LAS VEGAS -- In the first two races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, reliability was a huge issue for the engines in the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing.
Figuratively speaking, blown power plants in the Sprint Cup Camrys created more noise than a July 4 fireworks celebration.
Though it might be too early to put those problems in the "solved" category, Toyota Racing Development, which partners with Gibbs to produce the Cup engines, had reason to rejoice Sunday. Matt Kenseth won the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kyle Busch finished fourth -- with the TRD engines lasting the full 400 miles.
"We've had a tough couple of weeks, as everybody knows, and so I really appreciate our partner Toyota," team owner Joe Gibbs said after the race. "In tough times, everybody kind of bands together around our place, and we start fighting and we worked our way out of some tough things. I felt like today we had three good cars. Two of them were caught speeding on pit road (Busch and Denny Hamlin). I think Denny got caught so late it was hard for him to get back on sync."
Hamlin finished 15th, but the consolation prize was that his engine was running at full strength at the finish.
Kenseth frustrates Kahne
Kasey Kahne thought he'd be able to get around Kenseth when it counted -- and why not?
After all, Kahne led a race-high 114 laps Sunday and earlier in the race had made short work of the strong cars of Busch and Jimmie Johnson when he caught them in traffic.
Kahne had taken right-side tires on Lap 226, while Kenseth opted for track position and took fuel only, beating the other lead-lap cars out of pits. With fresher rubber, Kahne was convinced he'd pass Kenseth eventually, but it didn't happen, and Kenseth celebrated his 41st birthday with a race win.
"I just felt like I could have got there, the way the car handled throughout the race and how I could turn down in the center of the corner and carry a ton of speed doing it," Kahne said. "I felt really confident, that when I got to him I'd be able to do that again like I had raced with Kyle and Jimmie earlier in the race.
"And when I got to Matt, I couldn't do it, so I was trying to brake in and mess with anything that I could, lift early, lift late, try it all, and just couldn't find a way past him. He just did a really good job of keeping his momentum up, keeping his speed. He was cutting across me off the corner. He just put up a great battle and pulled it off on old tires."
NASCAR's new Generation-6 Sprint Cup race car racked up some impressive statistics in Sunday's race.
The official race reports reads 22 lead changes among eight drivers, with the 22 lead changes being the most at Las Vegas since 2007, the year before the Gen-5 car (Car of Tomorrow) was introduced at intermediate race tracks.
Beyond those numbers, NASCAR's loop data (stats measured at the 10 scoring loops around the 1.5-mile track) showed 2,342 green-flag passes throughout the race, compared with 1,301 last year.
In addition, there were 31 green-flag passes for the lead (including intra-lap passes scored at loops other than the finish line), the most since NASCAR started recording loop data in 2005.
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