured the pole for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 with a track-record lap of 188.884 mph. Kenseth topped the previous track record of 188.719 mph, which was set last year by Kurt Busch. Marcos Ambrose (188.166) will start on the outside of the all-Ford front row. Carl Edwards (188.127), Greg Biffle (187.970) and Kyle Busch (187.565) rounded out the top five.
Stay tuned for comments from the top qualifiers.
4:10 p.m. – Kurt Busch, a Las Vegas native, has a score to settle with his younger brother Kyle.
Kyle became the first Busch brother to win a Sprint Cup race in their hometown when he captured the 2009 event and Kurt wants to add a hometown win to his racing resume.
“The fact that he’s won here, yeah it stings a little bit,” Kurt said of Kyle’s victory at LVMS. “I’ve been on pole here and he’s been on pole here. It’s Vegas; it’s one of the top five marquee events of the year that a lot of drivers would like to win. With (Kyle) winning here, it was great for our family and all of the friends that have supported us over the years. I just want to be able to do it as well.”
One of the Busch brothers has sat on the pole for the Las Vegas Sprint Cup race for three years running, with Kyle claiming it in 2008 and 2009 and Kurt capturing it last year.
1:40 p.m. – Matt Kenseth led a surge of Roush Fenway drivers in the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice this afternoon, topping the speed chart with a lap at 186.599 mph. Teammates David Ragan (186.297) was second fastest, Carl Edwards (185.893) was fourth and Greg Biffle (185.675) was fifth. Juan Pablo Montoya was third fastest at 185.957.
Other drivers of note and their practice speeds: Defending race winner Jimmie Johnson was 12th at 185.230; Kyle Busch was 17th at 184.679; Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 25th at 184.344; and Kurt Busch was 31st at 183.474.
Qualifying for the Kobalt Tools 400 will begin at 3:40 p.m.
1:20 p.m. – Needless to say, five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is looking forward to Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Johnson, whose No. 48 Chevrolet is sponsored by Lowe’s and race sponsor Kobalt Tools, has won four of the past six Cup races at LVMS – including three in a row from 2005 to 2007.
“This track is a lot of fun for us,” Johnson said. “Since they’ve resurfaced the track and built in the progressive banking I feel like the banking has opened up at least two lanes of racing. The rubber that the Nationwide cars are putting down and the fact that they had an open test, it will help that top line come in and I would expect us running at the wall in (turns) three and four and probably at the wall in one and two. When that happens, we have more opportunities to pass and the drivers really enjoy that.”
Despite his success in Las Vegas, Johnson said he isn’t always confident of his chances when he comes to the speedway.
“This race is so early on the schedule that each time we come here – coming in, looking at my notes and preparing for the race – there’s always been a lot of concern and a lot of new stuff that we’re trying. We’ve been able to sort things out and win here more than not. Something works well and we’re able to find our groove here.
“There was one year where just this little bend on the frontstretch had my car loose and we ran terrible. Outside of that, it’s been a great track for us. Last week, we got a lot of direction and made up a lot of ground. I’m optimistic, but at the same time we just don’t know because we haven’t had our new style stuff on a mile-and-a-half track yet.”
12:50 p.m. – Mark Martin jumped to the top of the speed chart in the final Nationwide Series practice today. Martin posted a lap at 178.542 mph on his final lap of the practice. Elliott Sadler was second fastest at 178.471, Reed Sorenson was third at 178.412, Kyle Busch (177.468) was fourth and Justin Allgaier (177.165) was fifth. Qualifying for the Sam’s Town 300 will begin at 9:05 a.m. Saturday.
11:55 a.m. – Michael Waltrip Racing drivers Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann will be featured in an upcoming television and digital advertising campaign for team sponsor TUMS. In one of the TV spots, Waltrip battles with an unruly rib in a continuation of TUMS’ popular and humorous “Your favorite foods fighting you?” television ads.
“Twenty-five years of racing cars and that’s what it’s come to,” Waltrip dead-panned after the video was played for the media. In another spot, Reutimann does battle with a human-sized hamburger.
11:25 a.m. – Carl Edwards paced the first NASCAR Nationwide Series practice this morning with a fast lap of 179.104 mph. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was second fastest at 178.731 and Kyle Busch was third at 177.942. Mark Martin (177.784) and Brian Scott (177.456) rounded out the top five.
10:50 a.m. – Comments from Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, who stopped by the media center this morning to talk about the start to the season and racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he won the inaugural NASCAR Cup race in 1998:
“First of all, we've had good and not-so-good results in the first two races. Certainly at Daytona, we had a great car, but we got caught in a wreck, I think it was about lap 26 and got what I would call some pretty serious damage. Our team did an outstanding job of patching the car up and we managed to be very competitive and rebound with a great finish at Daytona. We were pleased with that. We were also caught up in a fairly early accident at Phoenix as well and got damage that would usually be a major setback and the guys did a good job with the quick repairs there that we could make. We were able to be more competitive than we would have expected based on the damage we had. So, we have two real respectable finishes where it could have been a disaster for us on both races.
“I am looking forward to this weekend. This is a really good racetrack for me. I love being here. I’m very excited about being here and anxious to get to work with my team.”
9:40 a.m. – Good morning from Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where sunny skies and warm temperatures are on tap for Stratosphere Pole Day. The NASCAR Nationwide Series cars are on the track for their first of two practice sessions today. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars will hit the 1.5-mile oval for practice from noon to 1:30 (PST) and qualifying for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 will begin at 3:40.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sits atop the speed chart midway through the Nationwide Series practice with a fast lap of 178.648 mph – the best lap posted through two and a half practice sessions in advance of Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300.
Be sure to check back here throughout the weekend for news and driver interviews.
5:25 p.m. – Kyle Busch paced the second practice session for NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers today with a lap of 178.094 mph. Busch was the only driver to post a lap in excess of 178 mph. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (177.177) was second fastest, Mark Martin (176.927) was third, Carl Edwards (176.846) fourth and Denny Hamlin (176.742) fifth.
"I think we're pretty good," Busch said. "The Z-Line Designs Camry was fast when we unloaded here and we've only gotten a little bit better so I feel pretty good about it and I think we have some good chances for Saturday.
"We've been clicking off our fast laps with a lot of laps on our tires so maybe that's good. When you start out on a run, when you put tires and fuel on it, you're really, really loose so we've had to be a little bit cognizant of that today and try to make sure that we don't get outside of our comfort zone and screw something up."
A total of 34 cars were on the track for today's second practice session. The Nationwide Series will have its final two practices Friday morning from 9 to 10:15 and from 10:45 to 11:50 and will qualify Saturday beginning at 9:05 a.m. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars will practice Friday from noon to 1:30 and qualifying for the Kobalt Tools 400 will begin at 3:40 p.m.
4:30 p.m. – Mark Martin and Jeff Burton share the LVMS track record for Nationwide Series victories with three each. Martin won at LVMS in 1999, 2005 and 2008 while Burton won in 2000, 2002 and 2007. While Martin is entered in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300, Burton is not racing in the Nationwide Series event this weekend.
Last year’s Sam’s Town 300 winner, Kevin Harvick, also is entered in Saturday’s race, as is the inaugural race winner, Jeff Green (1997).
4:05 p.m. – Kyle Busch, who was second fastest in today’s opening practice session, was first on the speed chart midway through the afternoon practice for the Nationwide Series cars. Busch was the only driver to top 178 mph this afternoon, posting a fast lap of 178.094 mph. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was second fastest at 177.177 mph and Mark Martin was third at 176.927. Carl Edwards, fastest in the first practice, was fourth (176.846) and Denny Hamlin was fifth (176.742). The second practice runs until 5 p.m.
3 p.m. – Trevor Bayne, the reigning Daytona 500 champion, is looking forward to his visit to Las Vegas this weekend – and it has nothing to do with the high-rolling action on the Las Vegas Strip.
Bayne, who had a whirlwind week after winning The Great American Race, plans to catch up on his sleep this week and do some sightseeing. But because he turned 20 years old the day before the Daytona 500, Bayne won’t be spending any time at the gaming tables or slot machines.
“Obviously, I can’t go to a casino and I don’t even know that I would if I could, but they’ve got roller coasters in some of the hotels and water shows,” Bayne said. “I think they might have a mall with a toy store in it. I’m sure my team will pick on me about that.
“I’ll probably do what we do in every other city – kind of soak it in and walk around a little bit. I’ve never been a Vegas, flashy kind of guy anyways (but) I’m pumped to go there. I love the track. We finished sixth last year in Nationwide and it’s a really fun track, so I’m looking forward to that most of all.”
In addition to racing in the Kobalt Tools 400 Sprint Cup race on Sunday in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford, Bayne will pilot the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300.
2:20 p.m. – Carl Edwards turned the fastest lap during the first Nationwide Series practice session today, knocking Las Vegas native Kyle Busch from the top of the speed chart with just a few minutes remaining in the session. Edwards’ lap at 177.819 mph topped Busch’s lap of 177.299. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was third fastest at 176.835 mph, Denny Hamlin was fourth at 176.039 and Trevor Bayne was fifth at 175.177.
“There’s going to be a lot of practice left and I’ve only run (11) laps so there’s a lot to see still,” Edwards said. “The track is great, though. It’s kind of aged a little bit, it’s got some good bumps in it and the surface is really nice. I really like it.”
A total of 29 cars made it onto the track for the first practice session. The Nationwide Series cars will be back on the track at 3 p.m. today for another two-hour practice.
12:10 p.m. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sat atop the speed chart midway through the first Nationwide Series practice session at LVMS. Stenhouse was the fastest driver of the 12 who had taken the track this morning with a best lap at 176.534 mph.
Trevor Bayne was second fastest at 175.097 mph and Reed Sorenson was third at 174.222 mph. Brian Scott (173.116) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (172.502) rounded out the top five. The first of two practice sessions today wraps up at 1 p.m.
11:40 a.m. – Among the 42 expected entries for Saturday's Sam's Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race is Shelby Howard, whose No. 70 Chevrolet Impala will feature local sponsorship.
Veteran off-road racer Kenny Freeman, a Henderson, Nev. resident, chose Howard's car to showcase his new business venture, Race Fuel Energy Drink. The Stratosphere Hotel and Casino logos also will adorn the car.
"NASCAR is the way to go as far as auto racing advertising is concerned now," Freeman said. "The drivers are on national television and that provides incredible exposure. Shelby has raced in Vegas before and he has respectable performances. His team was very receptive and offered us the hood and the TV panel for a very good price. They have bent over backwards for me with this deal and I'm excited to be sponsoring their team."
Howard, who has made 51 career Nationwide Series starts and is looking for his first victory, is optimistic that he can be competitive in Saturday's race.
"We've got a really good car for Las Vegas that we took to Orlando to test last month," Howard said. "That car showed a lot of speed and handled really well. I'm looking forward to running at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and especially excited to have the Race Fuel Energy Drink and Stratosphere Hotel and Casino logos on the car."
The Stratosphere also is sponsoring Friday's Pole Day at LVMS.
10:45 a.m. – Good morning from Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the first of four days of on-track action leading up to the 14th running of the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and the 15th annual Sam's Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series event. The Nationwide Series drivers will be on the track beginning at 11 a.m. for the first of two practice sessions today.
Today's two Nationwide Series practice sessions (11 a.m. and 3 p.m.) are open to the public, free of charge. An autograph session featuring 12 drivers, including Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and NASCAR veteran Mark Martin, will be held from 1:30 to 2:30 in the Neon Garage and is open to the public.
Check back here throughout the weekend, as we'll be updating this blog with news, stats and driver interviews.