Monday, March 5, 2012

Las Vegas Kobalt Tools 400 Storylines

Viva Las Vegas! Johnson has won four times at LVMS
Talk about teamwork.

Up and down the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, teams are sticking together – literally and figuratively.

Joe Gibbs Racing has all three of its teams in the top 10. As does Roush Fenway Racing. Michael Waltrip Racing, behind strong Phoenix performances by Martin Truex Jr. and Mark Martin, has its two drivers in the top 10. And, uncharacteristically, Hendrick Motorsports has three of its four cars outside the top 20.

But, of course, the series has run only two races. Things haven’t nearly shaken out just yet.

Up next, a spin around the fast Las Vegas Motor Speedway for race No. 3, KOBALT Tools 400 on Sunday at 3 p.m. on FOX.

NASCAR Nationwide Series racing kicks off the weekend with Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300. Last year in this race, with a fourth-place finish, Danica Patrick became the highest finishing female in NASCAR national series history.


Hot Start For JGR Stable
Through two races, Joe Gibbs Racing has placed all three of its drivers in the top 10 in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points. It’s been awhile since they’ve accomplished the feat. Not since after Homestead in 2008 – Tony Stewart’s last race with the organization – has all three JGR members ranked in the top 10.

At the top spot sits Denny Hamlin, winner of Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway. Hamlin, who scored just one win all of last season, earned a little retribution from a Phoenix stumble that cost him the championship in 2010. It was also crew chief Darian Grubb’s first win with JGR after winning the championship with Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing last season. Grubb has now won six of the last 12 races. Another nugget: With the win, the No. 11 tied the No. 43 for most wins all time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 198.

Joey Logano nabbed his second-consecutive top-10 finish, and is one of five drivers to finish in the top 10 at both Daytona and Phoenix.

Kyle Busch picked up eight position spots, and currently sits ninth. Figure on the upward swing continuing. The Las Vegas native won at his home track in 2009.

Hendrick’s Hiccups Only Temporary
You don’t hear this often: Hendrick Motorsports has only one driver in the top 10 and three outside the top 20.

No need to worry just yet. Jimmie Johnson, currently 38th due in most part to a 25-point penalty after Daytona, has won four times at Las Vegas, more than any other driver.

Jeff Gordon, currently 22nd, won at Las Vegas in 2001.

Currently 32nd, Kasey Kahne earned his first pole at Las Vegas, in 2004. He has four top 10s in eight races at the 1.5-mile track.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., HMS’ lone top-10 driver, is fifth in points. He has finished in the top 10 at Las Vegas in three of the last four races.

A major milestone awaits the powerhouse team. Its next win will be No. 200, a feat accomplished by one other team (Petty Enterprises).

Vegas Race Boasts Hometown Flavor
Plenty of local angles will pepper the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field this weekend. There are the two usual suspects: The brothers Busch, Kurt and Kyle. Kyle won at Las Vegas in 2009. Kurt’s best finish at his home track was third in 2005.

Brendan Gaughan, a third Las Vegas native, will make a spot start this weekend. A NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular, Gaughan will drive the No. 33 Chevrolet this weekend for Richard Childress Racing. Gaughan ran fulltime in the series in 2004 and has one top five and four top 10s in 38 career starts.

MWR Showing Some Know How
Blasting out of the 2012 gate, Michael Waltrip Racing boasts both its cars in the top 10 in points. The ageless Mark Martin sits seventh in points after a ninth-place Phoenix finish. Martin Truex Jr. flirted with victory at Phoenix, leading 29 laps. He’s currently sixth in points.

Blue Oval vs. Bowtie at the Diamond in the Desert
Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have won eight of the last nine races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Chevrolet's Johnson winning half of those and Ford's Edwards and Kenseth joining former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Jeff Burton as the only other drivers with two wins at the track.

After winning five of the first seven races at the track, Roush has won two of the last four. RFR owns the most wins at Vegas, with seven. Hendrick Motorsports is second with five, and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing each have one win.


Back … And Better Than Ever?
It sounds odd to say that Richard Childress Racing is “back.” After all, the program has four NASCAR Nationwide Series championships overall – two unified driver/owner titles and two owner championships. But this is a quick resurgence for RCR since 2010.

Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet, is leading the points and secured his first series win since 1998 last week at Phoenix. Rookie Austin Dillon – winner of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in 2011 – is second in the standings, 10 points behind Sadler. Dillon, Childress’ grandson who drives the popular No. 3 Chevrolet, sits atop the Sunoco Rookie of the Year board as well.

After winning the series driver title with Clint Bowyer in 2008, RCR scaled down. The organization ran only for the driver championship in 2009, and then in sporadic races the following two seasons before resurfacing this year after a merger with Kevin Harvick Inc., and now once again is racing under the RCR banner.

Vegas A Springboard For Danica?
Can Patrick better her Vegas Nationwide run from 2011?
It’s early, but Danica Patrick could certainly use some luck. Perhaps it’s the perfect time for her arrival in Las Vegas.

One year ago, Patrick made NASCAR history with a fourth-place finish at LVMS. That result was her career best and also was the highest finish ever by a female in NASCAR’s three national series.

Two weeks ago, her confidence was brimming after winning the pole for the season-opener at Daytona. But her race results haven’t been as stout. Patrick – who is competing in her first full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series season – was the victim of an accident at Daytona that also involved her JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt. She did return to the track and finished 38th. Last week, following a drastic difference in venues, she improved to 21st at Phoenix’s new one-mile configuration.

Patrick comes to Las Vegas 21st in the standings and is within 12 points of 10th.

Reversal Of Fortune?
Mark Martin has won at Las Vegas four times, most of any NASCAR Nationwide Series driver. Three of those wins have come for different owners. Saturday, he’ll go for a fifth win for a fourth different owner.

Fans will have to do a double-take as they watch Martin, who will drive the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. The driver who made that car famous – Las Vegas native Kyle Busch – also is entered, but will be running in his own No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.

In true Alice in Wonderland fashion, what’s backward is forward in this case. Martin long held the NASCAR Nationwide Series all-time wins record (he currently has 49) until Busch, the 2009 series champion, surpassed him last year with win No. 50. Thirty-eight of Busch’s 51 series wins came in the No. 18 JGR Toyota, including his last 36. Now, it’s Martin’s turn in the flagship Gibbs car. Busch is still seeking his first win at his home track in what will be his ninth try.

NNS ETC: Dillon (second) is joined by Whitt (fourth) as rookies in the top 10 this week. … Johanna Long, 19, another Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, returns to race this week at Las Vegas after a solid series debut at Daytona where she finished 21st. Long drives for Indiana-based and female-owned team ML Motorsports. … Brendan Gaughan will pull double-duty at his home track, running in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races for RCR. … Dillon’s crew chief Danny Stockman landed his first job in NASCAR as a 19-year-old mechanic with Gaughan’s family-owned Orleans Racing, which is based in Las Vegas. Ten years later, Stockman graduated to the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Dillon after winning the 2011 truck title as crew chief. He also was truck chief for two of Ron Hornaday Jr.’s truck titles. … This is the first season since 1995 that double-duty NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers have not won the first two races of the year. Chad Little, full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, won the series’ first two events in 1995.

- NASCAR Media Services

No comments: