In the two practice sessions on Saturday in preparation for the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, Joe Gibbs Racing looked to be the team to beat. In each of the two one-hour sessions, it was a JGR Toyota who set down a fast lap in the opening minutes that would not be beat.
Over the span of the two hours there were three separate incidents that would send two teams to backup cars.
Carl Edwards paced the opening hour of practice at 187.906 mph. After qualifying fifth on Friday, the driver of the No. 19 car is looking to return to Victory Lane in Southern California for the first time since 2008.
He was just ahead of another Toyota, Martin Truex, Jr. with Furniture Row Racing. The No. 78 team welcomed back crew chief, Cole Pearn, following his one-race suspension last week in Phoenix. He put down a lap at 187.632 mph.
Third quick was Ryan Newman at 186.640 mph, more than two-tenths of a second off the fast time. Kyle Busch was fourth and pole-sitter Austin Dillon rounded out the top five at 186.587 mph.
Just outside of the top five was Paul Menard in sixth, making all three Richard Childress Racing cars inside of the top six. The top rookie was Brian Scott in seventh. Two winners so far this season were mired down below 20th, Denny Hamlin 23rd and defending winner Brad Keselowski was just 24th fastest in the morning session.
The first incident of the day came when Aric Almirola slid into the wall off Turn 2, causing significant cosmetic damage. The team would repair the car and return to the track in the second session. The No. 43 car was 19th fastest.
The latter incident came when Kurt Busch pounded the wall right where Almirola did 20 minutes prior. The No. 41 car was not as lucky as the Stewart-Haas Racing team pulled out the backup car, something that Busch appreciated because he was not happy with his primary car on Saturday morning.
In the first two minutes of Happy Hour, Matt Kenseth recorded a lap at 185.419 mph. This practice was in race condition as the Sprint Cup race on Sunday will start at the time that this practice ended.
After being quickest in the first practice, Edwards was second fast, .015 seconds behind his JGR teammate. The No. 19 car was also one of the best on the long runs as were all of the Toyota teams. Toyota is looking for its third win in the last four races at the Auto Club Speedway, which is the backyard of TRD's headquarters.
A trio of Fords filled the next three speeds, led by rookie Ryan Blaney at 185.161 mph. Joey Logano was fourth quickest and Almirola rounded out the top five after getting his car back on track following the incident in the opening session.
Dillon finished the session the lowest he's been all week in sixth, just under a tenth of a second behind Kenseth. Keselowski made improvements to his car and finish Happy Hour 12th.
While the one-lap speed didn't show it, Kevin Harvick had the fastest car on the long run. He was only 27th on the speed chart, but had very little fall off in his tires compared to other teams. The California native is a two-time winner at his home track, the last win coming in 2011 with RCR.
The biggest incident of the day came 32 minutes into final practice when Kyle Larson got loose getting into Turn 4, by the time he could correct it Greg Biffle drilled him in the rear and the tandem spun to the infield. The No. 16 car was on fresh tires, going approximately 20 mph faster than the No. 42 car at the time.
Larson would go to a backup car with a ton of cosmetic damage to the right rear of the car, while it looks like Biffle will remain in his primary car on Sunday. Before the incident the No. 42 team had the 26th fastest time, while the No. 16 team had the 15th fastest lap.
The green flag will drop at 3:30 p.m. Sunday to start the Auto Club 400 where another driver will look to clinch their birth into the Chase.
The Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200 was no match for Las Vegas, Nev. native Kyle Busch as he and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates continued their hot streak. The driver of the No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota led 175 of 200 laps to capture his 79th NASCAR Xfinity Series win. He now has three straight victories in the series.
In a Toyota post-race press release, Busch explained that he doesn't really know why he's been successful on the Arizona mile. "It's just a knack for this place," he said. "We've been off a little bit on the Cup side for years but here we seem to be a lot better. Last year, we improved a lot. I can't say enough about Chris Gayle (crew chief) and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. We didn't sit on the pole but our teammates did."
Busch mentioned that his teammates did indeed give him a run for his money. "They were obviously really fast and made me run hard all day long," he said. "There was nothing left in this car. Instead of having to go back to the shop and freshen her a little bit, they're going to have to rebuild."
Busch is known for whipping the entire Xfinity field week after week but he believes it helps him on Sundays. "It's fun to come here and participate," said Busch. I learn a lot and I do that for a reason in order to try and make myself better on Sundays and hopefully it helps."
Pole-sitter Erik Jones took home a second-place finish aboard his No. 20 Reser's Fine Foods Toyota. He now has three top-10 finishes so far this season. Jones managed to lead five laps over 200 miles throughout the afternoon. Jones explained, also in the Toyota press release, how he came up short. "I thought we were just as good as them (No. 18 team) if not better and started to work underneath him (Busch)," Jones explained. "Then with the pit stop, we lost some ground coming off pit road and after that I was too tight and he started to run away. Just lost too much ground but overall a good day for the Reser's Camry."
After Phoenix, Daniel Suarez is still the Series points leader by eight points over Elliott Sadler. The driver of the No. 19 Juniper Networks Toyota earned his second top10 finish in four races with today's third place finish. Like Jones, Suarez explained his day. "In the second part of the race, maybe I got stuck a little bit in traffic and I was trying to be over-agressive to make my way back to the front," said Suarez. "After that, the car was al little bit too tight. I just need to keep working and minimizing my mistakes and try again next week."
Next week, the Xfinity Series heads to Auto Club Speedway. Race coverage begins at 12:30 PM PT (track time), 3:30 PM ET on FS1, MRN and Sirius XM Channel 90.
Here are the final results:
- Kyle Busch
- Erik Jones
- Daniel Suarez
- Justin Allgaier
- Chase Elliott
- Ty Dillon
- Austin Dillon
- Elliott Sadler
- Brad Keselowski
- Brennan Poole
Kyle Busch wins the pole for the Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. He wins the pole with a speed of 138.287 mph. This would be Busch’s first pole of the 2016 season after the pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway was taken away. With the pole being taken away at Atlanta, Kyle was more hesitant about celebrating in post-qualifying interviews, waiting for the car to go through the “room of doom”.
Joe Gibbs Racing continues to show dominance in qualifying. All four Joe Gibbs Racing teams made the final round of qualifying. Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin will start in the next two positions.
In his media availability, Carl Edwards mentioned, “The race is so different from qualifying. After about eight laps long in final practice, we will know who is fast.”
Kyle Busch had an itch of confidence coming into qualifying today. “I wasn’t going out there strutting my stuff like I was going to sit on the pole. I was trying to get a good lap in, get a good effort in, and get a good pit selection. It all transpired into being a really good day though.”
Qualifying went south for Hendrick Motorsports as two of their teams will be switching to backup cars after qualifying. Kasey Kahne posted a blazing lap in the first round of qualifying, but as he was heading back to pit road, the engine was engulfed in smoke. Kahne told Motor Racing Network’s Kim Coon, “Something happened after I shut it off. Something inside the engine. We will have to change engines,” moments after the accident occurred. Jimmie Johnson hit the wall in turn one during the final round of qualifying. He will also go to a backup car. He is not sure what happened going into the first turn. “Not so sure. Definitely a hard hit. We have a very fast racecar, I know my team will bring me a fast race car, at least we have tomorrow to work on it.”
Many notable drivers did not make the final round of qualifying. In the first round, Bowyer (35), Dale Jr. (26), Casey Mears (25), and Danica Patrick (36) failed to make the top 24 to enter the second round. In the second round, Chase Elliott (17), Kevin Harvick (18), and Brad Keselowski (19) failed to make it into the final round
A strong performance was shown from Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sebates in qualifying. Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray made it into the final round of qualifying. Both drivers will be starting inside the top 12 on Sunday.
On-track activities resume for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first of two practices on Fox Sports 1 at 10:30 am.
1. Kyle Busch
3. Denny Hamlin
4. Kurt Busch
5. Jimmie Johnson
6. Matt Kenseth
7. Kyle Larson
8. Martin Truex Jr.
9. Joey Logano
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
11. Jamie McMurray
12. Ryan Blaney
13. Greg Biffle
14. Aric Almirola
15. Austin Dillon
16. Paul Menard
17. Chase Elliott
18. Kevin Harvick
19. Brad Keselowski
20. Ryan Newman
21. Trevor Bayne
22. AJ Allmendinger
23. Matt DiBenedetto
24. Kasey Kahne
25. Casey Mears
26. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
27. Landon Cassill
28. Ty Dillon
29. David Ragan
30. Brian Scott
31. Regan Smith
32. Chris Buescher
33. Michael McDowell
34. Cole Whitt
35. Clint Bowyer
36. Danica Patrick
37. Josh Wise
38. Michael Annett
39. Joey Gase
In what was one of the weirdest ranges of weather sequences in NASCAR history, Brad Keselowski left the field in the dust on his way to Victory Lane, picking up his first win of the season and 18th of his career.
With five laps to go in the Kobalt 400 on Sunday, Brad Keselowski passed Kyle Busch in what was the eventual race winning pass. This is his second triumph in Las Vegas in the last three years.
The No. 2 car was running third throughout the last stint of the race, but with roughly 10 laps to go was closing in on the lead and after passing his teammate Joey Logano then able to chase down Busch.
“This rules package, I love it,” Keselowski said. “You can be really fast at the start of the run or really fast at the end of the run and we had awesome speed at the end of every run. It seemed like we could just never put it all together with the way the cautions kept falling. At the end we got that big long run and couldn’t get going for the first few laps.”
Keselowski’s victory didn’t come without adversity. He was caught speeding on pit road with 90 laps to go. But after a caution with 53 laps to go, the No. 2 team stayed out when others decided to pit. He was able to go the distance on fuel and solidify himself into the 2016 edition of the Chase.
Logano came home second after a last lap pass on Busch. Leading 75 laps, the No. 22 team picked up its first top-five finish of the young season. However, he insisted that again, it is disappointing finishing second after so many second-place finishes in Daytona.
Atlanta winner, Jimmie Johnson came home third after also passing Busch on the final lap. The No. 48 car was out front for 76 circuits, the most of all drivers.
Dominating the middle potion of the race was what the six-time champion did. But after getting off-sequence with the rest of the field he needed to overcome other teams that took two tires when he took four.
The aforementioned Busch finished fourth at his home racetrack. On a restart with 44 laps to go the No. 18 car restarted sixth and by Turn 3 of that lap had made his way to the lead for the first time on the afternoon.
He led the remainder of the race until five laps to go when Keselowski passed him. He believed that it was a vibration that kept him out of the winner circle.
“Huge vibration,” Busch said as to why he lost the race. “I had a vibration when we put the rights on and it just kept getting worse and worse and worse. At the end I didn’t know if a tire was coming apart or what the deal was. I was giving it everything I had.”
Austin Dillon bounced back from a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 147 to a top-five finish. At one point of the race the No. 3 car was two laps down, after running in the top 10 all race long. On the same caution that Keselowski and Logano stayed out, so did Dillon for track position. This is his third career top-five finish.
Ryan Blaney was the highest finishing rookie on Sunday, finishing in sixth. Spending much of the day inside of the top 10, he needed to miss a wreck late in the race to come back to sixth.
That wreck with 43 laps to go came when one of the pre-race favorites Matt Kenseth slid up the track after getting loose where Chase Elliott rear-ended the No. 20 machine. Also caught up in the wreck were Carl Edwards and pole-sitter Kurt Busch.
Kenseth’s bad luck to start the season continued while getting caught up in that incident. After losing the Daytona 500 on the final lap, a pit road penalty in Atlanta, he was desperate for a good finish in Sin City. While leading nine laps, a 37th-place effort doesn’t help his causes.
The pole-sitter came back to finish in ninth. Outside of the No. 18 team, Joe Gibbs Racing struggled with Edwards in 18th the second-highest finisher out of that Toyota camp, Denny Hamlin was just behind in 19th.
Kevin Harvick finished seventh and he extended his consecutive top 10 streak to start the season. He is one of two drivers to finish in the top 10 in all three races, the other being 2015 champion Busch.
Next Sunday the Cup Series heads to Phoenix in the second of three west coast races. Harvick is the defending winner of the spring race and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the fall event in the desert.
The last few laps proved to be a nailbiter for Busch. "We were worried about fuel, but more so, we were worried about (Daniel) Suarez," he said in the Toyota post-race press release. "He was on me there at the end, he was really, really fast. He was faster than us when he got a clean track. Everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing prepares some really fast Camrys and this one was the best.”
Suarez took over the NASCAR Xfinity points lead with his second-place run in the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota. Erik Jones suffered an early pit road penalty but he rebounded back to a third-place finish in the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota.
Suarez did his best to run down Busch but in the end, he came up short. "It took me too much time to figure out how to be fast with a loose race car in traffic," Suarez said in a FS1 post-race interview. "I'm super proud of Joe Gibbs Racing. The car was one of the fastest all day long."
There was not enough time for Justin Marks to make a split-second decision when he was involved in an incident with Cody Ware and Darrell Wallace Jr. that brought out a red flag at lap 137. " I'm fine. When a car spins out and stays up at the wall like that it makes everybody's decision pretty easy but when that car starts sliding down the race track off the wall, we have to make a decision pretty quick," Marks said in a PRN interview after the wreck. "It was a matter of luck. The 16 and 98 barely got through as one went high and one went low. Darrell went low and got into it and I went high and got into it."
Wallace Jr. suffered heavy damage when he clipped the No. 25 Chevrolet of Marks. “It's just unfortunate", he said in a post-crash Ford release. "We were making gains on our Ford Mustang all day and getting it better and better. By the time I slowed down, it just jumped out from under me. Just unfortunate circumstances."
Next week, the Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway. The race is scheduled to start at 12:30 PM MT (track time), 2:30 PM ET on FOX, MRN and Sirius XM Channel 90.
1. Kyle Busch
2. Daniel Suarez
3. Erik Jones
4. Chase Elliott
5. Austin Dillon
6. Brandon Jones
7. Ty Dillon
8. Elliott Sadler
9. Justin Allgaier
10. Brendan Gaughan