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Kobalt Tools 400
by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush
Location: Las Vegas, Nev.
Specs: 1.5-mile tri-oval; Banking/Turns: 20°; Banking/Tri-Oval: 9°; Banking/Backstretch: 3°
2010 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2011 Race Length: 400.5 miles/267 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 188.719 mph (Kurt Busch, 2010)
Race Record: 146.554 mph (Mark Martin, 1998)
From the Spotter’s Stand
Jimmie Johnson’s four of a kind beat Jeff Gordon’s pair — of fresh tires, that is — in a classic Las Vegas heads up showdown that came down to strategy on the final pit stop of the 267-lap dance.
Although Gordon (219 laps led) had the big stack for most of the day, he and crew chief Steve Letarte limped in with a two-tire move late, while Johnson and Chad Knaus went all-in with quads when the chips were on the line. The move allowed Johnson to burn rubber past Gordon on Lap 251 before popping bottles of champagne to celebrate the fourth win in his last six trips to Sin City.
But at least Gordon didn’t lose a tooth or have a run-in with a tiger and Mike Tyson. Right?
Crew Chief’s Take
“As with any ‘cookie cutter’ track, downforce, track position and clean air will all play a major role in how a team gets around Las Vegas. It’s surprising how rough the track is, seeing as how they just repaved it a few years ago. Unlike the other Speedway Motorsports tracks (other than Bristol and Sonoma), it doesn’t have that Bruton Smith blueprint of a tri-oval that’s squared off. When Vegas was redesigned, they didn’t just go back to the drawing board. It was more like they improved the track without tearing it completely apart.”
Looking at Checkers: Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus like to pile up a couple wins early so they can test during the summer, thus the four wins in nine starts.
Pretty Solid Pick: Matt Kenseth always factors, regardless of who’s on the pit box.
Good Sleeper Pick: If not for a vicious wreck in ’08, Jeff Gordon would have six straight top-6 runs.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Juan Pablo Montoya. You’ve been warned.
Insider Tip: Hendrick and Roush typically jump out of the gate fast once the boys leave Daytona.
Classic Moments at PIR
NASCAR’s annual trip to Sin City takes a sinister turn in the 2008 UAW-Dodge 400.
Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth dominate the second half of the event, and it appears the two Roush drivers will settle the race between them. However, Kurt Busch’s hard crash — Tony Stewart had suffered the same violent impact earlier in the day — bunches up the field for a five-lap shootout led by Edwards.
On the restart, second place Dale Earnhardt Jr. spins the tires, allowing Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth to drive past. When Gordon washes up the track in Turn 2, they make contact, sending Gordon’s car hard into the inside wall.
Edwards goes on to the win, but is found to have a detached oil lid cover in post-race inspection. The win stands, but Edwards is docked 100 points for the infraction.