I think NASCAR is getting exactly what they wanted.

So far in this 2013 Sprint Cup season the race winners have been a Chevrolet, a Ford and a Toyota.  Even split.

Now, I’m not naïve enough to think this will continue for the entire year, but here in the early going, all three of the major power teams (Hendrick Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing & Joe Gibbs Racing) have scored a victory.

The big story on all the sports networks is Matt Kenseth winning on his 41st birthday, but that isn’t the story.  Kenseth hasn’t had any pressure on him in years. That’s not to say he has just cruised along without trying, far from it.  However, the change to JGR put the driver in a spot he’d never been in before: in the driver seat of a car not numbered 17.

“Nobody put any pressure on me except for myself,” Kenseth said, “but I also know that Coach hired me to come here and climb in the car and win races.”

Kenseth is a professional, which is what made his outburst of emotion during his victory lap on Sunday so unique.  After holding off Kasey Kahne during the closing laps, Kenseth let out a herculean scream (for him at least) as he crossed the start finish line.

Clearly, this was a huge weight lifted off his shoulders.

Matt Kenseth has run well this season, even if the results weren’t there the first few races.  He’s a consistent performer with a new fire lit underneath him.  This won’t be his only victory this season.  In fact, this might be the beginning of a trend.

Here’s some other things we learned at Las Vegas yesterday:

  1. Brad & Jimmie are still the class of the field. While Matt Kenseth has shown that he will be a contender, heck maybe even the flagship driver for Toyota this year (Eh, why not, I’m feeling bold this morning), he’s still chasing two guys: BK & JJ.  Johnson led 66 laps during yesterday’s race and finished 6th.  Keselowski led 12 laps and finished 3rd.  These guys just can’t get out of each other’s mirrors, and it’s just a matter of time until that makes both of them a little agitated.
  2. Toyota doesn’t stink. After engine issues cost Toyota teams dearly in the first few weeks of the year, the word this weekend was that they tuned down the engines a bit to help give them more stability & endurance.  Whatever they did, it worked.  Kenseth’s #20 looked strong in the closing laps when fending off the #5 of Kahne.  And we all know how strong those Hendrick motors are.
  3. Danicamania is dying a slow (literally) death.  She started in the back and finished in the back, 6 laps behind the leaders.  Her teammate Tony Stewart finished 11th.  All of this doesn’t help Danica’s cause.  Look, she’s going to struggle at intermediate tracks this year.  I still think she’s going to be a factor at the end of restrictor plate races, but overall, this is going to be a pretty tough rookie campaign for the driver of the #10 car.

See you next weekend.

Tommy Joe Martins is a former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver & a weekly racer at the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.  A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he’s been a sports columnist for The Daily Mississippian, a radio host & a life-long NASCAR fan.

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