5 Questions After ... Kobalt Tools 400

Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR
As NASCAR Nation heads out of Sin City, the championship picture is becoming clearer and we are starting to get a better glimpse of who will be the 2011 Chase contenders. 

Oh, who am I kidding…. we still have no idea what the heck is going on!

Here are some questions on my mind heading out of Las Vegas…

What was up with Greg Biffle’s fuel cell? … Biffle was rather vocal on the scanner about how long it was taking to fill the car up with gas during pit stops. The new self-venting gas can, implemented over the off-season, failed a couple of times during the race. This cost Biffle valuable time on the racetrack and at one point even caused him to run out of gas, resulting in an unscheduled pit stop.

The failure is a result of the can failing to dump all of its contents into the fuel cell - a problem teams will most likely have to put up with as they adjust to the new fueling system.

As exciting as fuel mileage races tend to be, I really hope this isn’t a regular problem we see every weekend. Regardless, I understand that teams will have to adjust to the new system; hopefully, the flaws in the system will work themselves out and the race can be settled on the track versus on pit road.

Is Ford Racing the new Chevrolet? … The top four cars in qualifying for the Kobalt Tools 400 were Fords and several of these cars had strong runs in Vegas. Carl Edwards’ win obviously showed Ford Racing strength and Marcos Ambrose proved this as well. He finished fourth for his first top-5 finish since finishing fifth back at Richmond last September.

Biffle looked strong throughout the day before the aforementioned fueling issue on Lap #146, even leading 11 laps before the slow stops began to take their toll.

While it doesn’t appear that Ford is going to dominate Chevrolet on the track this year, they’ll most certainly mount a charge. Yes, it’s early in the year but remember that Edwards won the last two races of 2010 and he is well on his way to backing that up this season. The main reason that Edwards doesn’t have finishes of 2nd, 1st and 1st this season is because of a crash - not of his own doing - in Phoenix.

Plus, with flashes of brilliance from Biffle, Ambrose and David Ragan so far this season, we might see the Ford Racing drivers going head to head with Chevrolet for a good old-fashioned manufacturer rivalry … just like the good ol’ days, right guys?

Have the tables turned at RCR and HMS? … It’s hard not to be surprised at the drivers leading the charge at Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing. They both have four teams apiece with some of the most talented drivers in the industry; however, their top drivers are the ones with the shortest list of accomplishments thus far.

At Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin are tied for 10th place (22 points out of the lead) -  with Earnhardt getting the tiebreaker. Jimmie Johnson is 12th in the standings (26 points out of the lead) while Jeff Gordon sits in 19th (39 points out of the lead).

Before I get any hateful tweets/e-mails/comments, I am not in any way saying Earnhardt is not a good driver. However, in my opinion, he doesn’t have near the credentials that Johnson, Gordon and Martin do. Add that to the fact he’s struggled mightily since moving to HMS (and hasn’t been a factor for the championship since 2006), it’s a little surprising to see Earnhardt ranked the highest of the Hendrick cars after three races this season. Even with his victory at Phoenix, Gordon’s other two results this year are hardly enough to keep him in the top 20.

Even more shocking is the current lead driver at RCR … Paul Menard. Yes, seriously, the driver everyone pokes fun at for racing off of daddy’s money is beating his teammates Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton - all three proven championship contenders. This is Menard’s first season with RCR and he is currently 6th in the standings (-96). Bowyer is 18th (-38), Harvick is 20th (-42)  and Burton is 32nd (-63).

Will it last? Probably not. Earnhardt can probably stay up there but Johnson will most likely return to prominence like he always does. Menard, on the other hand, will probably lose some ground once we get further into the season.

Was Tony Stewart’s reaction necessary? … Following the race, Stewart was incredibly disappointed he had completely dominated the race and ended up finishing in the 2nd position. He led a race-high 163 laps - only to fall short due to a failed tire/fuel strategy. Afterward, Stewart had this to say - “We gave one away today.”

Tony Stewart was very emotional after the race and finished up his interview by saying, “Second sucks.” Never have I heard it phrased so eloquently and it should have been satisfying to the fans who get sick of hearing sponsor-filled interviews that seem to care more about corporate plugs than their finishing position.

Initially, I felt that "Smoke" might have been a little overdramatic. However, emotion and passion is what drives this sport and I’m glad he wasn’t satisfied with anything less than a win. Heck, even his overtaking the points lead wasn’t enough to soften the blow!

What’s up with the Gibbs engines? … One week after Joey Logano saw his chances at a good finish literally go up in smoke due to a blown engine, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch had the same issue after 107 of the 267 scheduled laps in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas.

It could just be a coincidence or a string of bad luck but Busch’s engine basically detonated on Sunday. He even came on the radio and said, “Flames are in my face!” Fire could be seen coming out of the tailpipes and no one ever doubted for a minute that Busch’s day was done.

Last month, JGR’s engine shop suffered damages from a fire though no one was injured. I doubt that the fire has anything to do with these early season engine gaffes, but it’s an interesting correlation.

Bonus questions: Is Matt Kenseth on a mission to aggravate every driver by Homestead? ... What were the odds for Edwards to win Vegas? ... Has anyone ever tried BBQ’d Snickers?
5 Questions After ... Kobalt Tools 400 5 Questions After ... Kobalt Tools 400 Reviewed by Summer Dreyer on Tuesday, March 08, 2011 Rating: 5

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