Race: Kobalt Tools 400
Date: Sunday March 11, 2012
Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Time: 2:30 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Racing Handicapper, Predictem.com
Fuel mileage and pit strategy was the name of the game last weekend at Phoenix. Denny Hamlin came home with the win, with Kevin Harvick finishing 2nd despite running out of gas because of his 7 second lead over 3rd place Greg Biffle. With the reconfigured track, Phoenix was difficult for some drivers to master, trying to utilize the extra asphalt to save fuel, avoid wrecks, and feel out their cars for potential necessary changes.
This weekend, we are headed a track with a much different configuration. Las Vegas Motor Speedway is what we call a ‘cookie-cutter’ intermediate track. It is a 1.5 mile D-shaped oval with 30 degree banking in the turns and 9 degrees on the frontstretch and backstretch. Furthermore, there is an equal 3330 feet making up both the front and back stretches. This track is fast. It is fun for the drivers and fun for the fans to watch. I’ve had the opportunity to drive this track before, and let me tell you that this track gives you quite the adrenaline rush. Drivers are pushing 180 mph into the turns. Overall importance at this track is track position. Drivers need to get out front and stay out front. We heard a lot about track position at Phoenix last weekend, but being that Phoenix is a short track, tires played a large role as well. I don’t think that we are going to see the same issues with tire importance here as with Phoenix, but there will still be strategy depending on how the race plays out. Fuel mileage could be an issue to contend with as well, just as we saw with Phoenix.
An interesting thing that we are seeing with the new fuel injection systems seems to be electrical issues with the car. Now, I do not know if all of the issues are directly connected to the new injection system, but it seems that relays are going bad and engines are blowing very early into the year for no apparent reason. Tony Stewart had a rough weekend at Phoenix because of issues with a relay. Jeff Gordon blew a motor at Daytona, which is virtually unheard of for the Hendrick garages to deal with such a catastrophic failure. This weekend, we will see what effect an intermediate track has on equipment. I think that we will see some issues here as well.
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That being said, let’s look at the past winners of this race. Carl Edwards is the defending champ. Jimmie Johnson is a 4-time winner here. Other winners include Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth in recent years. With those drivers in mind, I think that we are going to see a strong weekend from the Hendrick drivers at Las Vegas. Johnson recovered from Daytona’s disaster with a respectable 4th place finish at Phoenix. Teammate Gordon finished 8th, which is strong considering his 30th starting position. Those 2 guys are going to be strong this weekend. In addition to a strong run from the Hendrick drivers, I do think that we are going to see a good showing from the Roush drivers of Biffle, Edwards, and Kenseth. Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards are notably strong at Vegas, and Biffle has been consistent in the first 2 races thus far with strong showings as a driver and a team. He are my picks for this week:
Pick to win the race: Jimmie Johnson
Middle of the road pick: Mark Martin
Darkhorse prediction: Ryan Newman
Mark Martin is my middle of the road pick because he performs well here in the Nationwide series and simply because he’s been strong so far this season in pre-season racing through Phoenix. Ryan Newman usually runs well on the intermediate tracks and simply needs to stay out of wrecks. If Stewart can give him a strong car and he can manage to qualify well, which he should not have too much of a problem doing, then we can expect to see Newman perform strongly. Finally, I think that we are going to see Johnson back on top at Vegas. Although Edwards is the defending champ, he’s had a difficult time finishing out the races strongly this year. Johnson proved last weekend that he’s still a force to be reckoned with and Vegas is the perfect opportunity for him to reclaim victory.
Stay tuned for the lights and fast pace of Vegas. It’s sure to be a race to be remembered!