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Las Vegas: Another Crash-fest? Looking like another Ford-fest

 Ryan Newman: Are drivers too greedy? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


  It's been Crash-fest Sunday for NASCAR these past few weeks, and Ryan Newman concedes things have indeed been unusually wild, particularly last weekend at Phoenix.
   Will it continue here?

   With 200 mph corner speeds at the toughest tire track in the sport, and that aggravating first turn bump – just at the tunnel – drivers probably won't be much cleaner in Sunday's Las Vegas Kobalt 400.
   "It is like you know there are going to be like 185,000 people leaving the race track but we are all going to try to get to the airport first," Newman says with a laugh.
   "We know there is going to be traffic…but we still try to do it fast. We honk our horns, we cut people off.
    "Honestly I don't what happened at Phoenix. I don't know if it was having Saturday qualifying and more time to think about the race….
    "I think that what happened was NASCAR announcing the mandatory caution at 40 laps changed the strategy for some teams: we saw some guys that didn't pit and stayed out, and guys that were running up front were in turn running 15th and were trying to get everything back in the first couple of laps.
    "It felt like Green-White-Checkered restarts at Martinsville or Richmond or Daytona, every restart we had there at Phoenix for the first five or six.
    "It was literally crazy.
     "I don't know how we didn't have more crashes than what we did.
     "Chaotic was the best word you could use to describe the racing for the first 65 laps.
     "I hope we all learned from the chaoticness…which I think is a word -- I tried to use it in Scrabble on the way here, 'chaoticness.'
     "I know we can do a better job than we did there. I don't know if we all will hold up to our potential."


      Okay, so what did Robby Gordon (L) do in the Las Vegas garage to former business partner Kevin Conway (R) to draw an indefinite probation from NASCAR? Gordon still gets to race of course, but he's still clearly miffed over what business dealings led to last summer's split. (Photos: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Paul Menard, one of the early-season surprises, now with team owner Richard Childress, agrees drivers are a bit too greedy: "There definitely seems to be a sense of urgency when the green flag drops.
    "I don't know if it is the double-file restart or what, but even from last year, and especially the year before last, it doesn't seem like it was that way.
    "It has amped up a lot.
    "You can gain a lot on those restarts if you play it right, and people are trying to get all they can. If you can gain two spots on a restart, that goes a long ways.
     "There does seem to be a big sense of urgency…and people are racing really hard and really early."

     Ford has the first two rows for the 12 p.m. PT/3 p.m. ET start, and Matt Kenseth on the pole – a rarity, he admits – shows just how strong Doug Yates' new FR9 engine is.
     The background, perhaps – team owner Jack Roush needs to sign his drivers and sponsors to new contracts, and the sooner this spring the better.


      Sunday's favorite....in one of those 'screaming' Fords. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     Carl Edwards, the hottest driver on the tour over the past several months, is the favorite. But strange things have been happening lately. Like Trevor Bayne at Daytona, and Kyle Busch at Phoenix, taking out Edwards and opening the door for Jeff Gordon.
     Gordon is exceptionally strong at this track, could have won the race last year, and a win Sunday would put an exclamation on his comeback.
   "It's so interesting to me how things have worked this week…and how things have worked in my career," Gordon says philosophically.
   "We had all these things scheduled way in advance -- scheduled me on Jay Leno weeks ago.
    "And we were planning in Phoenix to try to hit some post-Oscar parties. Ingrid and I had joked in Daytona -- because Valentine's Day fell while we were in Disney with the kids, and there wasn't a lot of romance, because we were so tired when the day was over – and said 'we'll go out to LA and enjoy a couple of parties, if we can get in, and then we'll have a couple of days to ourselves.
    "We were really looking forward to that.
    "Little did we know all of that was going to get turned upside down by the win."
    Jeff Gordon in Hollywood on Oscar night was quite a hit, it seems: "The whole night was spectacular. To go into that room with that level of celebrity and power and Hollywood and everything, you're just in awe of it.
    "Then people come up and congratulate you… It was pretty cool.
    "And the whole week was like that.
    "And then going to do Leno…..Nothing makes an interview go easier than when you win."

    Not that there has been any doubt about Gordon still having the touch – he could easily have won 15 races the past two years, instead of just one – but Gordon himself says that when your teammate Jimmie Johnson is winning championship after championship, well, there are questions:
    "When you go that length of time without winning, you question a lot of things," Gordon says. "Is it me? Is it the car? What is it? Is it a combination?
    "But I feel like these last two years I have put in more effort than I ever have.
    "But that's the way it works -- When you are on top, you can get away with a lot of things. When you're not, you have got to put in that extra effort.
    "And when you put in that extra effort and it doesn't pay off, it is very frustrating."


     Jeff Gordon: this weekend back in DuPont colors (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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