Monday, March 4, 2013

NASCAR Storylines at Las Vegas

Former Vegas winner Jeff Gordon is 12/1 this week (Getty)

It’s open to debate whether a 70-race winless streak or the inability to reach last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ made Carl Edwards irrelevant. Edwards rendered the argument moot with Sunday’s victory at Phoenix International Raceway in which he led 122 laps and held off champions Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski in a green-white-checkers shootout.

Now it’s on to Las Vegas, where the 2011 Kobalt Tools 400 winner can talk about fond memories – instead of a career milestone of the worst kind.

Johnson, a four-time Las Vegas winner – three coming during championship years – heads the standings by eight over Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Keselowski. It’s Junior’s second-best season start and for Keselowski, his pair of fourth-place finishes prove he’s capable of maintaining his 2012 momentum despite a three-month layoff and Penske Racing’s switch to Ford.
Thursday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series test offers dividends beyond Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400. Teams get a chance to put the Gen-6 car through its paces on an intermediate track – the backbone of the 2013 schedule.

It’s hurry-up time for a number of pre-season championship contenders who find themselves outside the top 20 in points two races into the season.

Phoenix winner Kyle Busch snapped a NASCAR Nationwide Series drought that began in September 2011. Now he’s looking for the special victory that continues to elude him, the Sam’s Town 300 in hometown Las Vegas. Sam Hornish Jr. and Justin Allgaier roll into Glitter City in a championship deadlock having finished seventh and third in Phoenix.

Four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. has been voted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, an honor previously accorded his father, Ron Hornaday Jr.

An expanded look at these and other storylines can be found in News & Notes posted each Tuesday afternoon on

Edwards-Fennig Quick To Prove Winning Potential
His second, 70-race winless streak now history, Carl Edwards and the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway where his 2011 victory had been the Missouri driver’s most recent – until last weekend’s triumph at Phoenix International Raceway. Edwards and “old school” crew chief Jimmy Fennig appear a potent combination. The Phoenix win was the 59-year-old Fennig’s 37th.

Earnhardt’s Fast Start Not Far Off Career Best
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is eight points out of the NASCAR Sprint Cup lead on the strength of the second-best start of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career: a second-place finish at Daytona and fifth in Phoenix. Junior’s best start was 2004 in which a Daytona 500 victory, followed by a fifth-place finish at what is now Rockingham Speedway boosted him to the championship lead.

Early Returns Suggest Re-Run Of Last Year’s Title Match
Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson battled down to the final race in last year’s championship struggle. It looks like more of the same in 2013. The NASCAR Sprint Cup champions battled side by side for the victory in the closing laps at Daytona and Phoenix. Four-time Las Vegas winner Johnson is the standings leader with 2012 champion Keselowski eight points back tied for second. Seven of last year’s Chase qualifiers rank among the top 10 after two races.

Gen-6 Gets Intermediate Test Day; Parity Among Brands So Far
Thursday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Gen-6 intermediate track test day gives drivers, crew chiefs and engineers the opportunity to gather additional insights into the new Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry. Two races have produced two manufacturer winners – Chevrolet at Daytona; Ford in Phoenix – and each nameplate finished among the top three in the Phoenix event.

It’s Getting Late Early For Several Notable Competitors
A number of pre-season championship contenders have considerable work to do in Las Vegas. Defending Kobalt Tools 400 winner Tony Stewart is 23rd in the standings. Las Vegas native Kyle Busch, the race’s 2009 winner, is 33rd, one spot behind his brother, Kurt Busch. Likewise points challenged are 2012 Chase qualifiers Kevin Harvick (30th), Kasey Kahne (31st) and Martin Truex Jr. (34th).

Burton, Kenseth Have Doubled Down In Las Vegas
Jeff Burton remains the only driver to win NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on the same weekend (2000). Burton won the Kobalt Tools 400 back to back in 2000-01 and returns to Las Vegas having finished 10th in Phoenix – his best since last October’s race at Talladega. Two-time LVMS winner Matt Kenseth also did well on Sunday (7th). Kenseth is second in all-time laps led at Las Vegas with 471, behind only Tony Stewart with 482.

Kobalt Tools 400 Etc.
Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing have won 12 of 15 races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. … Kyle Busch is the only driver to win the Kobalt Tools 400 from the Coors Light Pole. … Eight of nine previous LVMS winners have entered Sunday’s race.

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