Matt Kenseth had reason for a double celebration on Sunday as he took the checkered flag on his 41st birthday. Driving for Joe Gibbs racing, Kenseth managed to hold off Kasey Kahne to clinch his third win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – his previous Las Vegas victories being in 2003 and 2004 – bringing his career victories to a total of twenty-five. Following Kasey Kahne’s second place, the top ten for the 2013 Kobalt Tools 400, in order, was Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard.
The 400-mile race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was a defining event for the new Gen-6 car, as it was the first competitive race on an intermediate track. Most drivers appeared to be keen to see how the Gen-6 would perform on the 1.5-mile track. If any of the drivers had reservations about the new car’s performance, they kept it to themselves, with the notable exception of Denny Hamlin who was fined $25,000 by NASCAR for overstepping the boundaries in voicing his doubt in the Gen-6 after the race at Phoenix International Raceway, in which he came third after starting at the rear of the field. Hamlin is reportedly considering appealing the penalty.
Finishing if 4th place, Kyle Busch proved that it is definitely possible to pass in the Gen-6 as he twice moved his way up through the field, taking the lead after a restart with 102 laps to go. Kahne noted in a post-race interview that his car performed well throughout the race, saying that he drove hard on every single lap and commenting that it was a lot of fun.
Several drivers did report problems with their cars early on in the race, with Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart both being effected in opening laps. Bowyer finished 27th with Stewart managing an 11th place finish. Having earned the privilege of pole position at Daytona two weeks ago, Danica Patrick appeared to have problems with her car from the beginning of the race and finished 33rd.
Kicking off the season in style, the Daytona 500 carries the largest purse of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events and is widely considered to be the season’s most prestigious race. Covering a distance of 500 miles, it is one of the four restrictor plate races on the Sprint Cup Series calendar and is a test of driver skill and endurance. Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag on Sunday, notching up his second Daytona 500 victory. Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in at second place, followed by Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman in third, fourth and fifth places respectively. After earning pole position for the race, Danica Patrick crossed the finish line in eighth place.
Restrictor plates are used at superspeedways (Talladega and Daytona) to slow cars down and have been the subject of much controversy as some drivers have expressed concern that the use of restrictor plates results in the field bunching up and thereby increasing the risk level of racing as top drivers try to pull away from the crowd. Fortunately, there were no major incidents at this year’s Daytona 500, maybe because drivers are well aware of the increased risk and remained huddled together for the first 180 laps. When Johnson pulled to the front, he clearly intended to stay there, and it was a close race between Johnson and Earnhardt. While Earnhardt made every effort to claim his second first place, with a little more than a mile to go, Earnhardt and third place winner Martin went low on the track. Johnson maneuvered his way to the front and took first place, closely followed by Earnhardt and veteran NASCAR driver Martin.
As the first woman to win pole position at the Daytona 500, Danica Patrick led three times in the race, finishing eighth and making NASCAR history, yet again, as the highest finish for a female driver at this exciting annual event. In a post-race interview Patrick noted that it was a “solid day” and was clearly pleased to have stayed in the top 10 through the race.