Wind makes for crazy day of racing in Kobalt 400

There was earth. There was wind. There was nearly fire — there was a big crash in Turns 1 and 2 with 40 laps to go, but luckily nothing went up in flames.

The wind more than made up for the lack of fire at the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

As predicted, it started to blow like crazy just before the green flag fell Sunday, delaying the start by 40 minutes. Suddenly, the new low downforce package everybody had been talking about became a footnote.

Some of the drivers said they had never seen anything like it.

For that matter, Lawrence of Arabia probably had never seen anything like it.

“I guess that’s the Wild, Wild West, right?” said Joey Logano, who rode like the wind to finish second. “It was dusty, rainy, windy, crazy. It made for a great race.”

Especially if you were riding a camel.

Logano, jockey of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Flying Carpet, flashed a toothy grin when he talked about nearly getting blown to Mesquite during driver introductions.

“I was a little nervous about what Turn 3 was going to look like when we got down there,” he said about the tardy start.

When he and the other 38 starters got down there, the Tin Woodsman went flying across the track, bringing out the first caution flag. OK, that was an exaggeration. But only a slight one.

At one juncture, or two, or three, or 33, a gust blew across Turn 3 that almost caused Ryan Blaney to crash. One of those times, he almost crashed into the 88 car, he said.

“That would have been terrible,”said the rookie driver of the Wood Brothers’ Motorcraft Ford, who finished sixth.

It would have been terrible because the guy who drives the 88 car, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has about a bazillion followers on Twitter who do not care to hear excuses when their man gets taken out, such as “the sun got in my eyes” or “the wind just blew a stealth bomber onto the backstretch from across the street at Nellis Air Force Base and I had no place to go.”

“It was pretty brutal at times,” Blaney said of the wind, which was around 30 mph when the race started and gusted to 50 mph when a dust storm blew in from Nellis during a late-race caution period.

“If it was a steady wind, it wasn’t so bad. You (could) get into a rhythm.”

During the postrace news conference, winner Brad Keselowski was asked to talk about the wind first thing, before he could even thank his sponsors. Roger Penske’s driver said it wasn’t that big of a deal.

I think that’s what Bill Paxton also said to Helen Hunt in “Twister.”

“I didn’t think the weather was as big of a challenge as I thought it was going to be, specific to the wind,” Keselowski said.

This is where it should be noted that after he won the Sprint Cup championship a couple of years ago, Keselowski said he was going to buy a tank with his newfound earnings. That’s right, a tank. So you have to take what this guy says with a grain or two of salt.

But some of the other drivers actually agreed with the race champion.

“It was less than expected,” said four-time Las Vegas winner Jimmie Johnson, who led a race-high 76 laps. “It was gusty and problematic, but I expected it to be a lot worse. I guess when you are going 200 mph, a 30 or 40 mph wind doesn’t bother you too much.”

Earnhardt Jr., who took shelter inside the media center (along with a Larry the Cable Guy impersonator) when the wind was wreaking havoc with the pit box canopies after driver introductions, did not use “problematic” in describing the gusts. But Junior does not use “problematic” to discuss much of anything.

“I was just as intrigued as anybody to see how the race would go with these kind of winds,” Junior said.

So was it dangerous out there?

“No, no, not at all — visibility, maybe.

“The only thing you get a little nervous about is when the sandstorm comes through.”

There was earth, there was wind … and there was a sandstorm. And low downforce, too, Junior said, and so there was a lot of side-by-side racing and passing — a lot more than there usually is when the Sprint Cup cars and drivers come to town.

It was actually a pretty good race when the wind didn’t blow.

Almost as soon as it was over, the sun came out and the gusts subsided and they started loading up the haulers for the drive to Phoenix. In a little while, they, too, would be gone with the wind.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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