Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Kobalt Tools 400

by Eric McClung on March 7, 2012 @ 14:00:45 PDT


Las Vegas Motor Speedway is labeled as a cookie-cutter due to its 1.5-mile length, but features a slightly different set of banking characteristics. The racing surface at LVMS was redesigned for the 2007 season offering only five Cup races in which to analyze.

Since Vegas marks the first test on an intermediate track, teams will learn quite a bit about that state of their 1.5-mile programs this week. In all, eight 1.5-mile tracks will host a total of 11 races this season. Owners will want to monitor the driver trends at these sites because success on these intermediates is pivotal in both reality and fantasy.

Practice sessions: Friday, March 9 at 3:00 pm ET, Saturday, March 10 at 12:30 pm ET, 3:00 pm ET
Qualifying: Friday, March 9 at 6:30 pm ET
Race: Sunday, March 11 at 3:00 pm ET
Location: Clark County, Nev.
Shape: D shaped-oval
Length: 1.5 miles
Laps: 267
Turns 1-4: 20 degrees
Tri-oval: 9 degrees
Frontstretch: 3 degrees
Backstretch: 3 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Since 2007, Edwards has held an average running position of 10th or better in all five starts at Las Vegas. He's also the defending champion of this event, his second LVMS career victory, and posted a career-best average running position of fourth during that run last year. While the other two Roush drivers, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, are currently inside the top five of the standings, Edwards isn't that far behind and will showcase that fact in Sin City.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 DuPont 20 Years Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Among all drivers at Vegas, Gordon ranks first in career average running position with a 7.9 while no other driver is better than 10.1. After crashing before the midway point of the Daytona 500, Gordon posted an impressive top-10 finish last week at Phoenix International Raceway, a track known for limited passing opportunities, despite qualifying 30th. Since LVMS was redesigned Gordon owns a runner-up performance, a third-place finish from 2010 where he led 219 of 267 laps and a total of three top-10s in five starts.

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M/Meguiars Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Marcos Ambrose

Only two drivers have top-five finishes in each race held thus far, Denny Hamlin and Biffle. From 2008-10, the latter held an average running position of at least ninth at LVMS with a top-10 finish in all three races, highlighted by a career-best third. Last year, The Biff was again running third at the halfway point but the gasman failed several times to fully refuel the car and cost his driver a likely top-five finish.

Marcos Ambrose | No. 9 DeWalt Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

While running in third with 17 laps to go last week at PIR, Ambrose blew an engine and was left hobbling to the garage. Thankfully his performance at LVMS has improved in each of the last three years. Last year, Ambrose qualified on the outside pole and finished a career-best fourth. He scored a 20th-place result in 2009 prior to a top-15 in 2010. The Australianís average running position also made big steps in each of those races so the improvements are very legitimate.

Jeff Burton | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

From 2007-10, Burton held an average running position of 11th or better at LVMS with two top-five finishes and a top-15 in all four events. However, he finished 21st last year which was the start to a fairly miserable season. After a crew chief change, Burton's performance improved with four top-10s and seven top-15s in the Chase. Burton finished fifth in the Daytona 500 and was running well at Phoenix before suffering an engine failure. Cashing in at Vegas could be once again be back in the cards for Burton.

Mark Martin | No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Since 2007, Martin owns two top-fives and three top-10s in five starts at LVMS. Last week at PIR, he captured the pole position and finished ninth, making him two-for-two in top-10s this season. While Martin finished 18th in Vegas a year ago during his lame duck campaign at Hendrick Motorsports, he's off to a quick start with MWR and worth gambling on.

Joey Logano | No. 20 Dollar General Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Very quietly Logano has compiled top-10 finishes in each race this season. He could very well continue that streak at Vegas. After a 13th-place finish during his rookie season, Logano finished sixth in 2010. Last year, he was running in the top 10 once again but a tire violation in the pits with 25 laps remaining caused Logano to finish outside of the top 20 after serving a pass through penalty.

Trevor Bayne | No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford | Wood Brothers Racing

In his first career Cup start at LVMS, Bayne recorded a solid 20th-place finish after qualifying 16th. In the Nationwide Series he's finished sixth and fifth, respectively, over the last two years at the site. Although an early wreck kept Bayne from defending his Daytona 500 crown to begin the season, his limited resume at Vegas makes him a fair bet among lower-tier drivers.

Temper your expectations

Kurt Busch | No. 51 Tag Heuer Eyewear Chevrolet | Phoenix Racing

Racing on his home track has proven to be anything but an advantage for the elder Busch brother. Despite an excellent average starting position of 6.7, tops among all drivers, Busch owns just three top-10s in 11 career LVMS starts. Last year's ninth-place result marked his first top-10 at the site since 2005. While flashing some encouraging signs since taking over as the lone driver at Phoenix Racing, Busch has not enjoyed many homecomings in much better equipment over the years.

Kasey Kahne | No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

While Kahne owns four straight top-15 finishes at LVMS, loop data suggests he's been something of an overachiever. In fact, his average running position in those events has been 18th or worse on three occasions. A larger concern could be the fact that the much hyped switch to Hendrick has gotten off to a slow start. Kahne crashed at Daytona and hit the wall at PIR before heading back to the garage. Heís currently 31st in points and has missed 51 laps on action.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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