Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Teardown Tuesday: Breaking Down the Biggest Stories from Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Miss any of the on and off-track action at Atlanta? Every Tuesday our Amy Branch breaks down the big storylines from the weekend.

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
By Amy Branch

Wicked wind of the west

There’s no question the story of the weekend was the weather. Teams dealt with gusting, blustery winds, light rain and a small sandstorm on track, all in one day. Opening ceremonies and the pre-race show were affected by the unusual wind. Pit boxes had to be partially dismantled, and the high pit signs used to identify pit stalls  were removed, causing a few mishaps during pit stops. Before the race, drivers were visibly concerned about how much the gusting wind would affect their cars.

Having mostly died down by the time the green flag flew, the wind gave way to bright sunshine. However, about halfway through, the wind kicked up again, culminating in a light dust storm on the track in the last 100 laps. The unpredictable gusts made driving difficult. The fans likely didn’t enjoy the sand blowing all over the 1.5-mile track either.

Credit: Robert Laberge for Getty Images
Busch’s XFINITY domination continues with first NXS hometown win
As difficult as it may be to believe, prior to this past Saturday, Kyle Busch had never won an XFINITY race in his hometown of Las Vegas. 

During the Boyd Gaming 300, Busch led the field for a punishing 199 of 200 laps, leading Joe Gibbs racing to a 1-2-3 finish, winning his second straight XFINITY race (that makes him 2/2 for starts/wins in the series this year, for those of you who are counting) and extending his own race-winning record in the XFINITY series to 78 wins.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

JGR and Suárez surging in XFINITY Series
Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, finished just 0.817 seconds behind Kyle Busch after overcoming a three-second lead by the veteran driver. He now leads the XFINITY Series points – the first time a driver born outside the U.S. has been a NASCAR series points leader. Suárez was pragmatic about his lead.

“I think it's too early. We're just three races into the season and with the new Chase format anything can happen. You need to win a race to be safe and lock yourself into the Chase."

That win may not be long in coming for the rising star from Mexico.

JGR teammate Erik Jones had a fast No. 20 Toyota, too, but the rookie had to battle back-to-back pit road speeding penalties. He still finished an impressive third behind his teammates, and, even more impressive, he passed almost every car at least twice. The speed JGR currently has in Sprint Cup is just as apparent in the XFINITY series. It can’t hurt that the series all-time wins leader just happens to be the young driver's teammate.

Penske blocks Busch's hometown sweep
For a while, it looked like No. 18 driver Kyle Busch might do more than win the XFINITY race; he was a mere five laps from a sweep in his hometown. But crew chief Paul Wolfe’s pit road strategy to keep Brad Keselowski out on the fifth caution of the day on Lap 217, followed by a strong vibration on the No. 18’s right front a few laps after the restart, combined to give Keselowski his first win in 33 races. Busch’s vibration slowed his momentum, and he eventually finished fourth behind Jimmie Johnson.

The racing was close and fast. The wind and low-downforce package made cars hard to handle and racy with each other. Both Johnson and Joey Logano were threats to win, but they ran out of laps before they could catch the No. 2. Johnson, after leading a race-high 76 laps, finished third behind Logano.

Credit: Robert Laberge for Getty Images
From boos to cheers to internet flames: US flag stolen by wind; rescued by Keselowski
Brad Keselowski probably wouldn’t be considered NASCAR’s most popular driver. During driver introductions, he smiles and waves through a chorus of boos. He has traditionally eschewed the checkered flag in favor of the U.S. flag on his victory laps, honoring his country and its troops. Knowing it was extremely windy, Keselowski kept his window net up, and a crew member secured the flag through the net. It wasn’t enough; a strong gust of wind ripped the flag out of Keselowski’s window just as he was finishing his burnout, and Old Glory fell to the ground.

You could almost hear the spectators hold their breath for a split second. How should they react? As the crowd held its collective breath to respond with what could have been more boos, Keselowski immediately stopped his car, got out, ran back to the flag and picked it up.

However the crowd was going to react, they clearly appreciated his quick response. He waved the flag at the stands to a roar of cheers. After the race was over, however, the Internet chimed in. A now-deleted tweet to Keselowski asked why he hadn’t apologized for “dropping the greatest symbol of this nation on the ground … Shame on you!!!!”

Keselowski fired back, never one to shy away from revealing his thoughts."The 30mph wind ripped it from me. The apology is stopping right-a-way and picking it up," he tweeted.

Keselowski 1, Internet troll 0?

FRR drops appeal: Pearn to sit out Phoenix

Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
After a P3 penalty last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway for illegal roof flaps, Cole Pearn, crew chief of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, was suspended for one race. This was Pearn's second roof flap violation; he was already on probation for a penalty at Daytona. Additionally, the penalty included a $50,000 fine, and driver Martin Truex, Jr. and team lost 15 points. FRR told NASCAR they would appeal the penalty, deferring the suspension and allowing Pearn to call the Las Vegas race.

Tuesday afternoon, the team confirmed via a news release that their appeal would be withdrawn. Pearn will serve his suspension during the Phoenix race this weekend. Todd Berrier, former crew chief for Furniture Row Racing from 2012-2014, returns to the pit box from his management position at Joe Gibbs Racing to fill in for Pearn.