The NASCAR circuit heads to the West Coast for their annual “NASCAR Goes West” campaign beginning this weekend in Las Vegas, where drivers will be searching for grip and hoping to find lady luck on their side on Sunday afternoon.
Coming off an exciting race at Atlanta Motor Speedway last week, Jimmie Johnson looks to keep his hot streak to begin the season going; he’s looking to notch his 77th career win and fifth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He will roll off 11th on Sunday. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., will roll off 20th on Sunday, and will look to grab his first win of the season and punch his ticket to the Chase as well.
Las Vegas natives Kurt and Kyle Busch always want to put on a good show for their hometown fans, and one brother has already done a fantastic job of doing just that.
“The Outlaw,” Kurt, won the pole for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 (3:30 pm ET, FOX) with a blistering average speed of 196.328 MPH, as multiple drivers eclipsed the track record in round one of knockout qualifying.
“Man, I wasn’t going to lift for anything. I was giving it all I had. I’m really proud of the team to help me get to that third round,” Busch said. “I was overdriving the car and I needed to settle in and (crew chief) Tony Gibson made a great adjustment in that last round.”
The pole is the second in a row for Busch, as he started P1 last weekend after his brother Kyle’s time was disallowed. Defending champion Kyle will start 23rd.
Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillon round out the top five starting lineup, with defending race winner and 2014 champion Kevin Harvick rolling off sixth. Harvick looked dismal early on, as he was mired back in 31st place during the first round of qualifying. But after two late runs, he was able to advance himself into the second round, and ultimately found some speed in the No. 4 Chevrolet to start on row three.
Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. will round out the top ten, respectively. But Truex’s No. 78 has some more drama surrounding them off the track.
NASCAR suspended crew chief Cole Pearn for a violation that involved the No. 78 car’s roof flaps at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and fined him $50,000 as well. Furniture Row Racing is appealing the suspension, and Pearn will be at the racetrack this weekend.
Carl Edwards was going to be locked into a top-12 starting spot – until his car got sideways and hit the wall, forcing the No. 19 team to go to a backup car.
“It’s frustrating because the car was really fast but they say the backup is just as fast,”’ Edwards said. “I guarantee that car will be as good as this one.” He will start 39th on Sunday afternoon.
Some other notable starting positions include Chase Elliott in 13th, Kyle Larson in 17th, Danica Patrick in 18th, Ryan Newman in 21st and Jamie McMurray in 29th.
The new low downforce aero package will also make its second appearance of the young season in Sin City this weekend. Along with a new, softer tire brought by Goodyear, the racing is primed to be the best the speedway has seen since its inception in the late 1990’s.
The favorites for this weekend would have to be Kevin Harvick (defending race winner, dominated last weekend), Jimmie Johnson (four-time LVMS winner, winner last weekend), the Joe Gibbs Racing cars as well as Martin Truex Jr. and the Team Penske duo. As for a dark horse, go with Austin Dillon or Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – two young drivers who have Xfinity championships on their resumes and have been knocking on the door for top fives and top tens lately.
With that being said, I am picking the hometown kid, Kyle Busch, to win the Kobalt 400. Missing this race last season devastated him more than any of us will ever know, being his home track. Leading the point standings after two third place finishes, I think Rowdy gets the job done, punches his ticket to the playoffs and wins at home.
I am in Las Vegas for this weekend’s races (WOOHOO SPRING BREAK!) and will be able to see all the action unfold live and in person! Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for updates from the track. It should be a great weekend, as always, and I can’t wait for the green flag to drop!