One heck of a race last week in Phoenix, with Denny Hamlin outlasting Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500. While it rarely is planned to be (except at tracks like Pocono), last week turned into a fuel mileage race, when the caution flag that was expected to allow drivers to make a splash-and-go to top off never came.
So after a VERY brief couple of days back home, we head back west to the Las Vegas Motorspeedway (LVMS). The 1.5-mile track will host 267 laps of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 400 on Sunday. This week the fans get a bit of an extra treat with LVMS’s “Neon Garage”, where the fans can get an extra up-close view on all the action going on with the teams as they prepare for the weekend’s activities, and in some cases, a bird’s eye view. Tweetup at LVMS is 8:30 am PT behind souvenir haulers between Gates E and F. @freightliner will bring special guest. (Thanks to SceneDaily.com’s Bob Pockrass).
All of this week’s action begins Sunday with NASCAR Raceday on @SPEED at 12:30pm EDT. Fox NASCAR SUNDAY is at 2:30pm EDT, with the race itself at 3pm EDT. Film and TV actor Tim Allen (“Home Improvement” and “The Santa Clause”) will be the Grand Marshal for the race and will give the Command to Fire engines. The 43-car field will get the Green Flag at approximately 3:16pm following the National Anthem performed by American Idol contestant Pia Toscano and a pre-race flyover planned once again by the U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Team (otherwise known as the “Thunderbirds”) from their home just a stone’s throw from LVMS at Nellis AFB, Nevada. And with typical Las Vegas weather, there will be no issues of delays due to rain.
Fifteen drivers broke the old speed record that Matt Kenseth set in 2011 of 188.884 mph, with Kasey Kahne beating them all out for the Coors Light Pole Award, running 190.456mph.
Four drivers will start at the rear of the pack Sunday…Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson going to backup cars after wrecks during practice. Regan Smith and his #78 machine to the rear for a transmission change.
Best Bets: It’s an all-Ford lineup for my BBs this week.
Carl Edwards (#99 Aflac Ford)- Carl is the defending winner of this race, but unfortunately he hasn’t won since; one of the reasons he just narrowly lost out on the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. For some reason, Cousin Carl loves the 1.5 mile tracks, as he has seventeen of his nineteen wins on this length of track. He’s got two wins, two top-fives, and three top-tens here at LVMS, with an average finish of 11th. While he’s starting way back in 21st, he was running up among the leaders in the second practice session, so don’t count him out…we just might see a backflip from him today.
Greg Biffle (#16 3m/Meguiars Ford)- Greg has been stalking the leaders so far this year, running very well with two third-place finishes that puts him second in the overall standings behind Denny Hamlin (who took the lead after last week’s victory). The Bif has fifteen of his sixteen wins on 1.5 mile tracks as well, although he’s winless here at LVMS. He does, though, have one top-five and five top-ten finishes. I wouldn’t count him out this week, as he’ll start ninth. He was also fifth fastest in the second practice session (but only ran fifteenth fastest in Happy hour).
Probables: Couple of “expecteds” for this week...
Kasey Kahne (#5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet) - Kasey was the fastest of the qualifiers Friday, posting a new track record I mentioned above. He was in the top ten-fastest during the practice sessions, and has ten of his twelve wins on 1.5-mile tracks. No worse than fourteenth in the last four LVMS races, he’s still winless here, but has posted two top-five and five top-ten finishes.
Matt Kenseth (#17 Zest Ford)- The third of the “Roushketeers”, Matt has been on a good path so far this year, winning his Gatorade Duel, then the Daytona 500 itself. His thirteeth-place finish last week was a little disappointing, but he, like the other Ford drivers, seem to be very strong on 1.5-mile tracks. Matt has two wins, five top-fives, and six top-tens here at LVMS, and has posted seventeen of his twenty-two victories on the 1.5-mile surface. He starts eleventh, and was seventh-fastest in final practice. Only question this week, will he “Zestfully-Clean” up here in Vegas.
Dark Horses- While no longer teammates, my DH’s do have some history together.
Dale Earnhardt Jr (#88 National Guard/Diet Mt Dew Chevrolet)- I hope I’m not jinxing Dale Jr by including him all three of the last weeks’ picks, but he will run up front today. Although winless in Vegas, he’s got two top-fives and five top-tens. 1.5-mile tracks aren’t always his favorite, as he’s only got seven of his eighteen wins at this distance. He’s finished no worse than tenth in the last four LVMS races, with a runner-up position back in 2008. Jr starts in fourth today (so with Kyle Busch starting in the rear, as long as Kasey Kahne doesn’t choose the outside line for the start, Jr will be on the outside of the front row), and was sixth fastest in the first practice session, first in the second, and only seventeenth in Happy Hour.
Mark Martin (#55 Aarons Dream Machine Toyota)- Mark’s definitely got the experience here and in NASCAR, plus he finished second in yesterday’s Nationwide race driving the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota. Mark’s got twenty-seven of his forty wins on 1.5-mile tracks, despite only one win, six top-five, and ten top-ten finishes here at LVMS. He’s only starting thirteenth, but was in the top-ten during all the practice sessions. Don’t be surprised if you see him up front at the end.
I would have expected Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevy) and Kyle Busch (#18 M&Ms Ms. Brown Toyota) to be up in my rankings, but with both of them starting in the rear of the field, that likelihood decreased a bit. But don’t necessarily count either of them out (especially KyBu, who loves to start in the back and rocket up to the front). And don’t forget Clint Bowyer (#15 5-Hour Energy Toyota)…he’s finished second in two of the last three LVMS races; just a matter if he gets that “2:30 feeling” and runs out of gas.
Rumor Mill: Thankfully, this was a fairly quiet week in the news…
Cleaning Up and Eatin it Up - After the wild Daytona 500 wreck by Juan Pablo Montoya into the Jet Dryer and subsequent brilliant move by the makers of Tide detergent to capitalize on the moment, it appears that household cleaning products are making their way into NASCAR sponsorship again.
While we haven’t seen the Tide logo make its reappearance onto the hood of a Cup car, you will see a couple this week: Clorox bleach will adorn the #42 ride of Juan Pablo Montoya, while Matt Kenseth’s machine will be sponsored by Zest soap (that paint scheme is one you WON’T miss on the track). In addition, be on the lookout for McDonalds to reappear at the track on the #1 Chevy of Jamie McMurray, with Kingsford Charcoal and Bush’s Baked Beans on board the #47 car of Bobby Labonte (that should make for an explosive combination!).
Vickers’ Dream Ride- Michael Waltrip Racing announced this week that NSC Cup driver Brian Vickers would pilot the #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine for five races this season, beginning next weekend at Bristol. He’ll also run the Summer Bristol race, both Martinsville, and both New Hampshire Motor Speedway outings for MWR. Team owner Michael Waltrip was quoted as saying, “I believe in second chances and this is great opportunity for us and Brian. He wants to show the world how good he really is and we believe in the equipment and people we’re putting him with in 2012.” (NASCAR.com)
Remembering Dan- This weekend is an important one for Danica Patrick, who ran the Nationwide race Saturday finishing 12th. LVMS was the last track she ran an IndyCar race back in October, but it’s also the track where her good friend and fellow IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon was killed during that same race. Many Twitter subscribers did a tribute for him yesterday during the Sams Town 300 on lap 77, posting a hashtag of #RIPDan77. Don’t be surprised if that is done again today. In addition, Earnhardt-Ganassi racing will also run a special decal in memory of Wheldon, who ran IZOD IndyCar races for EGR three seasons. (EGR)
Ladies’ Night- Yesterday’s Nationwide race featured three female drivers, in what will likely become a normal appearance on race weekends. Danica Patrick, Jennifer Jo Cobb, and Johanna Long all raced in the Sams Town 300, with Patrick finishing 12th, Long crossing the stripe in 19th, and Cobb ending up 36th after a steering issue and an encounter with the SAFER barrier and the wall. It’s nice to see the women making a good showing and I would suspect it won’t be long before one of them finds Victory Lane. These three ladies are the subject of my mini-feature of women in NASCAR and who was likely to make a mark in 2012. My Danica story is here, Jennifer is located here, with my thoughts and updates on Johanna coming in the weeks ahead.
Tech Talk: EFI–Continuing a bit of the discussion on Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI), we learned last week that unlike normal carbureted engines, drivers can’t use the same techniques to save fuel by shutting down the engine during caution laps. Tony Stewart, a driver who is known for his ability to conserve fuel, lost a lot of time and positions when his engine would not re-fire during a caution flag. Apparently, if you shut down the engine, the EFI control module must “reboot” itself, so if drivers want to save fuel, they’ll either have to prepare for time to allow the modules to reboot, or face the spectre of what Tony faced last week. The story continues.
Final Thoughts: Hopefully by now everyone has reset their clocks to account for Daylight Savings Time. With the combination of youth and experience at this track this weekend, you can expect some very competitive racing. Now the only question is who rolls the dice and comes up the big winner.
Be ready for today’s race today and tune in to Fox for the broadcast. If you’re on the road this weekend’s race will be broadcast by your local Performance Racing Network affiliate, and as usual on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch 90) for all the action in Sin City. I’ll have my normal race updates, analysis, and occasional rant on Twitter (@speedglutton).
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