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NASCAR Las Vegas preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, March 09, 2012

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Carl Edwards won in 2011 in Las Vegas
All eyes with be on the bright lights of Las Vegas when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its annual visit, to the city that never sleeps, for Sunday's running of the Kobalt Tools 400. NASCAR racing at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway offers features a blend of hard racing to the checkers combined with the element of fuel mileage and who saved enough of the finish.
It's also about a massive amount of fun for the fans. From the special events waiting for them at the speedway to the shows and the casinos, let's face it: Las Vegas and NASCAR simply belongs in the same sentence. Don't be too surprised if you look over and see one of your favorite Sprint Cup drivers sitting at a slot machine next to you.
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
One of the major stories you will hear about this weekend is "penalty watch." We're all still waiting to see how the appeal process will turn out for Jimmie Johnson's #48 team. It's been well documented that Daytona was a disaster for this five time championship team. Between the lap two crash and the harsh penalties from failing a tech inspection, this team began the 2012 season standing in a very large hole.
But these distractions clearly has not impacted Jimmie Johnson's ability to focus on the task at hand. He proved that with a strong run at Phoenix last week that elevated the team from 44th to 37th in the points standings. Had it not been for a pit road situation, involving a loose wheel, he likely would have won the Phoenix event.  He's heavily favored to win the Las Vegas race and still favored to win the championship despite the Daytona disaster.
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If a strong sense of human emotion still means anything in NASCAR racing, then Jeff Gordon has 20 great reasons to win at Las Vegas this Sunday. It's the 20th anniversary of the marketing team of Gordon and DuPont Automotive Finishes. Gordon's #24 Chevrolet will be adorned by a special paint scheme this weekend, created by NASCAR artist Sam Bass, to commemorate the occasion.
It was believed by many that DuPont took a Las Vegas sized gamble when they signed with Gordon back in 1992. That was 85 Sprint Cup wins and four NASCAR championships ago. Apparently the gamble paid off in a very big way.   
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2012 also marks the 25th anniversary of team owner Jack Roush in NASCAR racing and, after winning at Daytona with Matt Kenseth, this special occasion is off to a special start. It could get better because Roush Fenway Racing has some phenomenal numbers at Las Vegas. In 14 Sprint Cup events, held there, RFR drivers have won seven of them.
Roush driver Carl Edwards is the defending race champion. It's also the last time this driver has found victory lane. Edwards is heavily favored to end that year long win less streak this Sunday.
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If fuel mileage becomes an issue at Las Vegas, and it wouldn't be the first time if it did, then expect to see a variation from the traditional approach to saving fuel due to the presence of the new electronic fuel injection, (EFI), engines. After what Tony Stewart went through last weekend at Phoenix, it's a safe bet that no one is going to try the traditional turn the engine off and on maneuver. It seems that the EFI electronic system just can't handle that.
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THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN
So, who's going to cash in at Las Vegas and who's going to tap out? For the answer to that question we turn to the professional Las Vegas number crunchers from the World Sports Exchange, (WSE).
Topping the WSE list is the aforementioned Jimmie Johnson at 6 to 1 odds. Let's face it, this driver has Las Vegas numbers to beat. That includes a series high four wins along with four top five finishes and five top tens along with a very healthy average finish ratio, (AFR) of 10.6. By the way, Johnson also tops the WSE list as their favorite to win his sixth Sprint Cup championship.
He needs to improve his points situation, 37th, following the season opener at Daytona. The other motivation here for Johnson is the fact that his long time primary sponsor, Kobalt Tools, is also the race sponsor. That tends to make a driver dig a little harder for the win. He also wants to be the one to give team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th Sprint Cup win.
Joining Johnson at 6 to 1 odds is the Las Vegas hometown hero Kyle Busch. The youngest Busch brother, ranked ninth in the points standings, also brings some impressive Las Vegas numbers to the table that includes two wins, two top fives and three top tens in eight starts. He also has a decent AFR of 15.0 at his home track.
At 7 to 1 is Carl Edwards who is absolutely a pre race favorite as well as the defending race winner. Ranked seventh in the current points, Edwards has some great numbers at Las Vegas including two wins, two top fives, three top tens and a healthy AFR of 11.0. Also remember that Edwards drives a Roush Fenway Ford and that team seems to excel at Las Vegas.
The WSE has Tony Stewart listed at 8 to 1 who's 15th in the points due to the aforementioned fuel mileage move at Phoenix last weekend. "Smoke" is still seeking his first win at Las Vegas but does have five top fives and eight top tens. He also has a 13.8 AFR. His Steve Addington led team is expected to be strong again this weekend and, at 8 to 1, Stewart is another rock solid wager consideration.
Next on the WSE's list is the dynamic duo of Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick at 10 to 1 odds. Again, Gordon would love to get his second win at Las Vegas in honor of DuPont’s 20th anniversary with his team. Like his team mate, Johnson, he also wants to be the one to give the boss that important 200th win. It's no secret that Rick Hendrick has been transporting a large bag of racing caps, commemorating win number 200, for quite some time and Gordon would love to pass those hats out while his car is parked in victory lane. Gordon is currently ranked 22nd in the standings, due to a blown engine at Daytona, and he'll want to improve that situation. He has six top fives at Las Vegas and a 14.9 AFR. He also has a series leading driver rating of 112.1 there.
Kevin Harvick is off to a solid start in the still young 2012 season and is ranked third in the points. He's still seeking his first win at Las Vegas, but he does have three top fives, four top tens and a 13.2 AFR. Here's yet another driver and team that's wager worthy.
At 12 to 1 odds you will find the highly interesting duo of Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth. As the newest member of Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne's bad luck, in the first two events of the season, has him at a disappointing 32nd in the points. However, when you combine this driver with long time crew chief Kenny Francis along with the resources from Rick Hendrick, there's no reason why they shouldn't turn into a super team. Kahne is also looking for his first visit to the Las Vegas victory lane. He has two previous top five finishes and a 14.9 AFR.  If you're into long shot wagers, then Kasey Kahne is worthy of your consideration. The law of averages says the bad luck mini streak has to turn around somewhere and it might be at Las Vegas.
The fact that Matt Kenseth is rated at 12 to 1 seems rather surprising because of the past numbers he's compiled at Las Vegas. He's a two time winner there with five top fives, six top tens and a very healthy 11.7 AFR. He's currently fourth in the points and is still carrying the momentum from winning his second Daytona 500 last month. He's also driving one of those powerful Roush Fenway Racing Fords who has won seven of the 14 Cup races at Las Vegas. This is an outstanding long shot wager consideration because, at 12 to 1 odds, Kenseth is highly capable of becoming a Las Vegas bookie's worst nightmare.
Looking now at the WSE's middle tier, Greg Biffle leads a trio of drivers at 20 to 1. Biffle is off to a great start this year and is currently ranked second in the points. He also another member of that powerful Roush Fenway Racing organization.
Also in the 20 to 1 group is fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr who is also seeking his first win at Las Vegas. Then again, Earnhardt simply wants to rid himself of that troublesome win less streak that dates back to 2008. He also would like to be the driver that gives Rick Hendrick that 200th win.
Also in this 20 to 1 group is Brad Keselowski. He's only had three starts at Las Vegas and is still seeking his first top ten finish there. He's ranked this high because he's "Bad Brad" and, on any given weekend, he's more than capable of surprising us all.
Turning now to the WSE's lower tier, the trio of Martin Truex Jr, Ryan Newman and A J Allmendinger are rated at 30 to 1. At 35 to 1 you will find another trio led by Clint Bowyer along with Las Vegas home town hero Kurt Busch and previous Las Vegas winner Mark Martin.
The WSE Las Vegas rankings closes with a 40 to 1 trio led by two time Las Vegas winner Jeff Burton along with Juan Pablo Montoya and Joey Logano.
If you do not see your favorite driver's name on this week's WSE rankings then they are automatically ranked at 8 to 1 odds. Surprisingly, this includes the name of Denny Hamlin who won last weekend's race at Phoenix, currently leads the Sprint Cup points standings and has a healthy 11.7 AFR at Las Vegas. Also, let's consider that the team of Hamlin and new crew chief Darian Grubb is off to a very strong start this year. That alone makes Hamlin a strong wager consideration.
Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these odds rankings should be viewed for informational and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage, nor condone, the placing of wagers on their races.
Not meaning to be overly sarcastic here, but that's a very tough point to sell when the race is being held at Las Vegas.
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THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Kobalt Tools 400 will be 267 laps/400.5 miles around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway's 1.5 mile oval.
The race has 45 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. Ten of those entries are on the go or go home list. These teams are not guaranteed a starting berth because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. These ten teams will have to depend solely on qualifying speeds to make Sunday's race.
The Las Vegas Motor Speedway was officially opened in 1996. The first NASCAR sanctioned race, a K&N Pro Series West event, was held in November of that year and was won by Ken Schrader. The first Las Vegas Sprint Cup event was held in 1998 and was won by Mark Martin. Since that time there has been 14 Sprint Cup races held at Las Vegas that has sent eight different winners to victory lane. Jimmie Johnson tops the win list with four. Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth each have two wins at the speedway. Roush Fenway Racing tops the team win chart and has won seven of the 14 Cup races at Las Vegas including the first three races in a row.
Track position is always going to be a valuable commodity in any NASCAR Sprint Cup race and that also applies to racing at Las Vegas. Matt Kenseth holds the track qualifying record, 188.884 MPH, set in March of last year. Kyle Busch was the first driver to score a Las Vegas win from the pole position back in 2009. Six of the 14 Las Vegas Cup races have been won from starting positions within the top ten while four have been won from starting berths outside of the top twenty.
The speedway was reconfigured, to include progressive banking, in 2006. The four corners are now banked at 20 degrees. The front stretch, measuring 2,275 feet long, and the backstretch, 1,572 feet, each have nine degrees of banking. The speedway presently has grandstand seating to accommodate 142,000 plus fans. 
Weather is not expected to be any concern regarding Sunday's race. The Las Vegas weekend forecast calls for sunny skies with daytime highs between 72 and 75 degrees.
A NASCAR weekend in Las Vegas is famous for a high number of driver meet and greet with the fans. Dial up www.lvms.com for all of the details.   
The Kobalt Tools 400 will be broadcast live by Fox Sports beginning with the pre race show at 230 pm eastern time. The race re-broadcast will be on Wednesday, March 14th, on SPEED beginning at 1230 pm et. PRN, Performance Racing Network and Sirius XM Satellite NASCAR Radio Channel 90 will carry the live radio broadcast of the race. 
Make sure you reset your clocks, one hour forward, this weekend. Whether you're going to be attending the race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, or watching on television, you will not want to miss a single lap of the Kobalt Tools 400. 

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