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The Las Vegas Face Lift Has Its Pros and Cons

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 11 2012

Carl Edwards is the defending champion at Las Vegas. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

NASCAR teams and drivers don’t really care for the term “cookie-cutter” when it’s applied to 1.5-mile tri-oval race tracks. They talk themselves blue  insisting that all tracks – even those that may look alike – are significantly different. But, the term won’t go away. And neither will those tracks.

Some have been reconfigured, however, with a couple going to the steeper, progressive banking.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of today’s Kobalt 400, is one of those places. It’s face lift came in 2007.

Many of the current drivers in the Sprint Cup Series have raced on both LVMS configurations. Several were asked about the differences this week.

Here is what a couple had to day:

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet: “I like the track the way it is now. I know there has been a lot of debate on whether it is better or whether it was better the old way. I like it because we at least get to use the whole race track now and we don’t have to just sit there and drive through each other to pass. You actually get to race guys now. I enjoy that side of it. I think it is a lot more fun. Sometimes because it is more fun doesn’t mean that you’re successful at it. That’s what makes it

Tony Stewart likes the new Las Vegas track. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

challenging.”

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet: “When they reconfigured the track it put in that banking and it made the track more like an on edge, razor blade feel. You had to be fast, but if you went a little too fast you would slip and you would wreck. The pace here is very quick. The banking and the tires still do not quite matching up exactly right so it makes it slick out there sometimes. You have to adapt and be the best that you can for the current conditions. I did like the old track here better. This is Bruton’s (Smith) track now and he wanted to put the banking in to make it more like Charlotte or Atlanta, tracks that he is used to.”

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Roush Racing Ford: “It’s a lot different than what it was. There are a few things that are similar, but it is quite a bit different. We’ve done OK since they’ve reconfigured it, just had some problems here or there. I think the first race afterwards we were running second or third when Jeff (Gordon) had that big wreck and he took us out in that wreck, and last year we had that flat early. We’ve had some problems and haven’t won on this configuration, but I like it. They did a good job re-doing it. I think the racing is probably as good as it was before they paved it, although I thought it was pretty good before they paved it. It’s a nice race track.”

Trivia time

Jimmie Johnson has the best average finish at Vegas among those in today’s field – 10.6. Who has the second best?

The keys

Howard Comstock of  SRT Motorsports Engineering offers these keys to being successful at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Fast Times – “This is the fastest Cup teams have ever run here at Las Vegas. Fifteen drivers broke the track qualifying record yesterday and I think that means that we’re set up for a really fast race tomorrow.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the site of today's Kobalt 400 Sprint Cup race. (File photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The weather is moderate which is really helping build the speed.”

Tire Beware – “With the higher speeds we’re going to see more tire wear. It’s hard to pass and track position is always a huge key at Las Vegas. Tire management and tire strategy will be a big factor.”

Fuel Economy – “We’re finally in the electronic fuel injection (EFI) era; I think that’s a good thing. We continue to be on a learning curve with the teams and EFI. We saw some teams run out of fuel last weekend in Las Vegas and other teams have some glitches with the system. That can’t happen week after week and be successful. Teams are going to happen to get the bugs iron out makes sure the system works as efficiently as it was designed. EFI is a great system. The teams are going to have to be diligent in making sure they know how it operates.”

Wreck collector

Dale Earnhardt Jr. collects cars. One of his latest acquisitions is Juan Pablo Montoya’s Cup car from Daytona. The one that slammed into the rear of a jet dryer and caused a late-race conflagration.

Junior was asked a couple questions about his new pride and joy at Vegas and it went like this:

“Yeah, the Sunshine man, he’s a buddy of mine and he gave it to me,” Earnhardt said. “I got about 50 or

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s new car. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

60 cars out there and I didn’t buy any of them. He calls me and I get my property manager, Sonny, to go over there and load it up and bring it over. We get a forklift or a tractor with a forklift or frontend loader and just carry it into the woods and just set it out there somewhere.”

WHERE DOES THAT CAR RANK AMONG THE FAMOUS CARS YOU HAVE?: “That one’s good. That one ranks right up there. I’ve got the car (Dennis) Setzer flipped when he was driving for Keselowski at Talladega so that was pretty cool, but it ranks right up there. It’s one of the top two or three.”

DOES IT HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE?: “No. I don’t even know where they put it. I’ll have to go find it.”

IS THERE ANY CHANCE YOU CAN GET THE JET DRYER FROM DAYTONA?: “I’d like to have it, but I don’t know where it is. Probably somewhere in Daytona or NASCAR might be studying it somewhere, who knows. We don’t have anything — I think we’ll just stick to race cars out there.”

Track tidbits

Race: Kobalt 400

Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Configuration: 1.5-mile oval

Banking: Variable to 20 degrees

First Cup race: March 1, 1998

First race winner: Mark Martin

First pole-sitter: Dale Jarrett

Most victories: 4, by Jimmie Johnson

Most poles: 3, by Kasey Kahne

Today’s pole-sitter: Kasey Kahne

Most top-five finishes: 6, by Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin

Most DNFs: 4, by Joe Nemechek

Drivers in today’s race who got first Cup start at Vegas: 2, Aric Almirola and Kyle Busch

Narrowest margin of victory: .045 seconds, in 2006 (race won by Jimmie Johnson)

P.T. Edwards?

Last year, Carl Edwards jumped off one a Vegas casino – attached, of course, to a bungee cord.

Tony Stewart was asked this week if he would consider something like that.

Short answer: no.

Long answer:

“Carl’s deal has been circus acts from day one. I’m just kind of a straight up old school, I just want to go out and win races type guys. I’m not much for jumping through flaming hoops and flipping around and jumping off stuff. I’ll just drive race cars and all that.”

Trivia answer

Jeff Burton has the second best average finish at Vegas – 10.7.

Last call?

Today’s race could be the last one for a while in which Jimmie Johnson will have long-time crew chief Chad Knaus on his pit box. Knaus was suspended for six races after the Daytona 500 two weeks because the No. 48 car was found to be out of spec. The suspension was appealed so Knaus has stuck around. But, the appeal will be heard this coming week.

Johnson was asked about his team’s chances – fines, point deductions and the suspension of car chief Ron Malec were also levied – of winning the appeal.

“We’re prepared and ready and it’s outside of my realm of knowledge,” he said. “It’s through upper management at Hendrick — Rick (Hendrick, team owner) himself personally and Chad (Knaus, crew chief). I’ll be waiting eagerly Tuesday to hear what happens and I know that there’s one step after this appeal process if things don’t turn out favorable for us, we’re ready to go to the next level too because the strength we have in our case and our opinion of the situation. Tuesday we’ll all know a lot more.”

Up next

The Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The winner of last year’s race was Kyle Busch.

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 11 2012
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