Mash The Gas – Las Vegas Preview

It’s off to Sin City for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the Kobalt Tools 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Las Vegas is the first test for the new Gen 6 cars on a 1.5 mile circuit that makes up the bulk of the schedule. Because of the limited track time to date with the new cars, the teams will be allowed an extra day of testing at Vegas on Thursday which should prove to be very valuable in preparing the cars for Sunday’s main event. As far as determining who should find success this weekend, we need to look at a combination of historical data as well as the winter test conducted at Charlotte in January. So let’s roll the dice and see what we can come up with. . .

Jimmie Johnson
Dan Margetta: With finishes of first and second in the opening two races, Johnson and the #48 bunch have shown they’ve been a step ahead in figuring out the new car. Plus, Johnson loves Las Vegas, having scored four wins here including three in a row from 2005-2007. There’s no question the Hendrick Motorsports teams have the resources to make the Gen 6 car perform and Vegas is the place to go when you’re on a hot streak. Look for Johnson to be the favorite this weekend.

John Wiedemann: I’m predicting a Jimmie Johnson win this weekend. The only barrier that will be in the way for him this weekend is competing against his Hendrick Motorsports teammates. This weekend will be the first race test of the Gen6 car on an intermediate mile and a half track and I expect the #48 team to pass with flying colors.

Matt Kenseth
DM: Another driver who has enjoyed a successful relationship with Las Vegas is Matt Kenseth who has two Vegas wins to his credit and has led the second most laps at the track. Kenseth has been in contention in nearly every Vegas race over the past ten years and the Gibbs #20 team has shown a lot of speed this season. If Lady Luck is on his side Sunday, Kenseth could grab his first win for his new team. However continued Toyota engine gremlins throughout the Gibbs organization so far this season makes every weekend somewhat of a gamble.

JW: There are a lot of questions concerning Toyota engines, but if everything holds together, look for Matt Kenseth at the front. If your rooting, go ahead and root for the #20, but if you are making fantasy team picks, you might want to see the Toyota teams make it through a weekend without issues before you rely on them for points. Than being said, if Kenseth qualifies well, I’d probably put him on my team and roll the dice.

Carl Edwards
DM: Carl Edwards broke a 70 race winless streak with a victory at Phoenix last weekend and his last Cup win prior to that was right here at Las Vegas. The Phoenix momentum should continue for the #99 team and as evidenced last weekend, the ex-Kenseth pit crew is still the best on pit road which should pay dividends at Vegas. Edwards has two Vegas wins to his credit and the Roush-Fenway cars were among the fastest at the winter test in Charlotte. The talk of the 70 race winless streak could quickly turn to talk of two race winning streak on Sunday. Plus, Roush-Fenway cars have won 12 of the 15 races held at Las Vegas.

JW: Congratulations to Carl Edwards for winning and breaking the streak. Running out front seems the place to be right now with the Gen6 cars and that is where Edwards could be again this weekend. Las Vegas was a Roush Fenway Racing playground in the past and Edwards could return to that time and make it two wins in a row.

Kyle Busch
DM: Kyle Busch and the #18 team find themselves deep in the point standings despite having fast cars in each of the opening two races this season. The 2009 Vegas winner returns to his home town with ideas of righting the ship and coming away with a solid finish. His Gibbs Toyota has been plenty fast but the team has rolled snake eyes when it comes to finding luck on the race track. They’re not quite in “all-in” mode yet, but they really do need a good run this weekend.

JW: In the same boat as Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch just needs to keep the powerplant running to have a successful weekend. Busch can definitely win at his home town track, but it is still a wait and see issue to find out if the gremlins have been exorcised out of the Toyota engines.

Jeff Gordon
DM: Despite having only a single win at Las Vegas, Jeff Gordon is near the top of the stat sheet in nearly every loop data category recorded by NASCAR. His six top five finishes at Vegas are tied for the most among the active drivers and he has the series best average running position to go along with the second best driver rating at Vegas. The stat sheet suggests Gordon could quietly sweep in and steal the jackpot on Sunday.

JW: The biggest obstacle for Jeff Gordon is the car that he owns, and it seems lately like the #48 owns him. Expect a nice solid weekend from the #24 team. Gordon moved up eleven spots in the points into a tie for eighth. He’ll probably leave Las Vegas in the same position.

Brad Keselowski
DM: Last season, Brad Keselowski came into most race weekend with less than impressive statistics and left with either a win or a top five finish. That trend has continued in 2013 as Keselowski has opened the season with a pair of top fives to carry a share of the points lead into Vegas. While he hasn’t shown much historically at Vegas, Keselowski and the #2 team have shown they have the switch to Ford figured out. They’re another team that is definitely on a roll heading into Vegas and they shouldn’t be ignored as contenders.

JW: If you read this column last year, you’ll remember that I’ve maintained that Keselowski’s stats at a track don’t matter. Well, now he is adding to those stats in a positive way. Keselowski has proven that he is a contender at every track he goes to. Not letting up from his run to the championship last year, Brad is the real deal.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DM: It’s Junior’s second best career start to the season and the folks in the grandstands are optimistic for a Vegas win. Currently atop the point standings with defending champ Brad Keselowski, Earnhardt has shown promise with his #88 Hendrick Chevy which sports a new orange look this weekend. It’s always a good thing to double-down on a hot streak in Vegas and the #88 team is currently on one with top five finishes to open the season.

Kurt Busch
JW: Kurt Busch seems to be getting everything out of the #78 and pushes it to it’s limits and maybe beyond. As the team improves and gives Busch a solid car week in and week out, finishes will improve as well. If Busch can remain patient and let the team catch up to him, you will see the #78 team battling for wins. This weekend will be a good test to see where they are with their 1.5 mile program. If all goes well this weekend, look for a win next weekend at Bristol.

Jeff Burton
DM: Vegas loves a long shot and this week’s long-shot could be Jeff Burton. Coming off a tenth place finish at Phoenix, Burton has two Vegas wins to his credit although they occurred way back in 1999 and 2000. Still, with odds listed as high as 100-1 at some Sports Books, Burton and the #31 Childress team are worth a gamble, especially in Vegas.

Mark Martin
JW: Don’t forget about last weekend’s pole sitter, Mark Martin. Martin won the first Cup race at Las Vegas in the #6 Valvoline car (remember that car?). With ten top ten finishes and six top five runs in fifteen races at Las Vegas, Martin knows how to get around and continues to show that he has what it takes to outrun a lot of other drivers in the series.

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