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Here are the best post-race quotes from NASCAR's Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday:
"Anybody that was out there today knew that passing was nearly impossible. It was so hard. I think it just has a lot to do with the speeds that we're running and as hard as the tires are. We're just so dependent on the air. When someone is up front, it takes (the air) away, and we can't do anything." – Denny Hamlin, after his seventh-place finish
"I've been blowing tires, mowing grass, knocking walls down and setting balls of fire down the backstretch, and Kurt has been doing loop-dee-loos through Turn 4 today. We're having problems in our hometown." – Kyle Busch, who blew a motor and finished 38th
"Every time you're in traffic, you suck. Every time you're in clean air, you look like a hero. That's normal." – Third-place finisher Juan Pablo Montoya
"This is the best start to a season I've ever had." – Race winner Carl Edwards, who has had a strong car at all three races this year.
"Second sucks." – Tony Stewart, who finished second
"For a while we had momentum going our way, and we worked our way to a decent finish – and then had a little trouble late." – Jimmie Johnson, who had appeared to rally from a terrible start but faded to 16th place.
"Failure at this point is completely unacceptable, and I've got to put it all out on the line and do everything I can to make this work. If I don't work with him, I got nowhere else to go. I got no other options, really, other than to just race myself into oblivion with my own team." – Dale Earnhardt Jr., relieved that his top-10 finish is a sign that his relationship with new crew chief Steve Letarte is working
There's a tie atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings after Las Vegas, with race runnerup Tony Stewart tied with Vegas native Kurt Busch, who was formerly second.
Ex-points-leader Kyle Busch plummeted a whopping 13 spots to 14th in the standings, while Jeff Gordon fell 14 spots to 19th.
The biggest gainer was Marcos Ambrose – who moved up 10 spots to 17th – and both Martin Truex Jr. and Carl Edwards jumped nine spots apiece.
Here are the updated series point standings following Las Vegas:
You already know the results from Sunday's NASCAR race in Las Vegas. But let's look at how the teams with three or more cars fared as an organization:
Richard Childress Racing
RCR had an average finish of 16.25, which is unacceptable for the organization's high standards and certainly cause for concern at the first 1.5-mile track of the season.
Everyone in the organization had been optimistic the team could continue its success from last year, when it put all three cars in the Chase and saw driver Kevin Harvick contend for the title.
But Paul Menard – Paul Menard! – was the best RCR car for most of the day (he finished 12th), Harvick struggled after a speeding penalty before finishing 17th and Clint Bowyer (15th) and Jeff Burton (21st) were never factors.
RCR fans can only hope this was a fluke race and not a sign of things to come.
Jeff Gordon's 36th-place finish after a wreck dragged the team's average finish down to 19.5, making things look worse than they were. But in some ways, the day still wasn't pretty.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s eighth-place finish was the top result for the team, as Jimmie Johnson (16th) and Mark Martin (18th) turned in disappointing days.
Should Hendrick be worried? Not likely, since it's still the powerhouse team until someone proves otherwise. But it was still an unusual day.
Roush Fenway Racing
Things continue to look up for Roush Fenway, even despite an average finish of 15.5. Carl Edwards won the race and teammates Greg Biffle (28th) and Matt Kenseth (11th) ran much stronger than their finishes showed.
Kenseth had a fast car all weekend, but was trapped one lap down after he was forced to pit with a flat tire from an early incident. He eventually returned to the lead lap and rallied for his finish.
Biffle led 11 laps early and looked strong, but had unusual fueling problems and ended up mid-pack. Roush's other car, David Ragan, was 22nd.
Still, team owner Jack Roush said it was the best his Fords have ever run, and everyone on the team is wildly optimistic about the season.
Joe Gibbs Racing
Uh-oh. Engine troubles at JGR are causing worry early in the season and threatening to derail the team's championship hopes.
After Denny Hamlin was forced to change a motor before the race, Kyle Busch blew his engine during the event and finished 38th. The JGR teams have had problems in each race so far.
Hamlin finished seventh, but Joey Logano was 23rd – leaving the team with an ugly average finish of 22.7.
Carl Edwards got into the Las Vegas spirit after his race win on Sunday, channeling the persona of a Vegas lounge comedian.
Edwards cracked several jokes in his post-race media session that caused the room to erupt in laughter. At the risk of potential you-had-to-be-there moments, here are some of Edwards' funnier quotes:
• Asked the difference between today's win and his Las Vegas victory in 2008, Edwards cracked, "I think we're making it through tech, aren't we?" (If you recall, Edwards was busted for cheating after that win)
• "Buenos dias, gracias, mi coche es rapido and mucho dinero today." – Edwards, after being asked to make a comment to NASCAR's Spanish-speaking fans. Loosely translated, Edwards said Good morning, thanks, my car is fast and lots of money today.
• Edwards jumped off the Stratosphere last week, a Vegas landmark, as part of a promotion for the Vegas race. Edwards talked about his experience numerous times, but apparently team owner Jack Roush hadn't heard about it.
"What did you do?" Roush asked Edwards.
"I jumped off the Stratosphere," Edwards said with a laugh. "You may be the only person in all of Las Vegas that doesn't know I jumped off the Stratosphere. It's a tall building downtown."
Roush: "Were you in a balloon?"
Edwards: "No, I was tied to a cable. You can see Jack is really concerned about me."
Added Edwards: "I don't think there were going to be any minor injuries if something went wrong with this one."
Related: Las Vegas race recap, full results
As expected, Tony Stewart was one unhappy camper after his awesome car at Las Vegas resulted in only a second-place finish – despite "Smoke" leading a race-high 163 laps.
"Second sucks," Stewart said, calling his car "the fastest thing on the planet" and "the baddest thing on the West Coast today."
Later, he couldn't stop noting that he and his Stewart-Haas Racing team "gave it away" – especially painful since Las Vegas Motor Speedway is one of two tracks where he had never won in his Sprint Cup career (the other being Darlington).
"It just kills me to throw a race away like that, especially at a place we haven't won at yet," he said. "This was a big deal today, and when you lead that many laps and have a car that's that fast and you lose it ... it does not sit good right now."
A pit-road miscue by Stewart's crew – he left his pit box with equipment and was assessed a penalty – set the tone for his day being ruined. Crew chief Darian Grubb got Stewart's track position back with a two-tire pit stop, which was successful.
But everyone else noticed, and Stewart was burned when Edwards took two tires himself on the final pit stop of the day.
"Darian made a good call getting us the track position back, but it also showed everybody else that they could do it, too," Stewart said. "We couldn't run two-and-a-half runs on a set of left-side tires. Just shot ourselves in the foot two weeks in a row now."
Stewart might be able to take some solace in the fact he's tied for the Sprint Cup Series points lead with Kurt Busch. But knowing him, probably not.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. sprung from his car, greeted crew chief Steve Letarte and a couple crew members with handshakes and pats on the back, then approached a pair of reporters.
"How about that!?" he said, seeming like he was ready to do a cartwheel. "We'll see if we can keep it going."
Earnhardt Jr. could hardly contain his happiness after an eighth-place finish at Las Vegas, which marked his second consecutive top-10. It was Earnhardt Jr.'s first back-to-back top-10 finishes since July, and it moved him to 10th in the Sprint Cup point standings.
Clearly, Earnhardt Jr.'s new pairing with crew chief Steve Letarte is starting to pay off.
"It feels like it's working – and it's obvious that it is working, when you really look at it," he said. "I was sitting there in the middle of the race saying, 'You know, this really ain't a fluke. This is how it's supposed to go and how it should go – and how it went in the past when things were good.'
"Hopefully, we can do this every week. Hopefully we're consistent like this."
Earnhardt Jr. actually had a shot at a top-five, but a late pit call to take four tires left him in a bit of traffic he couldn't overcome. Still, he was hardly upset with the decision and was effusive in his praise for Letarte.
"We made some great adjustments," he said. "I just kept describing what I was feeling and what I needed, and Steve was really hitting right on it about every time. I'm happy.
"Fun team. Great group of guys. I'm proud to be a part of it and hope I can keep doing well and keep working well."
The performance was a far cry from Friday's struggles in qualifying, which left Earnhardt Jr. visibly frustrated. But he huddled with Letarte inside the team's hauler until the garage closed that night, then spent a significant portion of last evening consulting further on the car with Letarte and the team's engineers.
"It's fun in this hauler, man," Earnhardt Jr. said. "When you're running good, everything's easier to do. I really enjoy brainstorming with Steve. I think it makes me smarter, working with him. I become better at helping him.
"It's obvious when a driver puts all that time in that there's gains to be made and it'll be a plus. But he's just fun to brainstorm with and work with, and I just want to do good."
Earnhardt Jr. said his run was the first time in a long time in which he felt he could "beat the guys I was around." It boosted his confidence – an oft-discussed subject for Earnhardt Jr. – and he admitted thinking that his relationship with Letarte was somewhat of a last stand.
"Failure at this point is completely unacceptable," he said. "I've got to put it all out on the line to make this work, because if it don't work with him, I've got nowhere else to go. I've got no other options, really – other than to race myself into oblivion with my own team and Tony Jr. and those guys.
"I want this to work. I want to race Cup. I want to be in the COT the rest of my career, and I want to be successful."
Earnhardt Jr. said he can finally see the days when he gets frustrated with running just inside the top 15 again – which means he'll have expectations and confidence about being in the top five every week.
But until then – and until he wins – it's not time to get carried away.
"We ran eighth; last week we ran 10th," he said. "(We've got) major networks wanting us to sit down and talk about it. There ain't nothin' to talk about until we start winning. But we're getting there."
He seemed to realize that wasn't doing his day justice, so he leaned in and offered one final thought.
"This here is a good deal, though," he said with a wink.
Tony Stewart led the Kobalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas late and led more laps than any other driver, but late pit strategy helped Carl Edwards surge ahead for his first win of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Edwards' two-tire pit call on the final stop helped him beat Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose and Ryan Newman, who rounded out the top five. Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers completed the top 10.
Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne rolled in 20th, while last week’s winner, Jeff Gordon, crashed and finished 36th. Kyle Busch dealt with a flat tire and engine trouble, winding up a disappointing 38th. Matt Kenseth, the pole-sitter, nearly finished in the top 10, but came up just short.
For the win, Edwards earns 47 total points toward the Sprint Cup championship, but Kurt Busch and Stewart are tied atop the standings. This is Edwards' second win at the track and his third overall victory in his last five races.
Here are the full results from Las Vegas:
For much more coverage of the Kobalt Tools 400, stay tuned to SB Nation’s NASCAR hub.
It's race day for the third event of the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season, and we're expecting a beautiful day in Las Vegas. The green flag is scheduled for 3:16 p.m. Eastern and the race will be televised on Fox.
When you're watching from home today, make sure you chat with us right here on SBNation.com. You can simply type your comments in the section below and click the auto-refresh button to see comments from other fans as they get posted.
You can start by telling us your prediction for today. Ours is Matt Kenseth, because of his history at the track, record pole speed and fast practice times.
Who will win today? Will a Busch brother claim the title in their hometown of Las Vegas? Will Jeff Gordon make it two in a row? Will Jimmie Johnson defend his Vegas race win from last year?
We'll all find out together. Start your chatting!
Good morning from Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the Kobalt Tools 400 is a few hours away. Here's a quick viewer's guide if you're planning on watching the NASCAR race today.
First of all, the race is scheduled to begin at 3:16 p.m. Eastern time. So if you want to avoid all the pre-race show stuff and just tune in for the race, the expected green-flag time is 3:16 (which is 12:16 p.m. local time).
The race will be televised on FOX, as are all Sprint Cup Series races through May. Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials announced a complete sellout on Saturday afternoon, which marks the 10th straight season the 1.5-mile venue has sold out.
Here are some other quick facts about the race:
– National anthem: Kristen Hertzenberg, who stars in the Vegas version of Phantom of the Opera
– Grand marshal: Gray Abercrombie, from race sponsor Lowe's (which owns Kobalt Tools)
– Honorary starter: Dennis Knowles, from race sponsor Lowe's (which owns Kobalt Tools)
– Last year's winner: Jimmie Johnson
– Pole-sitter: Matt Kenseth (188.884 mph, track record)
– Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps around the 1.5-mile track)
And here's the starting lineup for the race:
Mark Martin's fuel mileage and Brad Keselowski's ill-timed flat tire on the last lap allowed Martin – NASCAR's all-time leader in Nationwide Series wins – to add another to his tally.
Martin won the Nationwide race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon, with Justin Allgaier second and Keselowski third.
Danica Patrick was fourth, which marked the highest finish for a woman in NASCAR history.
Martin now has 49 career Nationwide victories – five ahead of Kyle Busch, who dominated early but crashed after his daring move took him into the grass.
Reed Sorenson remained the series points leader, by two over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and five over Jason Leffler.
Here are the full results for the Sam's Town 300:
Danica Patrick became the highest-finishing female in NASCAR history with a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas today – and I became officially wrong about her.
I've taken shots at Danica since her entrance into NASCAR for jumping into a top series too early without enough experience – and seeming to not be committed enough in the process. And when she started her career off by not even coming close to even her own expectations, I was sure my feelings were justified.
Since even IndyCar champions Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. couldn't succeed in NASCAR, I figured all along that Danica would be an even bigger flop.
As it turns out, that's not true. Danica is doing a fine job learning at her own pace – and consistently getting better.
It's not even because of today's fourth-place finish at Las Vegas, either. The finish itself – which was going to be a solid top-10 until fuel mileage turned it into a top-five – was immaterial.
The way she raced and drove overall, staying clean while making smart decisions on the track and listening to the constant guidance of spotter T.J. Majors, was admirable. It was by far her best performance, and she looked like a completely different driver than she was at Las Vegas a year ago.
It had started to become clear toward the end of last season that I'd eventually have to eat crow on many of the harsh things I said about Danica; I just didn't expect this day would come so soon.
I doubt she ever read any of my critical blogs, but she probably sensed from my questions that I was a skeptic. To her credit, she was always professional and never made sarcastic remarks or refused to give me an answer.
Danica has proven it's possible to come into a series without any experience and slowly get better. Previously, I thought if a driver was ever going to be any good, they'd have to show flashes of brilliance immediately – which she obviously didn't.
Lesson learned. Now, based on the way she's adapted to stock-car racing, I think Danica can get consistent top-10s by the end of the season. If she commits herself to NASCAR full-time, she might even win a race at some point.
Yep, I said it.
Today's finish was a major milestone for Danica, and it shouldn't go without proper recognition. No female in the history of NASCAR has finished higher than she has – a woman named Sara Christian recorded a fifth-place finish in 1949, which was the second year NASCAR existed.
Danica was clearly in a celebratory mood afterward – not because she made history for a female, but because she had proved she belonged in NASCAR as a racer.
She hugged crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and every crew member in sight. She took a few steps out onto pit road and emphatically waved at the remaining fans in the stands, who cheered and waved back.
"I was hoping for a top-10, secretly," she said. "I didn't want to say that to the media, because then you'd expect me to finish in the top-10."
Danica said she didn't want to "create any sort of false expectation" going forward – especially for Bristol next week – but did allow that she's "making some real progress."
She was visibly thrilled and excited about her performance, her spirits buoyed. And why not? It was a good day.
I asked her how happy she was on a scale of one-to-10.
"Oh, gosh," she said with a laugh. "Today? Right now? I'm a 9."
So apparently, there's still room for improvement.
Matt Kenseth is looking like the man to beat in Las Vegas.
The driver who set the Las Vegas Motor Speedway track record during Friday's qualifying session continued his hot streak today in the Sprint Cup Series' 75-minute final practice, putting up a lap of 184.112 mph to pace the field.
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch was second at 183.717 mph, followed by Ryan Newman and Kenseth's Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle.
Michael Waltrip Racing's David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr. were next, followed by Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin.
Other notable drivers included Vegas native Kurt Busch (13th), last year's Vegas winner Jimmie Johnson (15th), last week's winner Jeff Gordon (21st), Kevin Harvick (27th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (29th).
Bill Elliott spun out late in the session, but didn't hit anything.
The Kobalt Tools 400 is scheduled to begin shortly after 3 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday.
Robby Gordon has been placed on immediate probation for an unspecified period after a post-qualifying incident in the Sprint Cup Series garage Friday evening at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR wouldn't specifically say what Gordon did, but described its probation move as an "emergency action."
"His actions were brought to our attention early last evening," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "We met this morning and reviewed the situation, and have reacted accordingly. We will continue to look at this situation involving Robby Gordon."
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton described the incident as a "heated discussion" but wouldn't confirm it was a physical confrontation because he didn't personally witness it, nor did any NASCAR officials.
"You'll have to find somebody that actually saw it," Pemberton said.
The incident was brought to NASCAR's attention by Conway, Pemberton said. Conway will not be penalized.
Gordon and Conway didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. The two have had recent battles in the legal system over money.
A user named "Allen" on TheHotLap.com posted last night that he "got to see Robby Gordon and Kevin Conway get in a fight in the garage today."
Asked what happened by fellow users, Allen wrote: "Not sure but Robby had him by the shirt shaking him then put him to the ground and hit him once then slapped. Was short but I'm not sure if it means anything yet."
A frustrated Dale Earnhardt Jr. said his No. 88 team fell behind in practice and never recovered, which ultimately resulted in a disappointing 33rd-place starting position for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"I wasn't prepared as a driver, and we could probably do a little bit more on speed with the car," Earnhardt Jr. said, visibly displeased. "Those two things together cost us a little bit of time today."
Earnhardt Jr.'s comment about lack of preparation was in regard to big bumps on the track in Turns 1 and 2. Many drivers said today that the bottom lane of those turns is now quite bumpy, because the earth has settled around the vehicle tunnel located underneath.
In practice, Earnhardt Jr. said he didn't have a chance to work on the top of the track – where it figured to be less bumpy. So when he drove up there in qualifying, he was doing so for the first time. And it didn't work out.
He hoped crew chief Steve Letarte and the team would work to help make the car better overnight.
"Practice tomorrow is really, really short, so it's going to be imperative that we start in the ballpark," Earnhardt Jr. said. "There's not a lot of time (during practice) to do any major changes.
"I feel like we can run good here, I'm just real frustrated I didn't do better in qualifying, frustrated at our lack of speed today – we've been off a couple tenths. But we'll work hard tomorrow."
Earnhardt Jr. had a poor qualifying lap last week at Phoenix, but scored a top-10 finish in the race itself. He hopes the trend continues at Las Vegas, but said he "hated" having to constantly explain away a bad practice or qualifying lap.
"I thought we would unload faster, and I thought we would be better in qualifying trim," he said. "We just didn't put it together today. We'll just work on it and try to do better tomorrow."
Matt Kenseth isn't known as being a good qualifier. But when he has power under his hood like the Fords do this year, it doesn't matter.
Kenseth won the pole for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading a strong contingent of Ford-powered cars in the starting lineup.
"We get one about every three years," Kenseth joked. "This was the most nervous I'd been for qualifying in probably five years, because I knew we had a shot at the pole. I was just praying I wouldn't be the weak link and mess it up like last week."
It was Kenseth's fifth career Sprint Cup pole.
Fords took the top four spots, with Kenseth's track record time (188.884 mph) out-pacing Marcos Ambrose (188.166), Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle.
"The first two rows are Fords, and that's a testament to how hard the guys have worked at the shop," Edwards said. "We wanted to see how we would run at this first 1.5-mile track as a test for the season, and so far, it looks really good."
Hometown favorite Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano were next, followed by AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Mark Martin – who rounded out the top 10.
Brian Keselowski failed to qualify for his second straight race after making the Daytona 500.
Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's race:
Carl Edwards said he and Kyle Busch "will be fine" after the two drivers spoke about last week's incident at Phoenix, which wrecked Edwards' car.
Busch had apologized profusely after the accident – including during the race – but Edwards wasn't in a forgiving mood. He at first believed Busch acted intentionally, and remained angry until Busch explained his side of the story in Las Vegas.
During the race, fans were presented with a confusing picture because Edwards gave a television interview after the wreck in which he said he wasn't upset with Busch, but then showed differently with his on-track actions.
So what was Edwards really thinking?
"I wasn't sure what had happened, and the longer I thought about it, the more mad I got," Edwards said. "The farther the day went on, I got to think more about how fast the race car was and I was just mad in general. Then once I saw how well he was running, it made me a little madder."
Edwards said he tried to keep his emotions in check and focus on finishing the race, but found it hard to be patient and wait to hear Busch's explanation.
"I was trying my hardest to give him the benefit of the doubt," Edwards said. "I don't ever want to be that guy that just gets mad and angry and points fingers. I don't want to be the guy who gets out of the car angry as hell at the wrong guy. I try to do my best to figure out what happened first.
"I was upset (at the time of the TV interview) and I hadn't decided whether or not to be upset at him. I didn't know what to do."
Busch tried to call Edwards throughout the week, but was unable to reach the Roush Fenway Racing driver because he had Edwards' old phone number. The two finally spoke in person.
"I give him a lot of credit for coming over and talking to me and I think we will be fine," Edwards said.
But that doesn't mean Edwards is finished feeling down about what happened to his promising day at Phoenix.
"I don't know if I have completely gotten over it yet," he said. "It was hugely disappointing."
AJ Allmendinger hasn't had much luck at Las Vegas – at least at the racetrack. While we have no idea how Allmendinger does in the casinos, the stats show 'Dinger has plenty of room for improvement at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
After failing to qualify for the Vegas race in each of his first two seasons, he finished 33rd in 2009 and 25th last year. Suffice it to say, Allmendinger is hoping for a better showing in 2011.
"This has been an Achilles heel track for me," Allmendinger said Friday. "We have always struggled here. ... This is one of the tracks that I circled on the calendar at the beginning of the year that we had to run well at."
But Allmendinger has had success as other 1.5-mile tracks on the circuit, and Vegas doesn't seem to be particularly difficult compared to some other venues. So what's the deal?
It's a combination of circumstances and an overall lack of experience at a place where the Sprint Cup Series only comes once per year.
In 2009, Allmendinger said, his Richard Petty Motorsports team was just "trying to survive and run every lap without damaging the race car."
"We didn't have any more money to race and couldn't afford wrecking the race car," he said. "We came here and had two bad races and we didn't really have our program set at that point. We hadn't figured out our cars and we had just switched to Ford and we were trying to learn things."
So in the past, there's always been something wrong or something to hold Allmendinger back. Not this year, though.
Now fourth in Sprint Cup points, Allmendinger needs a good weekend at Vegas to prove he's a Chase-caliber driver this year.
"I am a lot more confident this time in the race car and know what I want," he said. "Even though I haven't felt that here, I know as a whole what I really want on a mile-and-a-half track.
"I really believe we will be better than we have ever been here."
He added, after a half-second pause, "Which obviously isn't that tough to do."
On Sunday, Mark Martin will move into sole possession of No. 2 on the all-time NASCAR starts list – just 133 behind leader Richard Petty.
Martin trails Michael Waltrip by one start entering this weekend, but plans to do both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Las Vegas, meaning he'll tie and surpass Waltrip.
Does it mean anything to the 52-year-old veteran?
"To give you my first response: No, that doesn't mean anything to me. But that's kind of shallow," Martin said Friday. "When I look back on it, I'll probably be proud that there were quite a few quality starts in there, and I'll probably be proud of the level of competition I brought to all those starts."
The longevity is special to Martin, too, he said – primarily because he didn't get his full-time start in NASCAR until he was 29. After he started in the Cup Series and won his first pole at 22 years old, he later lost his ride and was out of the sport for roughly five years.
"I'm not proud so much of the number of starts, but proud of the level I managed to bring to it," he said. "At this point in time, I'm just happy I can do what I love – and do it well."
After this weekend, Martin will have 797 Cup starts, 232 Nationwide starts and 23 Truck starts. Can he make 133 more starts after this week and surpass Petty's all-time record?
"That's quite a lot of starts," he said. "I'd say it's possible, but I haven't even thought about it. That's four more years of nearly full-time in some kind of NASCAR competition. So I don't know. I can't answer that question."
Martin noted that if there was any record-related accomplishment he wanted to pursue, it would be Kyle Busch surpassing his all-time Nationwide victories number (48). Busch currently has 44 Nationwide wins.
"(The starts record) wouldn't be one I would go after as much as Kyle coming after the all-time wins in Nationwide," Martin said. "That would be something that would drive me more. But I've done all I can do on that front right now."
NASCAR has hit Las Vegas this week hoping to continue its lucky streak. After two great races to open the season, in which TV ratings increased, NASCAR will try to make it three in a row in the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Which drivers are the best bets? Jimmie Johnson won the heavyweight belt last year, and has won four of the last six races at the 1.5-mile oval.
Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch have also won in the last three years, and Matt Kenseth won in back-to-back seasons in 2003 and 2004.
Storylines include points leader Busch and older brother Kurt (second in points) trying to win in their hometown, Jeff Gordon looking to ride the momentum after snapping a 66-race winless streak last week and Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne hoping for some redemption after crashing three cars at Phoenix.
Check back here for news and notes throughout the weekend.
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