NASCAR Heads West To Sin City

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LAS VEGAS, NV – The entertainment capital of the world is a major destination for any human being. With a plethora of events to take in day and night outside of the sporting world, it’s no surprise that Vegas is one of the biggest tourist cities in the United States.

But for one weekend (and more in the future…we’ll get to that), NASCAR takes over Sin City. And that’ll be the case this weekend, as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and XFINITY Series will take to the 1.5-mile tri-oval about 30 minutes outside the Las Vegas strip.

WHAT: Kobalt 400. 400.5 miles, 267 laps. Stages are 80 laps, 80 laps and 107 laps

WHEN: Sun. March 12, 2016. Green flag scheduled to fly just past 3:30 p.m. ET

WHERE: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 1.5-mile tri-oval in Las Vegas, Nevada. TV coverage on FOX

FAVORITES: Kevin Harvick (5-1) and Brad Keselowski (6-1)

LAST YEAR’S WINNER:

Last year’s winner of this race also happens to be last week’s winner, Brad Keselowski. He made a pass on hometown favorite Kyle Busch last season with five laps remaining to earn his second career win at LVMS. He had to overcome a pit road speeding penalty, much like last week when he had to overcome a loose wheel with under 100 laps to go. Don’t ever count out team No. 2.

THE LINEUP:

Stratosphere Pole Day saw Keselowski top the charts with a speed of 193.680 mph (27.881 seconds) in his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford, continuing his hot streak from last weekend (and last season at LVMS). Martin Truex Jr. will roll off second, with Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson completing the top five when the green flag flies on Sunday afternoon.

Rounding out the top ten will be Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Erik Jones, Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray. Notables outside the top ten include Chase Elliott in 12th, Denny Hamlin in 15th, Jimmie Johnson in 16th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 18th and Kevin Harvick in 19th.

Starting position might not mean a whole lot, though. Only three of the 19 races at Las Vegas have been won from the front row, whereas nine of the 19 have been won from the top ten.

FREAKY FAST FORDS:

Ford Performance is 2-for-2 in 2017. Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500 victory coupled with Keselowski’s triumph last weekend have kept Toyota and Chevrolet out of the winner’s circle. Factor in Harvick’s domination last week and Ford has led over 50 percent of the laps this season. Ford has also visited victory lane nine times at LVMS, leading all manufacturers.

“We knew coming in with Stewart-Haas that they were going to be guys that could set a bar for us,” team owner Roger Penske told reporters. “We built some chassis for them before Daytona, some center sections, and we had our cars in the wind tunnel and compared them. So we know what they have and they know what we have.”

Penske went on to talk about the teamwork the two teams have used ever since SHR shockingly announced their move from Chevy to Ford in late February of 2016. “The camaraderie at Daytona was something we haven’t had for a number of years because we pretty much played by ourselves, and I think that that’s made us much stronger.”

BIG NAMES, NOT ENOUGH POINTS:

Daniel Suarez, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones. What do all those names have in common? Well, yes, they’re superstars…

But they also sit outside the top 20 in points. Suarez, Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. sit outside the top 30. Even though the season is only two races young, Richmond, the cutoff before the playoffs begin, will be here before we know it. And these big names need to step up their game.

To play devil’s advocate to myself (yeah, I’m weird like that), a win for any of these drivers, which is realistic for all of them, would all but assure them a spot in the playoffs. Plus, some of the drivers ahead of them in the standings entering Vegas are Landon Cassill, Matt DiBenedetto, Cole Whitt, Michael Waltrip (who has since retired) and Michael McDowell.

Not a knock on any of those drivers, but the equipment, skillsets and resumes from the ones mentioned before far surpasses those just mentioned. So they don’t have too much to worry about.

MULTIPLE LVMS RACES FOR 2018 AND BEYOND:

Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas city officials announced on Wednesday that the track would host two MENCS races for the 2018 season, and beyond.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI), which owns LVMS, also announced that they will move the fall Cup and Camping World Truck Series races from the Magic Mile, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which is also an SMI track, to Sin City for 2018. The move will make Vegas the only NASCAR track to host two triple headers, as a September XFINITY race at Kentucky Speedway will be moved to LVMS. Specific dates have not been announced yet.

The move makes a whole lot of sense. Las Vegas is one of, it not the most traveled destination for NASCAR fans. Let’s face it: Loudon, NH doesn’t have as much to do as Las Vegas. The sad part is that the racing at NHMS, depending on who you ask, is better than LVMS. Plus, another cookie cutter track being added to the schedule, and most likely in the playoffs, isn’t what most NASCAR fans want. But money talks, and SMI listened.

VIVA LA STOOL:

Barstool Sports, which is popular amongst us college students, is making its way into NASCAR this weekend. They’ll be sponsoring the No. 37 car of Chris Buescher in a partnership with Natural Light. Some are taking this as a joke, but it’s anything but. Barstool could be the answer for the question NASCAR has been asking for years upon years.

I wrote a long piece earlier this week on why Barstool’s entrance into the sport could be a gigantic opportunity to attract a young, millennial audience, something NASCAR has been wanting—and needing—for decades.

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE WEEKEND (NO DUST STORMS, PLEASE):

The weather won’t be a factor this weekend (knock on wood. YES, YOU. DO IT. I’M SUPERSTITIOUS). Saturday and Sunday’s forecasts call for a high of 82 degrees with a zero percent chance of precipitation, which are music to a race fan’s ears.

As long as Mother Nature doesn’t whip up some desert madness like she did last season in the form of a dust storm, delaying the start of the race by a few minutes, we should be fine. However, I guess this GIF of Cole Pearn suffering through the storm will have to live on.

PREDICTION:

Kevin Harvick will get revenge this weekend on himself for speeding in Atlanta and costing himself the win in one of the most dominant performances we’ve seen in recent memory. He has one win at LVMS back in 2015 and came home seventh last year in this race.

As for a dark horse, don’t overlook Las Vegas native Kurt Busch. His odds are 25-1 according to Westgate. Another sleeper I would pick would be Denny Hamlin at 18-1 or Austin Dillon at 30-1.

NOTE: This weekend will feature a doubleheader with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series. The Kobalt 400 will take place on Sunday (FOX) and the Boyd Gaming 300 will take place on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m.) on FS1. Be sure to listen to this week’s Victory Lane podcast and subscribe on iTunes.

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