Now, we all know nothing unusual or unexpected happens during a Sprint Cup event.
So, these predictions are as solid as a Kyle Busch engine during the Chase. They're as predictable as the Big One at Talladega. These picks are as easy as the compliments to Goodyear that simply stream from Tony Stewart's mouth.
In other words, I have done my best to give you a capsule of who I believe will finish in the top ten today, but NASCAR at Las Vegas is as about as predictable as Tony Eury, Jr.'s calls atop the pit box.
It seems especially rough around Turn 2 this weekend, so keep an eye on those of lesser talent getting loose and potentially taking out the many good drivers that must charge (e.g., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth) from the back with faster hot rods.
So, in summary, take out your checkbook and credit cards, call your bookie and place these bets:
10. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch finishing 10th? Are you kidding me? Kyle landed on the pole on Friday but will be starting from the back due to an engine change. He also pancaked the right side of his car during Happy Hour.
Still, Kyle could easily drive into the top 10 by the halfway point of this race. And that may be his undoing. His aggression in moving to the front may very well get him caught up in an accident not of his own doing.
It is not hard for me to envision him taking the air of the side of a slower car impeding his progress (let's say Robby Gordon, just for fun), and he could be involved in restarts having to fight through many cars attempting to get the Lucky Dog.
Vegas will not mimic California with regard to its lack of cautions, and Kyle Busch has greater talent but far less patience than many of his competitors. However, he is also good enough to be involved in an incident (or two) and still finish in the top ten.
9. Mark Martin
Martin was in the top five for both Saturday practice sessions (and he blew the field away in leading the Friday practice session), but couldn't maintain the consistent lap speeds of his Hendrick teammates.
Martin often finishes about where he starts and he appears to have the car to do just that today. He qualified eighth, though he'll actually start fifth with Kyle Busch (pole), David Reutimann (4th), and Marcos Ambrose (5th) all going to the back with engine changes.
8. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
It's hard to bet against any of the Hendrick cars this weekend, and Jr. has been consistently in the top ten during practice. He'll have to fight his way forward from the 31st position, but that's an easier task than Kyle Busch's and Jr. (usually) exhibits more patience on the track.
He simply doesn't appear to have the speed that Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are sporting, however, so picking him any higher than this doesn't feel right. If anyone is in need of a top ten right now, it is Junior, who currently sits 35th in the points. Don't expect him to stay there long.
7. Kurt Busch
It certainly would be a feel-good story for Kurt to get a win in front of his hometown crowd. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that Dodge is ready to win on this size track, even with the new engine and a supremely talented wheelman. Kurt consistently ran in the top five at California, but never challenged the leaders.
Due to the way cars move up the grid, Kurt will not get the pole as his brother moves to the back (Johnson will) to start the race, but 2nd is a great place to begin nonetheless.
Busch's fastest lap in Happy Hour was good enough for fourth, though there were several cars with better average lap speeds. Another top ten finish going into Atlanta would serve notice that Kurt will be around to contend for a berth in this year's Chase.
6. Greg Biffle
Last night's Nationwide winner has a strong Ford for today's race as well. Biffle knows how to get around LVMS like few others as he showed once again last night.
He seems to have grown a bit more aggressive this year, which I think will work in his favor toward the end of the race. If the team can make a few minor adjustments and gain just a touch more speed, Biffle is capable of running with the leaders. He almost always seems to race better than he practices, especially on the 1.5-2.0 mile tracks.
5. Matt Kenseth
LVMS seems to be an excellent track for Kenseth to go for a record-setting third win to open the 2009 season. Sure, the odds are against it, but it had been since 1997 that even the first two races were won by the same driver (Jeff Gordon).
Kenseth didn't have the best Happy Hour (20th fastest), but his average speed was respectable, and his history at the track is outstanding. This is very likely to be a Roush and Hendrick show and Matt Kenseth should be right in the thick of it.
Unfortunately, due to difficulties in qualifying, Kenseth will have to come from the back (40th), but he has the patience to slowly work his way up and expect to see him up front when it counts.
If teammate Jamie McMurray weren't quite so under the weather, he would also be an excellent top ten selection.
4. Jeff Gordon
I guarantee you that if Jeff Gordon finishes fourth, he will be disappointed. Many in the garage believe he has the car to beat, and I have little doubt that he will certainly be one of the cars that can win.
Gordon kicked it up a notch in Happy Hour (second fastest) and had the fastest average speed. Will Steve Letarte keep up with the track and make the necessary adjustments with as much skill as the No. 48 crew chief, Chad Knaus?
I'm betting (Monopoly money, of course) that he won't, and that it will cost Gordon a couple of spots in the final running order. Many insist this is the week that Jeff's losing streak ends, but I'm going with, "Close, but no cigar."
3. Carl Edwards
Interestingly enough, Vegas bookies have made Carl Edwards the odds-on favorite, although he has not had the fastest car all weekend. He's been far from slow however, tallying the fourth-fastest average speed in Happy Hour.
Couple that speed with Edwards' recent record on the medium-banked tracks of this size, and it's easy to see why the oddsmakers favor him. Edwards also won at the last progressively-banked track (Homestead), perhaps the best comparison to Vegas.
Vegas is a bit faster than Homestead, primarily due to new pavement, and Edwards likes fast.
2. Denny Hamlin
This is my surprise pick of the top five, but I think Hamlin is going to do what Kyle Busch could have. Denny had the second-fastest average speed (to Jeff Gordon) and was eighth overall in Happy Hour.
Hamlin qualified poorly (34th), but don't let it fool you. This team has made huge strides in practice and as Edwards, Johnson and Gordon fight for the win, I expect Hamlin to slip in like a thief in the night.
1. Jimmie Johnson
Simply put, Johnson rules Las Vegas and his Impala SS has looked great all weekend. Even better, he'll start from the pole, moving up from the third position as Kyle Busch goes to the rear.
Though starting position does not correlate to finishing position very strongly at Las Vegas (15th position actually has the best average finish, lucky for Michael Waltrip), there is little doubt that the Hendrick duo of Johnson and Jeff Gordon have the cars to beat.
Johnson led Happy Hour while posting the third-fastest average lap speed (logging four more laps run than Nos. 2 and 3).
Johnson will start at the front and, with a top-notch crew and excellent pit selection, he'll likely stay there all day.
Other drivers to watch: Jamie McMurray (starts 38th), Tony Stewart (10th), Brian Vickers (21st), Kevin Harvick (9th), Kasey Kahne (7th), and Bobby Labonte (17th)
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