UAW‑Dodge 400 Observations

Bob Margolis
Yahoo! Sports

LAS VEGAS – Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the UAW-Dodge 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

• Race winner Carl Edwards was the beneficiary of a favorable ruling when a tire rolled out of his pit stall. Without it, Edwards likely wouldn't have won Sunday.

Just so you know, the official wording in the rulebook states that a penalty "may be assessed."

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Payback may have come in the form of the postrace inspection on Edwards' Ford Fusion.

• After a poor start at Daytona, the Roush Fenway (read: Ford) teams are looking very competitive. There were three Fords (Edwards, Greg Biffle and David Ragan) in the top 10 – same as in last year's race at Las Vegas. Had Matt Kenseth not been wrecked by Jeff Gordon near the end of the race, there would have likely been four Fords finishing in the top 10.

• Kenseth, who obviously felt he had a car good enough to win the race, was more than just a bit upset at Gordon after their wreck, promising that he'll not easily forget the incident. This was another chapter in a long history between these two top-level competitors. I'm thinking retaliation will come at Bristol, where these two have bumped fenders before.

• On the restart just prior to his wreck, Gordon made one of his patented moves – laying back a couple of car lengths to get a run on teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. After the race, Junior described his restarts as pathetic.

"I've been out of the game for so long, I was a tool out there," said Earnhardt, laughing.

• Although his teammate Kyle Busch started from the pole and was the more competitive car for much of the race, Denny Hamlin's team salvaged a top 10 (ninth) out of a car that was pretty much junk for nearly the entire race. As a result, Hamlin (who was my pick to win Sunday) jumped up 11 places in the driver standings (31 to 20).

• There may have been 10 Toyotas in the field for Sunday's race, but there were only two that were competitive. After Tony Stewart wrecked, that number dropped to one – Kyle Busch's No. 18. Will Toyota's fortunes this season rest solely upon the three Joe Gibbs Racing teams or will another Toyota team step up and be competitive? Don't bet on it.

• After his wreck on the back straight, Gordon said that he hoped that LVMS track owner Bruton Smith (of Speedway Motorsports Inc.) would put SAFER walls around the inside of the track, not just the outside. Biffle echoed Gordon's comments, saying that no racetrack that NASCAR visits should be without them. Gordon added that his head-on hit into the inside wall was "the hardest hit I've ever taken."

It was reminiscent of the nearly head-on wreck he had at Pocono in 2006.

• Both Gordon and Stewart took exceptionally hard hits Sunday. It was a bad weekend for Stewart. He also wrecked during Saturday's Nationwide race. Both drivers walked away, albeit in a gingerly fashion.

• Red-haired freaky comedian Carrot Top (the description his website gives for him) was among the notable guests at the pre-race Cup drivers meeting. He also was the only "celebrity" who wasn't acknowledged by NASCAR officials. Gee, I can't imagine why.

• Also in attendance was Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) player John Isner, who was a guest of Kyle Petty. Isner, who stands 6-feet-9, is in Las Vegas for an ATP tournament. He looks more like he could and should be playing pro basketball.

• Despite cool temperatures and windy conditions, there were no on-track incidents attributable to the weather during the Cup race. The grandstands at LVMS were nearly full, another testament as to why this venue should have a second date – in the fall.

• I thought it was a nice touch that the pace car for the race was made up to look like a Dodge Charger police cruiser.

• Saturday's Nationwide race had a wild finish. Of course, had Edwards not been so busy trying to put Brad Keselowski into the wall, he might not have been hit by eventual race winner Mark Martin.

• The Nationwide race was a real wreck-fest, as many of the sport's biggest names had problems. When NASCAR put a carburetor spacer on the Nationwide cars to slow them down, it forced drivers to drive them harder into the corners. The high corner speeds coupled with the hard Goodyear tires ended up being a recipe for disaster. There were 13 cautions for 55 laps. The crowd of nearly 120,000 that saw the race had to be one of the biggest crowds I've ever seen attend a Nationwide race. Just another reason why there should be a second show here every year.

Jimmie Johnson's team had one of their worst weekends in recent memory. The Lowe's team absolutely missed the race step-up and the defending race winner was out to lunch all afternoon. To add insult to injury, at the conclusion of the red flag near the end of the race, Kyle Petty helped push start Johnson to get his Impala SS going again. I can't remember the last time Johnson (29th) and Petty (32nd) finished this close on the grid.

• And can you remember the last time Tony Stewart finished 43rd? It was last year's Daytona 500.

• Sunday's race results produced a real shake-up in the driver points standings. The biggest winners were: Junior (+13); David Ragan (+11); Hamlin (+11); and Edwards, Martin Truex Jr. and Elliot Sadler (+4). All five drivers are now in the top 20.

The biggest losers were: David Reutimann (-11); Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch (-8); Jimmie Johnson (-6) and Robby Gordon (-5).

• Earnhardt Jr. sits 10th in driver points, Johnson 14th, J. Gordon 22nd and Casey Mears 34th after the first three races of the season.

Who would have thought?

• There were a lot of raised eyebrows when Tony Eury Jr. didn't bring Earnhardt Jr. onto pit road during the caution on lap 180. There were flashbacks of Daytona and the pit strategy miscue there that may have cost Junior the race win. In the end, it didn't matter.

• R. Gordon, Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti are out of the top 35 in driver points. Only two races are left before all three will have to start qualifying their way into races.

Gordon (who was never very good) and Hornish (who was running in the top 20) were both victims of a cut tire.

Postscript:

I can't repeat this enough: History shows that the top 12 in driver points after Bristol is nearly the same as the top 12 leaving Richmond in September. It's just the way it is. If your favorite driver isn't even close, perhaps this year things will be different.

Getting off to a fast start is more important than ever.

Coming up: Atlanta's ultra-fast, ultra-abrasive surfaced 1.5-mile oval.

And the results of Edwards' penalties.

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