If you think the starting lineup for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway looks a little familiar, you're right. Mother Nature stepped in and washed out Friday's qualifying session, forcing NASCAR
to set the field by last year's owner points and putting defending series champ Brad Keselowski
on the pole. Even though Las Vegas is a fast, 1.5-mile oval where passing should be somewhat easy, the drivers starting up front could have an edge Sunday. In the last eight races at the track, only one driver has started outside the top 20 and gone to Victory Lane. More importantly, six of the winners during the stretch have started inside the top 10, including four from the first two rows.
The rain handed a strong starting spot to a number of big names, including Jimmie Johnson. The five-time series champ will start third Sunday, and after a solid showing in Saturday's practice, he took over the top spot in the driver rankings. After all, he is a four-time winner at Las Vegas, and his 9.8 average finish at the track is the best in the series. Johnson also finished second at Vegas last year, and considering how strong he has been out of the gate in 2013, it is hard to imagine that he won't be a serious contender for the win Sunday.
Among the other big names that moved up into the top 10 in the rankings were Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne. Busch was one of the fastest cars in both practice sessions Saturday, and although he has struggled in his last three starts at Vegas, he did win at the track in 2009 and has three career finishes of third or better. Kahne in the other hand has gone six straight races at Vegas without a top-five, but he will roll off fourth with a car that was strong in both practices. Not to mention the fact that seven of his 14 Cup wins have come at 1.5-mile tracks.
As far as sleeper options go, Martin Truex Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. top the list. After solid showings in practice by both drivers, including a stellar effort from Truex, both jumped into the top 15 in the rankings. Truex also happens to be to have scored the most points of any driver in the last 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks while Stenhouse won five of his eight Nationwide races at 1.5-mile tracks. Stenhouse will also enjoy a top-10 starting spot because he inherited Matt Kenseth's points from last year when he took over the No. 17. Both drivers could provide fantasy owners with a top-15 finish Sunday, and Truex has serious upside based on his practice times.
On the flip side, defending race winner Tony Stewart was the big loser in the rankings. After opening at the top of the list, a terrible showing in the opening practice Saturday and a mediocre effort in Happy Hour bumped "Smoke" into the back half of the top 10. Granted, Stewart has led the most laps at Vegas in each of the past two seasons and leads all active drivers with seven wins when qualifying is rained out, but the practice times don't inspire much confidence.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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