Another week of record smashing speeds on the track for NASCAR this time in Las Vegas for the Kobalt Tools 400.Ã‚Â Although last week saw driver after driver breaching the previous record, this week only a handful broke the previous record of 188.719 mph last year set by Kurt Busch, who qualified 22nd Friday.Ã‚Â But when all the dust had settled it was Matt Kenseth starting from the pole for the fifth time in his career, and the first since May 2009 at Darlington. On Sunday, the 2003 Cup champion will try to break a winless string of 72 races that dates to Feb. 22, 2009, at Auto Club Speedway.
“Qualifying is not my strong suit, but I knew we had a really fast car today when we did our last qualifying run in practice,” Kenseth said. “Honestly, this is the most nervous I’ve been before qualifying in probably five years at least, because I knew we had a shot at the pole, and I knew last week we really messed up. I didn’t want to mess up a fast car today, so I was really happy with that.”
Kenseth was determined to atone for a disappointing 24th-place qualifying effort last week at Phoenix. Setting a blistering pace around Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a track-record 28.589 seconds (188.884 mph) allowed Kenseth to knock fellow Ford driver Marcos Ambrose off the pole for the Kobalt Tools 400 Sprint Cup race at the 1.5-mile track.Ã‚Â Not too shabby an effort for Ambrose either who reached a speed of 188.166 mph for a lap time of 28.427 seconds, and matching his best qualifying efforts at an oval track yet.
“I’ve been second a few times now in my Cup career, so I’ve been the bridesmaid plenty of times — it doesn’t feel any nicer,” said Ambrose, “But I’m really pleased today. Can’t complain. Matt did a great lap. Can’t complain about someone beating you on speed. It’s not like he lucked into it.”
Ambrose (188.166 mph) will start beside Kenseth on the front row. Carl Edwards (188.127), last week’s pole winner at Phoenix, was third and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle (187.970) fourth, as Fords claimed the top four starting positions for the third Cup race of the season.Ã‚Â This is definitely one of the best starting line ups for Ford in a long time. All four of Roush Fenway’s cars were in the top five in speeds in opening practice. Running fast at Vegas has become the norm for the organization, which leads all teams with six Cup victories and 14 wins across the three national series. Jack Roush looks forward to seeing how his team measures up.
“It’s the second non-restricted race and we like to think we are more in control of what happens on the race track and being able to orchestrate a good outcome based on strategy, the quality of work in the shop and the quality of people behind the program,”
Roush said. “We still think that one of our team strengths — after two decades — is our performance at the mile-and-a-half race tracks.”
With drivers breaking records at the tracks in qualifying every week it is making the 2011 season look more exciting every week. Carl Edwards had this to say when asked about the speeds after runningÃ‚Â a lap of 28.704 seconds (188.127 mph).
“That lap was fast. I couldn’t tell exactly how fast it was while I was out there because we picked up so much. Right now we are seeing speeds that no one could touch in practice.”
“The racing is as intense as ever,” said Edwards. “What happened last week, looking back on it, that is just hard racing and I really believe that is behind us. Hopefully we can stay out of those messes throughout the year and have fast enough cars that that one [bad week] doesn’t really matter.”
“The higher speeds here are going to make it more treacherous to run side by side,” he said. “I think you will see guys right on the edge and racing really hard. The wind is a factor, too, and if that stays up [the forecast is predicting 10-15 mph winds on Sunday] it will throw a little more chaos into the mix. I think you will see guys hopefully being patient with one another enough.”
“I just want to get through this race and finish where I think we can.”
On his first practice lap Friday, Jeff Gordon, last week’s winner, spun off Turn 4. Gordon avoided the wall and won’t have to go to a backup car. Gordon said his No. 24 Chevrolet felt so comfortable that he was pushing it on his first practice lap.
“This tire takes a couple of laps to get some heat in it,” Gordon said. “I think we’re going to take a more conservative approach for those first couple of laps the rest of the day.”
Two drivers in the series call this race track home having come up through the ranks here as they grew up.Ã‚Â Kurt and Kyle Busch come into their home town track on top of the leaderboard and are anxious to find success.Ã‚Â While Kyle Bush has won here before, Kurt has yet to find his way to victory lane.Ã‚Â This weekend will be his 11th swing at winning at his hometown venue, 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and things are really looking good for him and his Penske Racing team with the way they have been running
“We’re coming back to Vegas hoping for the kind of change we’ve experienced at some of the other tracks recently,” Busch said. “We’re really hoping for the type of turnaround that we’ve enjoyed at tracks like Charlotte and Daytona. We’ve been able to taste success finally on those tracks, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway is definitely No. 1 on my hit list now.”
Kurt has only 2 top 10 finishes here and his average finish in 11 attempts is 23rd.
“We have shown a lot of potential through the years in the Vegas races,” he said, “but we’ve yet to be able to put together many strong showings from beginning to end.”
“Last year’s race is pretty representative of how our history has been on the Vegas track,” Busch said. “We had a really fast Dodge Charger there last year and wound up winning the pole. We started out really on the loose side but had worked to get the car back under us and we were moving back toward the front. On a restart at about the 100-lap mark [Lap 94] Jamie McMurray and [Juan] Montoya crashed in front of us, and I was just a sitting duck and got collected. It was just so typical of how our luck has played out in the Vegas races.”
With his brother Kyle sitting atop the point leader board the pair share the top for the first time in their career together in NASCAR top tier.Ã‚Â It is also the first time in NASCAR history that 2 brother have held that position.Ã‚Â Kurt, a former NASCAR Cup Champion in 2004, and Kyle, a contender every year until the chase has begun, have both shown that they have the ability to stay out front.Ã‚Â Kyle Busch has the most wins of any active driver in all 3 of the top series in NASCAR.