Kasey Kahne Rights Ship With Pole-Winning Run At Las Vegas
Kasey Kahne was the fastest of the fast Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In a qualifying session that saw 15 drivers break Matt Kenseth's 2011 track record of 188.884 mph, Kahne led the field with a lap at 190.456 mph (28.353 seconds) to earn the top starting spot for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the 1.5-mile track. Kahne edged Kyle Busch (190.040 mph) to claim his third Coors Light pole award at Las Vegas and the 23rd of his career. Kahne won his first career pole at Las Vegas in 2004. Kevin Harvick qualified third at 190.014 mph, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (189.873 mph) and Clint Bowyer (189.807 mph). Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. will start from positions six through 10, respectively, in the season's third Cup race.
Kahne was sorely in need of a strong performance. In his first year with Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne has suffered through disappointing results in the season's first two races, crashing out of the Daytona 500 in 29th place and scraping the wall early in the event at Phoenix with a car many thought capable of winning the race. "I feel good about our speed," Kahne said. "At Daytona, so many things happen there, and you're not in control of a lot of that stuff -- I got caught up in other people's messes at times. Last weekend, we had a car as anybody at Phoenix. I qualified well, was really good in practice -- the best car in practice -- and then in the race, we just needed to do things right and be there at the end. I made a mistake, and we lost a lot of points because of that. We had a rough day because of a mistake I made. You add all that up, and we haven't started off very good, but our cars have been fast -- I feel like I'm in a really good spot. The way to dig out (of the deficit) is to qualify well, run well and not make mistakes -- and I feel like we can do that."
Kahne and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Earnhardt and Johnson took a higher line around the bump in Turn 1 than most of their competitors. Kahne said he scouted Matt Kenseth's record run from last year before picking his line. "I didn't talk to those guys about it, but I watched Dale and also Jimmie in practice and saw where they were running -- they were a little bit faster than I was," Kahne said. "And then, right before qualifying, I did it a little different in the Great Clips (Nationwide) car. I wanted to check on some things, so I had (team engineer) Keith (Rodden) check back on last year. We wanted to see where Matt Kenseth ran, and he ran right around the top (in Turns 1 and 2), just basically like I did, and right around the bottom in 3 and 4. When I saw that, I was like, 'That's the spot; I'm going to try to make it work.' "
Series points leader Denny Hamlin was 17th fastest in time trials. Carl Edwards, last year's winner at LVMS, fought a loose handling condition throughout his run and qualified 21st. Scott Riggs and Robby Gordon failed to qualify for the 43-car field. Gordon wouldn't have raced at Las Vegas even if he had qualified. He's scheduled to drive his Trophy Truck in San Felipe, Mexico this weekend and had Reed Sorenson lined up as a stand-in at LVMS. (NASCAR Wire Service)
NASCAR Hotpass Lineup At Las Vegas Motor Speedway
NASCAR Hotpass on DirecTV is free to all DirecTV customers. Four dedicated driver channels offering viewers multiple camera angles, real-time statistics and audio of the network broadcast augmented by live communication between the drivers and their pit crews are available for all 36 point-paying races during the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The NASCAR Hotpass lineup for the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is as follows:
DIRECTV Channel 795: Kyle Busch and the No. 18 M&M’s Ms. Brown Toyota team of Joe Gibbs Racing
DIRECTV Channel 796: Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team of Richard Childress Racing
DIRECTV Channel 797: Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s / Kobalt Tools Chevrolet team of Hendrick Motorsports
DIRECTV Channel 798: Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the No. 88 National Guard / Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet team of Hendrick Motorsports
High Expectations Surround Chase Elliott in ARCA Debut
His name alone stirs attention. At 16 years old, Chase Elliott - the son of NASCAR champion Bill Elliott -- is a fan favorite wherever he races. But young Elliott's position on the family tree isn't the only quality keeping him top of mind in motorsports circles these days. With a long list of major accomplishments and success in Hendrick Motorsports' development program, the Dawsonville, Ga. teen has proven a real ability to compete. Elliott, driving a No. 9 Aaron's Chevrolet for Bill Elliott Racing, will make his first ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards start Saturday at Mobile International Speedway, which will host ARCA for the first time. Elliott believes he can contend in the second race of ARCA's 60th Anniversary Season. "I don't really see why there'd be any reason we can't run in the top five or 10," he said last week. "I really feel like we're capable of doing that. Obviously, this will be my first race as a driver and things are going to be different, but I think if we adapt well, I don't see any reason why we can't run inside the top 10." Elliott's accomplishments are numerous....MORE AT...(IRN ARCA-PR)
Mark Martin To Drive Nationwide Car For Joe Gibbs Racing
Mark Martin has had the luxury of driving for two of the top teams in NASCAR during his 25-year career – Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. This weekend, Martin will get to complete a trifecta of sorts as he steps into a Joe Gibbs Racing car for the Nationwide Series Race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, giving him the chance to drive for another one of NASCAR’s most successful organizations. Martin, 53, has 40 career Sprint Cup wins – 35 for Roush and five for Hendrick. Of his 49 career Nationwide wins, the majority came with Roush, though his last two came with Turner Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports. Martin is driving a partial Cup schedule this season for Michael Waltrip Racing, which fields Toyotas. As part of his new relationship with Toyota, Martin is able to move over to Gibbs this weekend and drive a Gibbs-fielded Toyota in the Nationwide race at Las Vegas, where he has four career wins. Martin’s Nationwide record at Las Vegas can be described with one word – dominant. In six Nationwide starts at the 1.5-mile track, he has won four races, finished second once and sixth once for an average finish of 2.0....MORE AT...(scenedaily.com)
Regan Smith and Paul Menard Uninjured In Highway Crash
Regan Smith and Paul Menard plan to race in the Kobalt Tools 400 this weekend after they escaped injuries in a car crash Wednesday in Colorado. According to a Furniture Row Racing news release, Smith lost control of his Silverado truck at about 8:30 a.m. MT after hitting a patch of ice near his mountain home in Evergreen, Colo. The truck slid off the road and crashed into a collection of trees. Smith, his wife (Megan), a family friend and Richard Childress Racing’s Menard were uninjured, according to the team news release. (scenedaily.com)
Infineon Drops Somoma Race Track Naming Rights
Infineon Technologies will not renew its naming rights deal with Infineon Raceway when its deal with Speedway Motorsports Inc. expires in May. SMI indicated in a news release that it is not counting on revenues for 2012 for naming rights for the Sonoma, Calif. track, which hosts a NASCAR Sprint Cup race on its road course in June. The original agreement, signed in June 2002, was reportedly a 10-year, $34.4 million deal. The track was renamed from Sears Point Raceway to Infineon Raceway. Infineon Raceway VP/Marketing & Communications John Cardinale told the SportsBusiness Journal that the speedway is looking for a new naming-rights partner. “There are three or four companies we’re talking to. I wouldn’t say they’re ready to sign, but they’re certainly interested,” he said. The end of the Infineon deal means that Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. is the only NASCAR track with a naming rights deal. Lowe’s dropped its sponsorship of Charlotte Motor Speedway a few years ago. (scenedaily.com)
Circuit Breaker Does Stewart In On Sunday
When a circuit breaker flips in one’s house, it takes a few minutes to figure out why the appliance won’t work and flip the switch. No problem. When a circuit breaker goes out in a race car where every second counts, just the minute it takes to diagnose the issue is a big problem. Tony Stewart found out just how big in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. A circuit breaker that is part of the new electronic fuel injection system had flipped at some point during the race, so when Stewart shut off the motor to coast under caution – just as he did last week at Daytona – the car wouldn’t restart. He lost a lap as he needed a push to pit road and then lost another lap before the team diagnosed the problem. Other drivers have had similar problems in the last couple of weeks as teams learn the quirks of the new electronic fuel-injection systems used in Sprint Cup this season. Kurt Busch, who, like Stewart has a Hendrick Motorsports engine, had an issue in practice Friday. Addington said the team was not sure when the circuit breaker cut off because the problem occurred the first time Stewart shut off the engine, a common practice by those trying to save fuel in order to stretch fuel mileage. The breaker isn’t needed when the engine is running. The circuit breaker issue likely will be looked into by all teams....MORE AT...(scenedaily.com)
Mid-Race Engine Issue Disrupts Stewart’s Day
Tony Stewart saw a potential top-10 result disappear when a freak mid-race engine issue caused him to lose two laps and finish a disappointing 22nd in the Subway Fresh Fit 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. The trouble began for Stewart on lap 248 when a caution period started. Crew chief Steve Addington told Stewart to conserve fuel in his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) to hopefully complete the 312-lap distance without another pit stop. Stewart, who has been a master at fuel-saving strategy under cautions throughout his career, shut off his engine as he has done many times in the past. By shutting off the engine, drivers can coast around the track without using fuel and then fire up the engine when it is required to get moving under power again. Unfortunately for Stewart, after he shut the engine off on lap 249, it wouldn’t fire up again when he flipped the switch inside his Office Depot/Mobil 1 machine. Anything he attempted failed to power the engine. The car stopped on the racetrack, and a tow truck had to push him back to pit lane so Addington and the rest of the SHR team could diagnose the problem.
After several seconds in the pits, the engine finally roared to life. Stewart rejoined the field before the race went back to green, but he was two laps down and out of contention for a good finish. It was a tough blow for the No. 14 team, which was in the top-10 for much of the race up to that point. “I just shut the car off like we did at Daytona and turned it back on, and it never re-fired,” said Stewart, who won at Phoenix in November 1999. “That’s all I can tell you. I don’t know why it didn’t re-fire. I honestly don’t know. It’s not really my department. I just turned the switch back on, and it never re-fired. I don’t know why that was, but it definitely cost us a good day.” --/-- Following the race, Stewart, Addington and other crew members huddled with members of the Hendrick Motorsports engine department, which provides engines to SHR. “We talked with the Hendrick guys. We’ll keep working with them to try to figure out what happened,” Addington said. “We’ve got to dig into it and find out what happened, when it happened and what caused it. We’re all learning through this, and we’ve just got to look into it and make sure it doesn’t happen again. The guys from Hendrick give us great engines and support, and I know we’ll work with them and figure it out. It’s a shame it happened to us today, but that’s how it goes sometimes.” (SHR PR)
Denny Hamlin Returns To Victory Lane
At the racetrack that dashed his championship hopes in 2010, Denny Hamlin found redemption in Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. In his second race with 2011 Sprint Cup championship crew chief Darian Grubb on his pit box, Hamlin held off Kevin Harvick in a 53-lap green-flag run to finish the 312-lap race at the one-mile track and took over the series points lead for the first time since surrendering it in the final race of 2010 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick lost fuel pressure with fewer than two laps left but had enough momentum to retain the second position, 7.315 seconds behind the race winner. Greg Biffle came home third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, pole-sitter Mark Martin and Joey Logano completed the top 10.
Hamlin surged into the lead after a restart on Lap 254, passing Harvick and pulling away. Ryan Newman's hard contact with the Turn 4 wall two laps later caused the seventh caution of the afternoon, but Hamlin again stretched his advantage over Harvick after a restart on Lap 260 and held on the rest of the way. "I don't know where this came from," Hamlin said. "We were solidly off in practice. We were off, but we kept getting it better and closer and closer to being competitive, but I had no idea that we were going to fire off like we did today."
With an opportunity to secure his first title in the next-to-last race of 2010, Hamlin led a race-high 190 laps but fell victim to pit strategy from other teams, finished 12th and lost 18 points of a 33-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson. A week later, a shell-shocked Hamlin spun early and saw the championship escape him.
Hamlin admitted there might have been a lingering malaise in 2011, when he made the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a wild card and finished ninth in the standings but didn't come close to matching his 2010 stats. "We just never got going (in 2011)," Hamlin said. "Yeah, maybe there was a hangover effect for the first half of the year -- you can claim that -- but it didn't have anything to do with how bad I ran the last 10 races. We just didn't have it all together. "We've still got work to do. I'm going to push for more and more and more -- things within our racecar -- that's the attitude you've got to have to stay on top, and when I come back here, it just puts 2011 to rest. That year is done. It's a year I'd just as soon forget about, and we're focused on winning a championship."
Jettisoned by Tony Stewart in favor of Steve Addington despite leading the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team to its first Cup championship -- and Stewart's third -- Grubb savored the victory as much as Hamlin did. "I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don't think that way," Grubb said. "I try to just think the high road all the time. I feel like I came into a very good situation. Mike Ford (Grubb's predecessor) built one heck of a team here with the No. 11 car. I'm proud to be able to come in here and lead this bunch of guys."
Notes: Hamlin leads the series standings by six points over Biffle, who also finished third in the Daytona 500 . . . Stewart turned his engine off after NASCAR threw the yellow flag for the seventh caution and couldn't get the No. 14 restarted. The defending Cup champion finished 22nd, two laps down . . . Daytona runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted a nondescript 14th-place result and left PIR fifth in points, 17 behind Hamlin. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Elliott Sadler Finally Wins Nationwide Race
Elliott Sadler got some well-deserved payback at Phoenix International Raceway. At the one-mile venue where a wreck in Turn 3 effectively knocked him out of the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship last November, Sadler took the lead with 25 laps left in the Bashas' Supermarkets 200 and held off hard-charging Brad Keselowski for the win. The victory was Sadler's first at PIR, the sixth of his career and his first in the Nationwide Series since 1998 at Rockingham, N.C. Defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran third, followed by rookie Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick, who dominated much of the race, leading 107 of 200 laps, but fell victim to pit strategy in the late going. Rather than enjoy a sense of vindication at Phoenix, however, Sadler would prefer to forget what happened last year.
"Honestly, it feels like three or four years ago," said Sadler, who leads the series standings by 10 points over second-place Dillon. "Last year was last year, and, yes, it probably could have affected how the championship could have worked, but we're on a whole new deal, a whole new season, a whole new outlook with a different team (with the sale of Harvick's Nationwide operation to Richard Childress Racing), so, honestly, what happened here last year just felt like a long time ago. It did not weigh on my mind one second of the whole weekend I was here. I felt like, coming out of Daytona, leading the points with a third-place finish (Feb. 25), we just had a lot of momentum on our side...I try not to dwell on what happened last year. I try to learn from what maybe I did wrong and apply it. But I'm trying to stay more focused on what we're doing week-to-week this year."
Keselowski took the lead from pole-sitter Denny Hamlin after a restart on Lap 168 but couldn't hold it. "We're coming off four consecutive top-2s," said Keselowski, who also finished second in the Feb. 25 Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona. "That's pretty good. To come out of the gate and have two strong runs, that's a lot to be proud of. "I obviously wanted to get one more spot and pick up the win, but Elliott was a little stronger. There's nothing to be ashamed of running second, but we'll keep pushing, and if we keep putting ourselves in this position, we'll get a win." --/-- Driving for RCR, Harvick took control of the race on Lap 53, when he passed Hamlin for the lead four circuits after a restart. He pulled away to an advantage of more than six seconds before Kenny Wallace's crash into the Turn 4 wall caused the second caution of the afternoon.
Hamlin regained the lead off pit road on Lap 105, but it didn't last, as Harvick took over the top spot moments after the subsequent restart on Lap 111. Harvick stayed out front until NASCAR called the third caution on Lap 163 for debris in Turn 3. When the leap-lap cars pitted one circuit later, Harvick took four tires and came out seventh, as the six drivers ahead of him either took two tires or fuel only on their stops. Keselowski passed Hamlin for the lead after the restart on Lap 168 but surrendered the top position to Sadler on Lap 175. Note: Danica Patrick qualified 30th and finished 21st, three laps down. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Mark Martin On Phoenix Sprint Cup Pole
Mark Martin didn't need a second qualifying lap Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway. Driving the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, Martin claimed the Coors Light pole for Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at the one-mile track with a speed of 136.815 mph (26.313 seconds) on his first qualifying lap. The next-to-last driver to make an attempt, Martin waited as Tony Stewart tried to knock him off the pole but fell one position short, qualifying on the outside of the front row at 136.126 mph. The Coors Light pole award was the 52nd of Martin's career -- eighth-most all-time -- his second at Phoenix and his first since joining MWR this year. Regan Smith (135.998 mph) qualified third, followed by Jimmie Johnson (135.583 mph) and Juan Pablo Montoya (135.547 mph). Ryan Newman (135.491 mph) was sixth-fastest in a backup car necessitated by a brush with the Turn 3 wall in Friday's practice.
Martin credited the equipment he's driven over the years with his success at winning poles and winning
races. "I've driven really good stuff, ever since 1988,” Martin said. "I did drive a couple of slugs back in the early '80s, but since then... you can't do that without superior effort and equipment -- but effort on top of that. It's more than equipment that does that. "I think all of you know that I do work real hard at it, and I know that I have to work harder at it than the guys that are 20 years younger than me. I'm willing to do that to be able to continue to compete. But make no mistake -- MWR and (crew chief) Rodney Childers have good stuff."
Martin turned his pole-winning lap on a track that was appreciably warmer and slicker than it was during Friday's practice sessions. The forecast for Sunday calls for even hotter temperatures, in the mid 80s, and that suits Stewart's driving style. "I always like it when it's hotter and slicker, to be honest,” said the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. "I'm actually more excited that it will be hotter tomorrow. I think that'll hopefully separate some of the cars that we think are good cars now (but) may not be quite so good (on Sunday)." Timmy Hill failed to qualify for the 43-car field. Last year's NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie of the year had hoped to make his Cup debut at Phoenix. (NASCAR Wire Service)