Jimmie Johnson won the Cup race at Las Vegas, his 4th in the last 6 years, thanks to a bad call by the 24 team to take 2 tires on the last pit stop. They ignored how many cars were still on the lead lap and how much of a lead they had over those few cars coming onto pit road in making the call which cost Jeff Gordon a dominating win.
Normally the leader gets screwed on the last pit stop when the rest of the field will do what you aren't to try and get an advantage, but in the one instance where they could've gone the safe route and still come out with great track position, they blew it. You can't claim hindsight on this one, the facts were as clear as the cars coming on pit road.
That being said, it was a great run by Jeff and the best he's had at an intermediate track since... well last year at Texas! After those couple years where the team seemed lost on tracks 1.5 miles and higher they've been much improved which is key to standing any chance against Johnson.
Speaking of which, Johnson now has the most wins at 1.5 mile tracks with 15 due to two reasons. First, he's been kicking everyone's tail for the last 8 years. But second is that for most of NASCAR's history Charlotte and Atlanta were the only 1.5 mile tracks on the schedule, from the early 60's to the 90's. Texas, Homestead and Las Vegas joined the schedule in the late 90's and were followed by Kansas and Chicagoland in 2001. There are now 10 races on 1.5 mile tracks (and one at Darlington, and adding up Richard Petty's 14 wins at 1.5 mile tracks make me think that it counts too) the most of any other configuration which is why it's a lot of recent drivers are among the top of the list.
As for Vegas, RCR continued their hot start to the season with a 3rd straight race of all 3 cars finishing in the top 11. Harvick and Bowyer have finished in the top ten in the first 3 races and are 1-2 in the standings while Burton is 7th.
Roush teammates Biffle and Kenseth now have 3 top tens each after Kenseth finished 5th and Biffle finished 10th for a 2nd straight race. But Carl Edwards has been the 3rd man on the totem pole with only 1 top ten and a couple of mediocre runs. The 12th here at Vegas isn't as worrying as his finish at California since Vegas has been a hit-or-miss track for him.
Joey Logano might be the biggest surprise of the season, finishing 6th and inches short of a 2nd straight top five to sit in 8th in points, best of all the JGR cars. Despite 3 finishes in the teens Kyle Busch is 12th which isn't bad and he's run better than that. Denny Hamlin's really worrying, while he's usually been a slow starter in his career this has been the worst and he's barely run in the top 20 most of the time.
Marcos Ambrose and Ryan Newman got top 20 finishes they desperately needed for the top 35, a surprising situation for them to be in. Ambrose didn't come into the year as a threat to make the Chase so he just needs to continue to rattle off these kinds of finishes and improve like he has been since his days in the Truck Series. Newman had the same start last year but with stronger competition to make the Chase this year Newman runs the risk of being the odd man out.
Looking ahead to Atlanta, it's another 1.5 mile track so expect Jimmie to run up front all race and contend for a 3rd straight win. He has the best average finish of all active drivers there.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has the 2nd best average finish at Atlanta and would actually make a pretty good dark horse pick. Even last year which was rotten as a whole, some of his best runs at intermediate tracks came at Atlanta with 11th and 17th place finishes. This is going to be a really good indication of where the 88 team stands for the season.
Someone else who needs to get their act together and could easily do it here is Carl Edwards. After getting his first Nationwide and Cup win here back in 2005 and sweeping the races for the season he comes into every Atlanta race as a favorite. He has 3 finishes of 37th or worse but his other 8 starts have been top tens so as long as nothing happens to him during the race he should run in the top five. If not then the team's in big trouble.
Last year's Atlanta winners have undergone some changes since; Kurt Busch has a new crew chief and Kasey Kahne has a new manufacturer. For Kahne it's been as feast and famine as you can get, he was great here to start his career and in 2006 but it was terrible for him in his off seasons. But coming off a top ten at Vegas he should run in the top ten again and take another step towards dragging himself back up the standings. As for Kurt, his two career wins at Atlanta are his only top fives but he's run a lot better here with Penske than he did with Roush He likely won't lead 234 laps again but Addington has experience winning at Atlanta with a Busch brother.
But RCR could finally get their first Cup win since 2008 at Atlanta and the likeliest candidate is Kevin Harvick. You wouldn't have thought it as recently as 2008 when Harvick had gone 14 straight races without a top five since the year he got his first career win at Atlanta, but he finished 2nd and 4th in the two races last season and after back-to-back runner-up finishes it's about time he ends his lengthy winless streak.
Bowyer has 4 top tens at Atlanta, all 6th place finishes. So he's a favorite to finish 6th.
Jeff Burton's best finish at Atlanta in 31 starts is 4th, 4 times. Hopefully he won't ruin the coincidence and either finish 5th or get a top 3 finish.
And the best candidate for the "holy $#!% where did he come from" award for the race would be Paul Menard. He's started the year with 3 top 20 finishes to sit 17th in the standings, best of his teammates, and Atlanta is where he got his first career top ten, 7th, in just his 3rd career start back in 2006. In due part to that top ten and a 15th place finish in the 2nd Atlanta race last season it's his best track for average finish. So this is as good a place and time as any for him to get a top ten.
The Camping World Truck Series is back this weekend for their 2nd race of the season. During the few weeks off KHI fired Dave Fuge, Ron Hornaday's crew chief, after just one race and replaced him with Doug George. How the #33 is going to perform this weekend is anyone's guess, KHI is the best organization in the series right now but unlike Kenseth's CC change this was originally http://www.racing-reference.info/postblogbrought on by Rick Ren leaving for Kyle Busch Motorsports after last season so instead of a needed change to make things better it's change to hold onto what you've got. It's worrying to say the least and it could open the door for the rest of the season.
KHI is still the favorite to win at Atlanta with Kevin Harvick driving the #2 this weekend. He'll be going for a 3rd straight start with a win after ending 2009 with back-to-back victories.
After a rough start at Daytona we'll get a good idea of where KBM stands as Kyle Busch is driving the #18 this weekend along with full-time teammate Tayler Malsam. Kyle won from pole here last year driving for Billy Ballew and while it'll be tough for him to dominate like in the past a win is always a possibility since he has 4 Atlanta Truck wins in just 5 starts.
Speaking of Ballew, Steve Wallace will make his Truck Series debut in the #15. Aric Almirola'll be doing double duty in the #51, his full time ride, and the #09 James Finch car in the Cup race. Aric should contend for the win while Steve could surprise in his debut.
Todd Bodine won here back in 2006 while Mike Skinner won in 2007 so expect these former champions to be strong.
Daytona winner Timothy Peters is making his first Atlanta start with Red Horse Racing; he finished 15th last year for Steve Stallings so driving for a better team and the big boost in confidence from Daytona should end up in a good run here.
All drivers mentioned are the ones most likely to win, with Thorsport teammates Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter good possibilities too.
Opinions expressed in blogs are those of the individual bloggers and do not necessarily represent the views of racing-reference.info.