Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

The 'new' Kyle Busch versus the 'new' Kevin Harvick, at the 'new' Las Vegas Motor Speedway, lightning fast

   Kasey Kahne, the center of attention, and ready for a breakout Sunday? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Now this should be interesting: Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick almost side-by-side at the green for Sunday's Kobalt 400.
   Make that the new Kyle Busch and the new Kevin Harvick.
   There still may be no love lost between these two, but since their last run-ins they've both experienced major changes in their lives, and careers.

   And either Busch or Harvick could easily upset the pre-race line that NASCAR Round Three should be a Jimmie Johnson-versus-Carl Edwards afternoon up here at the north end of The Strip.
   Johnson and Edwards together have won six of the last seven Sprint Cup races at this wicked and extremely fast 1-1/2-mile track.
   The other winner in that stretch?
   Kyle Busch.
   This track, since the repave and redesign, has become almost treacherous. And this time speeds are way up. (Drivers are predicting a run at track records this spring.)
   Kasey Kahne, one of the sport's smoothest when things are lightning fast, like they are here, is on the pole for the 3 p.m. EDT start.

   Crew chief Chad Knaus checks the checklist for Jimmie Johnson's backup Chevy, after Johnson crashed in Saturday practice. He will have to start at the rear of the field (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  And after a ragged start this season, his first with Rick Hendrick, Kahne may be primed to win. He did, after all, surprise last fall at Phoenix.
   But after finishing 29th at Daytona and 34th at Phoenix, Kahne hopes things are starting to look up.
   Fast is a big part of Kahne; he's won more poles over the last year than anyone else.
   And so is smooth.
   Kahne doesn't manhandle a car, or wrestle with it; he finesse it.
   Give him a fast, smooth-handling car, on a tricky track, and he's hard to catch. Texas he's shown that. And he may well here Sunday.
   To be honest, this track may be just too fast for great side-by-side racing. If NASCAR and Goodyear cut speeds by 10 mph, the battling would be much better. But then it's that way at many tour tracks, and no one seems interested in dealing with that problem.
    If you get things right here, you're flat gone, like Tony Stewart showed last spring. Until he was foiled by that pit road penalty, Stewart was in command, untouchable. Stewart got back into contention after a strategic two-tire stop (sometimes two fresh tires work well, usually though teams opt for four).  But when it was clear to rivals that two-tire stops would work, Stewart's bid was up.
   Despite his bad luck so far, Kahne isn't down: "I feel good about our speed.
   "At Daytona so many things happen, and you're not in control of a lot of that stuff, and get caught up in other people's messes at times.
    "Last weekend we had as good a car as anybody at Phoenix. But I made a mistake, and we lost a lot of points.
    "So we haven't started off very good….but our cars have been really fast."

   Kyle Busch. Are these guys going to the moon, or just for another Sunday drive? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   One question Sunday is how well the tires will hold up over a long run.
  "The right-side tire is a little bit softer (than last year), so you'd probably have a little bit more speed," Kahne says. "But then I would also expect the speeds to fall off too. And I like it when speeds fall off like that."
     But Harvick sees it differently: "If you run 50 laps in a run, you are going to run 50 qualifying laps."
    Throw in some hot weather, and the two different corners of the track – one sunny, and hot and slick; the other shaded, and cooler – and handling and pit road gambles early in the race should be expected.
  Harvick? He's got a new crew this season, and a new crew chief, Shane Wilson. They ran well at Daytona, and they came close to winning at Phoenix, chasing Denny Hamlin down the stretch.
   "Usually when we qualify that close to the front, it's usually going to be a great weekend," Harvick says.
   Harvick, now having sold off his own race operation, seems more focused this season. And he and wife Delana are expecting their first child.

   Kyle Busch (R) and teammate Joey Logano. Busch is, again, the 'new Kyle Busch.' Logano is suddenly rejuvenated (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   One handling problem for drivers and crews is the first turn bump. And the track itself seems rougher this time around, they say.
   "The bump is obviously something you set your car up for, to try to get through there as smooth as possible," Harvick says.
    "The track is pretty rough; and it holds on to its speed pretty well.
   "Stewart had his car working really good last year on the bottom and was able make a lot of really good time.
    "If you can get through there better than everybody else, you are going to have a distinct advantage."
    The option, early on at least, is to avoid the bump by running high.
   However Harvick warns "As soon as everybody moves up, that upper line won't be as good."

   And what about Carl Edwards?
   Crew chief Bob Osborne says they brought their Homestead car here, as a baseline, so they could size things up and see what the opposition might have.
   That might be a page from the Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus playbook, using the early part of the season to layout a game plan for the fall playoffs.
    Edwards and Osborne had the car to beat most of last season (despite only one tour win), but they came up just short in the chase.
   So this 400 could be a measure of how much the competition has closed the gap on Edwards and Osborne.


Carl Edwards (C) clowning around with Jimmie Johnson (L) and Tony Stewart. These three are Sunday's Las Vegas 400 favorites (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Harvick laughs and says "I'd be mad if they brought my Homestead car….because that means they didn't do much over the winter.
   "Obviously their stuff has been really good on the 1-1/2-mile tracks, so they are in a bit different position. We were kind of hit-or-miss on the 1-1/2-mile stuff.
   "So we brought a new car here, and hopefully we have made our stuff better since Homestead.
    "But you don't really know -- we might have gone down the wrong road, and their stuff is still solid.
    "It's just a matter of getting through this weekend and deciding on what direction you need to work in.
    "This weekend will tell us a lot more than the previous weeks."


    Kevin Harvick, supremely confident this season. The 'new' Kevin Harvick? 'Happy' does seem happier (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   One early season issue, as many anticipated, has been the new electronic fuel injection systems, replacing carburetors.
   Joey Logano and Tony Stewart have both had significant efi issues already, and Greg Biffle predicts the problems may become more widespread as the spring heats up.
   "We've been lucky; we haven't seen any issues," Kyle Busch says.
    Logano and Stewart both had similar problems, Busch says. "He shut his car off under yellow and tried to save fuel, and couldn't get it re-
    "After the race in Phoenix, Denny Hamlin did a burnout, shut the car off, and it didn't want to re-fire.
    "So we're seeing some problems there across the board."
    It appears that drivers may need to rethink tactics when they are trying to save fuel, if the race comes down to a fuel mileage battle.  
   "Vegas very easily can come down to a fuel mileage race," Busch says. "The best case scenario obviously is to try to keep your car running….whether
you're pushing the clutch in getting it into the corners and just letting the thing idle, or what have you.
    "It's definitely you can't just shut the car off and let the clutch out and have it re-fire itself; you've got to use the starter switch."

 Kevin Harvick (R) and crew chief Shane Wilson, a few years back, when Saturday teammates. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com