NASCAR’s Kobalt 400 played out during an odd weather day in Las Vegas.
A light rain shower delayed the start of the race by about 25 minutes. Later, high, gusty winds made controlling their cars even more of a challenge for the 39 drivers in the field. Finally, all that wind precipitated a sand storm that blew in, making conditions that much tougher.
“I guess that’s the wild, Wild West, right?” said runner-up Joey Logano. “It was dusty, rainy, windy, crazy. It made for a great race.”
Las Vegas’s 1.5-mile race track, is located 15 miles north of the city’s famous Strip. It’s set in the Nevada desert, next to Nelis Air Force Base and at the base of a mountain range. Although there was a hint of rain in the weather forecast, the wind was the main concern for the day.
“It was awesome,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished 12th. “I thought with the wind it played a huge factor as an unknown. You would get down to the corner and your car could be different every lap. It was really fun.”
It also made for some tough moments.
“It was pretty brutal at times,” said rookie Ryan Blaney, who finished sixth. “It was really gusty. That would be the biggest problem, if it was unpredictable. If it was a steady wind, it wasn’t so bad. You can get into a rhythm.”
Blaney remembered one particularly harrowing instance when a gust hit his No. 21 Ford hard in Turn 3, nearly blowing him into Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has been voted NASCAR’s most popular driver by fans for 13 consecutive seasons.
“That would have been terrible,” Blaney said.
Logano, sitting next to Blaney during a post-race news conference, laughed.
“You would have been hated as much as me, maybe more,” said Logano, who has become somewhat of a villain in certain segments of NASCAR’s fan base.
Said Earnhardt: “Visibility, maybe, is the only thing you get a little nervous about when the sandstorm come through, but it wasn’t too windy. I thought it was before we got in the car, but I was just as intrigued as anybody to see how it would go and how the race would go with these kinds of winds. It’s definitely a factor that makes it another challenge. All the drivers want is more challenges; more hoops to jump through.”
At least one driver is somewhat used to the kind of conditions that befell the race – Las Vegas native Kyle Busch.
“This weather was horrible for the race fans,” said Busch, who finished fourth. “I feel bad for all of them and having to deal with all the wind. The wind in the desert, you get sand in your face and eyes and everything else.
“But for us being behind the wheel, it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t feel much of it. There were some opportunities where the wind was going different direction and you could really hustle your race car. And others where it was blowing another direction, where you’d have to check up and be a little easy and tentative.”