Back Seat Driver

Back Seat Driver: Las Vegas

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*Editor’s Note* Every Monday, after every race weekend, contributing writer Jacob Mullins will recap the top story lines from the track in our new weekly feature, Back Seat Driver.

The first of three races on the West Coast is in the books and here are some of the top stories from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Soft Walls

Another week, another accident that involved a non-SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier. Two weeks ago in Daytona Kyle Busch hit a non-soft wall that led to injuries and just last week at Atlanta it was Jeff Gordon hitting an unprotected wall. Fast forward to Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 and it was Erik Jones, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, who hit a non-SAFER barrier wall in the closing laps of the NASCAR XFINITY race. It was a scary incident for Jones, but the driver of the No. 20 Interstate Battery Toyota Camry was cleared from the infield care center with no issues.

Gordon and Jones were fortunate not to be seriously hurt like Busch, but the biggest question is, why is every wall at a track not protected by SAFER barriers? The hit that these three drivers have taken in as many weeks is a trend that needs to stop. Accidents are a part of the sport and they won’t go away. However, NASCAR and track owners can help protect the drivers and help insure they won’t badly injured when hitting the wall.

Domination

This past weekend’s races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway were dominated by two people. In the XFINITY race on Saturday it was Austin Dillon while Sunday’s Sprint Cup race was dominated by Kevin Harvick.

Saturday, Dillon led 183 of 200 laps, earning his first win at LVMS and thirds in the series. The 2013 Champion had to fend off a late race charge from Ryan Blaney to earn the win and complete the series sweep for the weekend. Not only was Dillon untouchable during the race, he had the fastest car all week leading up to the race. On Friday he paced both practices before earning the pole during qualifying Saturday morning.

On Sunday, Harvick led 142 of the 267 laps; more than triple the amount of laps of the next closest driver, Joey Logano’s 47. Logano finished 10th. Harvick boasted a driver rating of 141.5 out of a possible 150 after starting the race 18th. Just like Dillon, once in front of the field he was untouchable. The first-place finish is the 6th consecutive race, dating back to last season, that Harvick has finished wither 1-or-2. With the win, Harvick has all but locked himself into defending his 2014 Championship during the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Returning to the Track

Just two months after heart surgery to repair a hole in his heart, Brian Vickers, driver of the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine, returned to the track. After being medically cleared in January, Vickers posted a solid finish of 15th  in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400. The surgery was to replace an artificial patch his body rejected that he received during a 2010 procedure. “It’s something I love. It’s something over the last 10, and particularly the last five years dealing with everything, I’ve learned that my love for racing has only increased,” Vickers said about getting back into the race car. Welcome back Vickers, glad you are back at the track!

While he was away, Michale Waltrip ran the No. 55 at Daytona while Brett Moffitt piloted it in Atlanta. Moffitt turned many heads with a top-10 finish, 8th, which landed him a three race deal with Front Row Motorsports. Moffitt finished 37th Sunday with Front Row.

Strong Beginnings

With a second-place finish in Sunday’s Kobalt 400, Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex is off to a blistering start in 2015. After an 8th-place finish in the Daytona 500 and finishing 6th in Atlanta, Truex is proving he will be a contender in 2015. Fast in practice all weekend, Truex is looking to put 2014 in the rear view and continue to build on his third straight top-10 of 2015. Sunday’s 2nd-place finish was the best finish he has had since April 2013.

Could some of the added success in 2015 be due to the alliance Furniture Row and Richard Childress Racing have together? Early indicators point to yes, but the No. 78 Denver, Colo.-based race team has been working out what Truex called “major issues” from the 2014 season. Truex stated that the No. 78 team is “going to continue to work hard and try to get to that next level. We want to win races.” Only time will tell if Truex and Furniture Row can continue their hot start and be a contender in 2015. I hope they can contend not just for wins this season, but for a championship. They are a true underdog story as Barney Visser and company aren’t located in the hub of NASCAR, Charlotte, N.C. They have won races before and Truex has the skill and determination to visit victory lane soon, and often.

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About Jacob Mullins

Jacob Mullins serves as the managing editor and senior NASCAR writer covering all three national touring series's. You can find him on on Twitter at @JMulls15. An intercollegiate athletic administrator by trade, Mullins can be found at the big tracks as well as the local short tracks in the Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area. Mullins enjoys social media, photography and graphic design. A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, Mullins follows all forms of racing, Major League Baseball (Baltimore Orioles) and college football (Virginia Tech Hokies).

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