Mash The Gas: Las Vegas

The green flag waves for the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas in 2013. [Photo credit Getty Images]

[Photo credit Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the bright lights and pageantry of Sin City as the Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosts the Kobalt Tools 400 Sunday afternoon.

Kobalt 400
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
400.5 miles (267 laps)
Sunday, March 6 3:30pm ET
FOX, 3pm ET
PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
It is round 3 of the 2016 season and like Atlanta a week ago, the race will be held on a 1.5 mile oval with the low downforce aerodynamic rules package. Much like last week, expect the cars to slide around only this week tire wear won’t be as dominant as the Vegas surface is newer and less abrasive than Atlanta. Vegas does have bumps however entering turn one and the drivers whose cars handle the best over them should find success on Sunday.

It’s Vegas Baby and here are some drivers to keep an eye on…

Kevin Harvick (Dan Margetta)
Kevin Harvick dominated last week before trailing off at the end and he should be just as strong this week as he is listed as the 5-1 favorite, Harvick should be the guy to beat Sunday and you have to think crew chief Rodney Childers is smarting from letting the victory slip away in Atlanta after being snookered in the pits by Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson. Harvick won this race last year and is using the same chassis this year. In fact the worse this chassis has finished is second so look for Kevin Harvick to be s factor on Sunday.

Kyle Busch (John Wiedemann)
Kyle Busch has one win at his hometown track and that was back in 2009. Since then the results haven’t been great as that win ended a five race top 11 streak. Kyle had a fourth place run in 2013, 11th in 2014 and then missed last year’s race due to his injuries at Daytona. Now it’s time to get back in victory lane in Las Vegas. With two third place finishes this season, Kyle has the points lead. Last week’s race at Atlanta was marred by an infraction during qualifying that took the pole away and had Kyle starting at the back of the pack. Kyle moved up through the field, led a couple laps and finished well. Expect even better results this week and I have Kyle picked as my winner in Las Vegas.

Matt Kenseth (DM)
The 2016 season has been bittersweet for Matt Kenseth so far. First he went from leading in the fourth turn on the final lap of the Daytona 500 to 14th plane then a pit infraction while comfortably leading relegated him to 15th place last week. Vegas is the perfect place to turn his luck around as he has three victories here to go along with six top fives and nine top ten finishes. He enters the weekend at 8-1 odds and owns the best average finish in the garage. Matt Kenseth was also one of the drivers who conducted the tire test here in January. If this team can eliminate the self inflicted mistakes that has plagued them the last two weeks, Matt Kenseth is a strong pick to win on Sunday.

Kurt Busch (JW)
Kurt Busch, in fourteen tries, has yet to win a Sprint Cup Series race at his hometown Las Vegas track. For the first ten races he started the race in the top ten but his best finish was third in 2005 back when he was racing for Jack Roush. In the last three races (he missed the 2015 event due to a suspension) his best finish was 20th in 2013. But, I expect that he turns that around this weekend. Kurt had a solid showing at Atlanta where he qualified second, was awarded the pole, led 62 laps and finished fourth. Expect another strong showing and possibly a Busch Brother Battle for the win at Las Vegas.

Jimmie Johnson (DM)
Fresh off a sneaky win last week, Jimmie Johnson rides a wave of momentum into Las Vegas where he owns a series leading four victories. He is listed at favorable 6-1 odds as the new aero rules seem to suit his style well. Johnson ranks just behind Matt Kenseth in averaging finishing position mostly due to his surprising 41st place finish a year ago. Also like Kenseth, Johnson participated in the January Vegas tire test. Team 48 and Jjmmie Johnson proved they are back last week and they are looking to double down in Vegas with a win this weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr (JW)
Dale Earnhardt Jr’s name doesn’t immediately come to mind when you are thinking of drivers at Las Vegas, but maybe it should. In sixteen races at Las Vegas, Junior has four top five and nine top ten finishes. Junior’s average finish of 12.6 is eighth best and he is currently on a streak of seven top tens
In his last eight races there including two runner-up finishes. At Atlanta last week Junior ran in the top ten most of the day before jumping up to second in the GWC run to the finish. Throw all those stats together and it shows that you should be thinking about Junior this weekend and he will probably be in the mix at the front challenging for the win.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (DM)
As my long shot pick a week ago, Ricky Stenhouse Jr finished in the top ten and I’m making him my long shot pick again this week. He comes into Vegas at 100-1 odds and I don’t think the oddsmakers realize just how well the low downforce rules play into his driving style. This team should build off last week’s top ten run and I think he will be in the mix again on Sunday.

Aric Almirola (JW)
If I was to take a flyer on someone this weekend, it would be Aric Almirola. His stats are not great at Las Vegas with a best finish of 16th in 2013, but I think you throw those out the window and look at how he has improved in the Cup series overall. Last season he finished in the top ten four times during the Chase and finished fourth at Richmond to solidify his spot in the Chase. A solid finish of 12th at Daytona and steady improvement during the race at Atlanta got him a 15th place finish and has him 10th in the point standings. Could a Las Vegas breakout win be in the cards for Almirola this weekend? It’s a bit of a longshot, but isn’t that was Las Vegas is about?

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