Overreactions and observations from NASCAR's Las Vegas stop
Kevin Harvick's dominant win in Las Vegas came as little surprise. He's a driver riding a wave of momentum and his closest competition (Jimmie Johnson) was taken out early due to tire problems. The only person able to slow Harvick down all race long was himself and everyone else was competing for second as long as Kevin's luck held. What else did we learn from NASCAR's trip to the desert?
Kevin Harvick's interview from victory lane
1. Truex Jr. is going to win a race and it's going to happen soon
With his second place finish in Las Vegas, Martin Truex Jr. is knocking on the door for a Sprint Cup victory. His eighth place run in Daytona could have easily been chalked up as the madness that is restrictor plate racing. But he followed up that race with a sixth place in Atlanta before the runner up finish in Vegas. He's showing the kind of results that Furniture Row hasn't seen since Kurt Busch took the team into the Chase a few years ago.
Those are also the kind of results that the team expected when they brought Truex aboard last year. Last year was a struggle for all involved as the results simply didn't meet expectations. It seems that Truex has finally settled into his role with the Denver-based team. Its partnership with Richard Childress Racing has also borne fruit through fellow RCR satellite Germain Racing and their driver Casey Mears. While not nearly as successful at Vegas, they too sit inside the top 10 in points. The equipment driven by all three teams is proving good enough to win- at least in Martin Truex Jr's hands.
2. Kasey Kahne still can't figure out restarts
Kahne benefited all race long from outstanding pit stops by the #5 team. They consistently gained spots for Kasey on the track, something that every driver would love to have out of their crew. But for every spot gained by the crew, Kahne gave back two or more on restarts. Whether on the inside or the outside line, when the green flag flew the lane Kasey was in regularly accordioned behind him. It had to be especially frustrating to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who found himself behind Kahne on multiple occasions.
Kasey Kahne is a talented driver. He's in top flight equipment, far and away the best he's had since he started driving at the Cup level. He has five wins since joining the team in 2012 and has been a regular Chase participant. But his continued inability to get off the line when the green flag drops is maddening. Unless he can figure out a way to become even an average starter, his team will never achieve their potential.
3. Joey Logano is the anti-Harvick
In addition to his other nicknames, Kevin Harvick is known as “The Closer” for his ability to finish races strong. So far, 2015 has shown the opposite to be true for Joey Logano. His win in the Daytona 500 came in no small part to the yellow flag flying before the leaders entered the third turn. He had strong cars that led laps in both Atlanta and Las Vegas- yet both races saw Logano lose the handle on his car as the races went along.
Normally finishes of 4th and 10th would be respectable (as would a tie for third in series points). Yet how a team gets there is often just as important as the finish itself. This is a team on the rise and Logano himself is a sponsor's dream. He and Keselowski are building a powerhouse at Penske Racing. They have the ability to be a perennial championship contender. But the team needs to figure out how to build and maintain speed during a race as much as finding speed in the shop.
4. The Brett Moffitt train derailed as equipment still matters
Brett Moffitt's eighth place finish in Atlanta earned him the respect of his peers and kudos from around NASCAR nation. It also earned him a spot for the next three races at Front Row Motorsports replacing David Ragan (who is subbing for the injured Kyle Busch). Moffitt was never a factor in Vegas, starting a distant 36th place and running in the thirties all day long. He finished seven laps down in 37th place.
This is not to denigrate Moffitt's run in Atlanta nor his long term NASCAR potential. It is, however, a recognition that even in its reduced state, Michael Waltrip Racing's #55 team is far superior to FRM's #34. They have proven power under the hoods and significant engineering support in the shop. The Atlanta race is a far better indicator of Moffitt's NASCAR potential but only if he gets in a competitive ride. Otherwise, his future may hold a number of frustrating races like Sunday's.
David Ragan collectibles from Amazon.com
5. The David Ragan train derailed as the driver still matters
On the other side of that coin was Ragan's run. He slapped the wall late in the final practice, forcing him to use a backup car in the race. That also sent the #18 to start at the tail of the field. He did steadily climb through the field over the first 80 laps but hit a wall in the mid-20's that he was never able to get through. Outside of the green flag pit cycles, Ragan was never able to get into the top 15 and finished two laps down in 22nd place.
David Ragan seems to be a wonderful human being. He is popular with his sponsors and has built solid relationships throughout the garage. He's also done wonders in his time with Front Row Motorsports and given that team the best results its ever known. But his time at Roush Fenway Racing and this most recent stint with Joe Gibbs Racing indicate that Ragan is out of his element in a top flight ride. Two of his teammates, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, finished in the top ten. The other (Carl Edwards) was on his way there before contact with Kasey Kahne ruined his finish. All three were competitive. It's hard to imagine that Kyle Busch would have finished two laps down in the same equipment.