Observations• Everyone will be new looking for an assessment on how the new Sprint Cup Series cars performed in Sunday’s race. I’ll just say the first two-thirds of the race didn’t appear dramatically different than previous Las Vegas. The quality of racing at the end of the race, however, was some of the best I’ve seen. The one-on-one battle between winner Matt Kenseth and runner-up Kasey Kahne was riveting. Will we see something similar when NASCAR visits its next 1.5-mile track in April at Texas? Who knows? But it was a good start. • Cool scene after the race. As Kenseth and his team made their way to Victory Lane, the fans watching from above in the track’s Neon Garage area began to serenade the driver with a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Kenseth turned 41 on Sunday. Team owner Joe Gibbs joined Victory Lane and began a second chorus. Kenseth is just the third driver in Cup history to win on his birthday, joining Cale Yarborough and Kyle Busch.
• Given the fact Mark Martin – who is sixth in points – will not run the whole season, there are two early surprises currently in the top-10 in points. Aric Almirola is currently 10th (would be ninth) and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 11th (would be 10th).
Edwards still going strong: Carl Edwards followed up his win of a week ago with a solid fifth-place finish on Sunday, which leaves him fifth in the series standings after three races.
“We wanted better but I think if I would have done a better job on my restarts then we would have been better. We were sliding all over the place out there,” Edwards said. “
I am sure we wore out some steering boxes and that was a good race. That was as hard as we could drive.”
Johnson leads the way: Brad Keselowski may be the only driver with three top-five finishes to start the season, but Jimmie Johnson still leads the standings. His eighth-place finish left him ahead of Keselowski by five points.
The five-time Cup champion has a win, a second-place finish and an eighth now to start the year.
“At the end, I just wish we had a little bit more to go up there and race with those guys. But it was a solid performance, all in all,” he said.
Patrick losing ground: Danica Patrick has not had an easy road since finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500.
She was involved in a violent wreck last weekend at Phoenix and fell behind early Sunday at Las Vegas and ended up 33rd – six laps down. Patrick is now 30th in the series points.
Harvick, Busch rebound: Both Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch had gotten off to slow starts to the 2013 season. After two races, Harvick was 30th in points and Busch was 33rd.
Both had strong finishes Sunday, with Harvick ending up ninth and Busch fourth after rallying from an early-race pit road penalty. Harvick is now 19th in points and Busch is 17th.
5 key moments
1 . Kasey Kahne showed early he had a dominant car, taking the lead for the first time on Lap 10 and leading 59 of the first 74 laps.
2 . Kyle Busch, who appeared to have a car capable of running up front, was penalized for speeding on pit road during a green-flag stop on Lap 45. He spent much of the rest of the race rallying from the back of the field.
3. Outside of briefly during green-flag pit stops, Matt Kenseth first meaningful appearance in the top-five didn’t happen until Lap 180
4. Kenseth grabbed the lead on Lap 227 with the help of a fuel-only pit stop. Brad Keselowski used the same strategy and started alongside Kenseth on the restart.
5. After Ryan Newman’s blown engine brought out a caution, Kenseth mastered a six-lap duel with Kahne to earn the win.
Food City 500
Where: Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Radio: Performance Racing Network
Last year’s winner: Brad Keselowski