Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Monday, March 2, 2009

Kyle Busch takes Shelby 427, Kenseth denied history

That Matt Kenseth failed to make history Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and win his third straight race to open the 2009 Sprint Cup season isn't a surprise -- it's hard enough to win one Cup race, let alone three in a row.

No, the surprising part is he only lasted six laps, thanks to a balky engine that left everyone else at Roush Fenway Racing nervous. Kenseth finished 43rd, just the second dead-last finish of his Sprint Cup career.

Kyle Busch took the checkered flag in the Shelby 427, collecting his first Sprint Cup win of the season after moving to the rear following an engine change on Friday. Busch, who was still recorded as the pole winner, called the win the biggest of his life, since he and brother Kurt grew up in Las Vegas, watching LVMS being built as they went through high school and ran local late model races at The Bullring.

Hardly a fan favorite or media darling, Las Vegas was probably going to be the one place where a Busch win would be met with applause and adoration. Instead of bowing to a cascade of boos -- though there were plenty of those -- Busch did so to cheers before kissing the start-finish line and sharing hugs with his big brother and mother in Victory Lane.

The win doesn't necessarily make Busch a title contender, because he was already one heading into the season. Busch might very well have won the Daytona 500 had he not been caught up in The Big One (he led a race-high 88 laps) and he finished third at Auto Club Speedway. With a little luck, Busch could've started the season win-third-win.

Scary thought for everyone else. Even scarier? Jeff Gordon saying Busch has the most talent he's ever seen; that with the right car, Busch is uncatchable.

David Ragan and Carl Edwards also lost motors on Sunday, as Roush suffered the same engine bug that seemed to plague Hendrick Motorsports in Fontana (where Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both blew motors).

Martin blew another motor on Sunday, while Earnhardt had a relatively quiet day and picked up a much-needed 10th-place finish.

Side note: What's with all the speeding penalties on pit road? There were nine such infractions on Sunday, and 32 more during Saturday's Nationwide Series race. Maybe LVMS officials need to look at the configuration, because entering pit road off turn 4 under green is so difficult, a penalty for speeding coming onto pit road is almost a guarantee.

One thing I've noticed after three races this season: maybe Jimmie Johnson's run is coming to an end. Granted, we're early in the season, but the three-time defending champion has looked uncharacteristic so far. He dominated early in Fontana, only to have the handling fall away at the end (how often does that happen?).

On Sunday, Johnson again was the early favorite. But a pit road mistake and a late spin doomed Johnson to a 24th-place finish. When was the last time you saw Johnson, who sits 19th in points, make a mistake in the pits and just lose the car on the race track?

I'm almost hesitant to say this, since everyone counted out Johnson last year and he still won the title, but I think someone else is going to win the Sprint Cup championship this year. It might be Kyle Busch.

But don't count out Jeff Gordon. He has something to prove after last season's struggles, and he leads the points after finishing sixth on Sunday, despite a pit road mishap and a blown left front tire. Gordon still hasn't won yet (unless you count his Gatorade Duel race), but finishes of 13th, second and sixth have the four-time champion atop the heap.

Don't look for him to fall anytime soon.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Shelby 427
1. Kyle Busch*
2. Clint Bowyer*
3. Jeff Burton*
4. David Reutimann
5. Bobby Labonte
6. Jeff Gordon*
7. Greg Biffle*
8. Brian Vickers
9. Jamie McMurray
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
11. Kasey Kahne*
12. Kevin Harvick*
13. Joey Logano*
14. David Gilliland
15. Robby Gordon*
16. Sam Hornish Jr.
17. Carl Edwards*
18. David Stremme
19. Regan Smith
20. Marcos Ambrose
21. Scott Speed
22. Denny Hamlin
23. Kurt Busch*
24. Jimmie Johnson**
25. Ryan Newman
26. Tony Stewart
27. Michael Waltrip
28. John Andretti
29. Elliott Sadler
30. Casey Mears
31. Juan Pablo Montoya
32. Martin Truex Jr.
33. A.J. Allmendinger
34. Reed Sorenson
35. Paul Menard
36. Max Papis
37. Todd Bodine
38. Brad Keselowski
39. Aric Almirola
40. Mark Martin
41. Joe Nemechek
42. David Ragan
43. Matt Kenseth

*led a lap (5 bonus points)
**led the most laps (5 more bonus points)

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