Column By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW – LAS VEGAS, NV – The NASCAR world focused its eyes on ‘Sin City’ this past weekend with the Gander Outdoor Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Monster Energy Cup Series all in competition. Kyle Busch’s sweep of the Trucks and Xfinity races set him up for the full weekend sweep, however Team Penske and Joey Logano played spoiler on Sunday afternoon taking home ‘The Captain’s’ second victory in as many weeks.
Friday night’s truck series event, though mostly dominated by Ky. Busch, was still a glimpse into the raw talent of some of the younger stars in the sport. Stewart Friesen’s stern defense of the lead in the race’s second stage impressed many as he used the air to his advantage. Fending off Ky. Busch for almost 20 consecutive laps, Friesen finished second in the stage and fourth at race’s end.
“We raced with the best of the best tonight, so that was cool.” Friesen said of the mid-race battle.
In Saturday’s Xfinity Series event, Ky. Busch again found himself in dominant equipment but spent most of the day yet having to fend off young talent trying to learn and prove themselves against one of the top tier drivers in the sport today. Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell gave Ky. Busch everything they had, however a late race mistake by Reddick cost them both the opportunity for a win as Ky. Busch motored on to the victory, setting Ky. Busch up for the weekend sweep at his home track.
Sunday did not bear the same results for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. What started as a day full of promise with a good handling car early, soon took a turn for the worse as the Las Vegas native got caught speeding on a different ‘strip.’ The pit road speeding penalty in stage one put Ky. Busch behind the eight ball early.
Driving from a lap down back to fourth by race’s end, Ky. Busch still managed a solid points day and a strong showing in front of his hometown crowd, however none of that has ever been close to satisfying for the brash driver who has built a reputation on and off the track with his intense personality.
“You’re wide open just trying to suck off any cars that you can that’s in front of you and get a draft. I was running 31 flats when I was chasing those leaders down. Once I got there I stalled out to thirty-one-forties because the wind was just so bad behind those guys that you couldn’t corner anymore.”Ky. Busch said of the final stages of the race.
Busch wasn’t afraid to admit his mistakes on the day. His pit road penalty severely hindered his day and left him scrambling to gain track position for most of the remainder of the event.
“I certainly screwed up our day coming to pit road there. We tried a different brake package this weekend trying to make up time in order to get a jump on the guys behind me coming to pit road there and I just ruined it for us. We had to come from the back and I think we passed the most cars today so I think we were the most impressive today but that doesn’t matter because we don’t have the trophy.”
That honor went to Joey Logano’s No. 22 Pennzoil Penske Ford. Over the final ten laps Brad Keselowski, Logano’s teammate, battled with the Connecticut native for the win. Searching for clean air in the corners Keselowski made one final attempt in turns three and four to grab his second win in a row. It was not to be as Keselowski’s car couldn’t muster the speed to make a run to the line. Logano’s first victory in defense of his first MENCS championship last November gives the Penske contingent two wins in the last two weeks. The new Ford Mustang and rules package for 2019 seem to favor the Penske team , as they have continued their momentum through the off season to take an early hold of the top of the points standings.
“That was more intense than I wanted it to be.” Logano said. “There’s been plenty of times here where we’ve led a lot of laps and by the stats it’s probably our best race track or close to it and we’ve never won and that’s the most important stat to have. Usually something happens the last run and Brad gets a little better for some reason. They make the last pit stop and make a good change and he becomes the fastest car and he wins. He’s done that here plenty of times. I looked in my mirror and said oh my gosh, this is happening again, I can’t believe it.”
Thankfully for Logano, the charge from Keselowski was only stopped by the lap counter hitting 267.