Race: Kobalt Tools 400
Date: Sunday March 6th, 2011
Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Time: 3 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
From the looks of the field and the cars on Sunday, you’d think we were still at Daytona! The difference is that Jeff Gordon came back from hitting the wall and won the race, something you’d never see at Daytona. It was nice seeing someone just so darn happy about winning! It was almost like seeing Trevor Bayne at Daytona, but Gordon just happened to end his 66 race winless streak. Phoenix was a great race for a few and a horrible for many. This weekend we are headed to Las Vegas. If you don’t think that you’ve seen enough wild rides over the first two weeks of the season, stay tuned because Las Vegas never disappoints.
This 1.5 mile D-shaped oval is going to be great. It has 20 degree banking in the turns and 9 degrees on both the front and back stretch. The frontstretch is 2275 feet with the backstretch boasting 1572 feet. Now, this track is longer than Phoenix with more banking. I’ve actually driven this track, and 180 mph sure feels as fast as it sounds. The drivers get even faster. I’m just a sissy I guess. Regardless, this race is going to start to set the field and give us an idea of where these teams and drivers are headed this year.
I think that the first 2 races were extremely interesting. Phoenix definitely seems to solidify that the crew chief changes in the Hendrick garages were beneficial for Gordon. Trevor Bayne was consistently good in the 500, but is not running for points in the Cup series, only in the Nationwide. This week is going to bring some consistency as we get into the groove of the season.
One important note coming into this race: hometown of Kurt and Kyle Busch. The undisputed biggest contender in this race in my opinion is Kyle Busch. He has a lot to prove and brother Kurt is not quite as strong here as Kyle is. That being said, we have 5-time champ Jimmie Johnson as the defending winner. Kyle Busch won back in 2009. Although Johnson has the most wins here, Kyle is on track to firmly gain his position in the Chase and run for the championship. Johnson has done a decent job this year, but has yet to dominate as in years past. Kurt and Kyle Busch also account for the last 3 poles here. I think that Johnson will do well if not contend for the win, but I think that he will have to drive through Kyle Busch to get the victory lane.
Besides the Busch brothers and Johnson, we need to watch especially for Carl Edwards here. He’s been coming through the field strong, and with the exception of being wrecked by Kyle last weekend, he’s got a great shot here as well. Jeff Gordon is coming off his win at Phoenix, so we will have to wait and see if he can carry that momentum into Las Vegas.
Here’s a look at your current top 12 in the points after Phoenix:
1. Kyle Busch
2. Kurt Busch
3. Tony Stewart
4. A.J. Allmendinger
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Mark Martin
7. Bobby Labonte
8. Ryan Newman
9. Juan Montoya
10. David Gilliland
11. Paul Mendar
12. Carl Edwards
An interesting note regarding points is that we are seeing guys like Gilliland and Allmendinger still hanging in the top 12. These guys are going to be staying within the top 15 to 20 this year I think. We are going to see a lot of up and coming drivers this year. Although Johnson, Gordon, the Busch brothers, and Hamlin are here to stay, the are going to need to make way for the newbies. We have a strong bunch of drivers coming in this year.
Well, it looks like this season is going to be even better than last if at all possible! Stay tuned for Las Vegas, where these guys are going to go all in and risk everything to get to victory lane!
Who will win the Kobalt Tools 400? Kyle Busch.
Darkhorse Pick: Carl Edwards