The first race of NASCAR’s annual trip to the west coast came with more excitement than many expected at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A low downforce aero package and crazy weather made for an unpredictable race, which gave way to an exciting battle to the finish. Brad Keselowski passed his teammate Joey Logano and reeled in Kyle Busch with six laps to go to grab his first victory of the season.
Here are five major takeaways from Sunday’s race:
NASCAR enjoyed a beautiful start to the season at both Daytona and Atlanta with warm weather and sunny skies. Las Vegas brought everyone back to reality, with wind gusts nearing 40 miles an hour during the entire race. Small rain showers came and went throughout, but a dust storm moved through the racetrack and limited visibility for an extended period of time.
The wind changed directions during the race and posed a serious challenge for the drivers, as it was it much more difficult for them to judge the handling of their race cars. The wind also blew tremendous amounts of debris on the track, creating a nightmare as trash collected on drivers’ grilles.
Busch Rolls the Dice
The No. 18 team elected to take left side tires only on the final pit stop of the race and came out sixth for the ensuing restart. Busch made a daring move to the high side and propelled himself to third out of Turn 2. He then took the leaders Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano three wide into Turn 3 and came out the leader before a crash brought out the yellow.
It seemed he was destined to grab his first victory of the season, but his right side tires began to wear down as the run progressed. Busch’s lap times began to fall off as he approached traffic and gave the lead up to the much faster Keselowski with six laps to go.
He continued to fade in the closing laps and was edged out by Jimmie Johnson at the line to finish fourth.
Ryan Blaney has proven himself in the Truck Series and XFINITY Series and continued to do so on Sunday. Blaney raced amongst the leaders all afternoon and drove like there were no rookie stripes on the back of his No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. He remained patient all day and grabbed the historic race team a sixth place finish.
Chase Elliott found himself in a similar situation as he drove around the top-10 all afternoon. His efforts looked like they would pay off with a strong finish, but he found himself caught up in a crash with Matt Kenseth with 43 laps to go.
After two wrecks and two finishes worse than 35th, Elliott beat up on himself for getting collected in the mayhem. His performance in each race this season has been better than anyone could have expected and can still hang his hat on a top-10 at Atlanta.
Kenseth Woes Continue
For three weeks in a row, Matt Kenseth has had a solid run going and had a miscue that’s ruined his day. At Las Vegas, his day was cut short when he got loose going into turn one with 34 laps to go and lost control of his car. As he slid up the track, his car was rear-ended by Chase Elliott and was sent to the garage.
While the season is only young, this isn’t a good trend for the No.20 Dollar General team. They have no momentum on their side while nearly every other major Toyota team has been excelling to start the season.
Every car in the Roush Fenway Racing stable finished inside the top-20 Sunday. While that may not sound like much, it’s an impressive feat for an organization that’s been on a downward slide for several years.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has two top-15 finishes this season after battling for a 12th place finish on Sunday. While his teammates aren’t performing on quite the same level as him, all it can take is one team to get an organization headed back in the right direction.
Time of Race: 2:53:55
Cautions: 6 for 36 laps
- Brad Keselowski
- Joey Logano
- Jimmie Johnson
- Kyle Busch
- Austin Dillon
- Ryan Blaney
- Kevin Harvick
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Kurt Busch
- Kasey Kahne
2016 Race Winners: Denny Hamlin (1), Jimmie Johnson (1), Brad Keselowski (1)
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