What to Watch For: Shelby 427
Week three is upon us NASCAR fans, and the boys remain out west to take part in the extended version now known as the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Hopefully, it'll become a Thursday tradition to put out my What to Watch For each week.
Here are a few stories to watch this weekend:
Kenseth Goes for Hat-Trick History
The No. 17 team is currently perfect on the season. Two races, two wins. In doing so, Matt Kenseth became only the fourth driver in NASCAR history to win the Daytona 500 and the following event.
If the "Killer Bees" can cross the finish line in first on Sunday, they will become the only team ever to win three in a row to start the season.
“I just feel great about the group we have assembled,” said Kenseth. “Everybody's having fun. Everybody's loose. Everybody's performing at the same time. I think that, Drew has given the leadership and the spark they (the team) kind of needs.”
Kenseth has a driver rating of 107.8 at LVMS and an average running position of 10.8. He has also visited Victory Lane twice, collected four top-fives and five top-10 finishes in nine starts.
Home Sweet Home: Busch Brothers Seek Elusive Las Vegas Win
Vegas is where the Busch brothers (Kyle and Kurt) grew up. They began their careers in racing on the "bull-ring" dirt track across the street from LVMS.
While both had amazing success on the dirt, neither has won a NASCAR national series race at LVMS.
Both have started strong in 2009. Kurt sits third in the point standings with a 10th-place finish at Daytona and a fifth-place finish last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
In eight starts at LVMS, Kurt has posted one top-five and two top-10 finishes. His driver rating is 89.9 and he averages a running position of 13.4 at the 1.5-mile oval.
Kyle is 18th in the points—though he should be higher if not for being collected in a wreck at Daytona and finishing 41st. He followed that up with a third-place showing in the Auto Club 500.
Kyle re-wrote history (something I think he'll do a lot of!) last weekend when he won the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series race in the same day—becoming the first driver ever to win two national touring series in the same day.
Kyle attempts to carry his momentum to his home track this weekend. He has two top-fives, three top-10 finishes and one ole at LVMS. He ranks first in average running position (6.8), third in driver rating (109.8), second in quality passes (174), and second in laps in the top 15 (93.1 percent).
Gordon Has Early Success—Only 11 Laps Shy of 20,000 For Career
Nobody expected Gordon to be a competitor early in 2009. Most have tried to say he has surpassed his prime and will be out of the sport shortly. However, the No. 24 DuPont team has surprised everyone and currently sits second in the points.
Gordon battled Kenseth hard in the closing laps of the Auto Club 500 last Sunday, but came up short. If his team had put him out front after the final pit stop, he would have won the race.
Gordon has proved he's the head of the class at Hendrick Motorsports this season. In two races, he has been the top finisher of the four-car stable.
As a result, he currently sits only 85-points behind Kenseth in the championship hunt.
Gordon and the No. 24 team head to Las Vegas with confidence in their 1.5-mile setups after struggling mightily last year—including a zero in the win column for the first time since his rookie season.
“I'm so excited about this race team right now,” said Gordon. “I just think we're head and shoulders above where we were (last year).”
In 11 LVMS starts, Gordon has one win, five top-fives and five top-10 finishes. He ranks second in average running position (7.4), second in driver rating (111.4), first in quality passes (186), and first in laps in the top 15 (93.5 percent).
On top of being excited about his points standings and solid finishes, Gordon has the opportunity to surpass 20,000 laps run in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He takes the green flag on Sunday 11 laps shy of the mark.
Roush Fenway Racing Continues Their Success
Carl Edwards appeared to be ready to close on Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team for the championship last year. He came up short, but the Roushkateers have picked up exactly where they left off in 2009—in Victory Lane.
Edwards finished 2008 by winning three of the last four races, including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Kenseth has won the opening two events in 2009, giving Roush Fenway five wins in the last six points paying races.
Not only are the teams continuing to win races, but they are also holding strong in their points positions as well.
Last year, Roush had three of his five drivers make the Chase. This year, he has four drivers in the top-10 in the series standings:
• Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) is fifth in the standings after a 20th-place finish at Daytona and a fourth-place at Auto Club Speedway.
• David Ragan (No. 6 UPS Ford) is eighth in the standings after a sixth-place finish at Daytona and a 17th-place at ACS.
• Edwards is ninth in the standings after an 18th-place finish at Daytona and a seventh at ACS.
• Kenseth leads the points with two wins.
On top of that success, when Kenseth won the race last Sunday, it was Roush Fenway's fifth-straight Feb. win at Auto Club Speedway.
Roush credits the spark of the No. 17 team and his organization to Kenseth's rookie crew chief Drew Blickensderfer.
In two starts, Blickensderfer is 2-0.
Blickensderfer began is career in racing seven years ago with Roush Fenway as a tire changer. He has since worked his way up to the man atop the pit box for the "Killer Bees" NASCAR's best pit crew.
“Drew has brought magic to the team,” said Jack Roush. “He knows how to capitalize on the energy within a team. We needed that. We had all the right team with the right skill sets on the team; we just needed somebody to create the magic. Drew has done that.”
The Roush Fenway camp heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend looking to keep there undefeated season alive.
Jack Roush leads all other car owners with six wins at LVMS.
Big Names “On The Bubble” Of The Top 35 Owner Standings
Drivers and teams love to have that guaranteed spot in the race each weekend, but if some bigger name drivers don't get a fire lit underneath them, they may be on the outside looking in come Martinsville.
Some of those names near of outside of the bubble include:
Robby Gordon is currently 33rd in car owner points. As a car owner and driver, he has all the weight on his shoulders to stay in the top 35.
Gordon posted a 31st at Daytona and a 12th at Auto Club Speedway. His best finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was 12th in 2006.
Ryan Newman joined Stewart-Haas Racing and car owner/driver Tony Stewart this season. He is currently 34th in car owner points after posting a 36th at Daytona and 28th at Auto Club Speedway. Newman has amounted one top-five, four top-10s, and a pole in eight starts at LVMS.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had a rough two weeks to start the season and comes into Las Vegas 35th in car owner points. He finished 27th at Daytona and 39th at ACS.
Earnhardt has NEVER missed a race since becoming a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver in 2000. Earnhardt has posted two top-five and three top-10 finishes at Las Vegas in nine starts.
Aric Almirola is 36th in the car owner point—two points behind 35th. Driving for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing he posted a 30th at Daytona and 35th at ACS.
Almirola has only one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at LVMS in 2007—he finished 41st.
Joey Logano and Joe Gibbs currently are 37th in car owner points—14 points back from 35th. In ’09 Logano has posted a 43rd at Daytona and a 26th at Auto Club Speedway. Practice on Friday, Feb. 27 will be the first laps Logano has run in any of NASCAR’s national series at LVMS.
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