With two races already in the books, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City on Sunday.
Drivers will start their engines at Las Vegas Speedway for the 17th running of the Kobalt Tools 400 and we've got everything you need to know in advance of the 400.5-mile race.
Site: Las Vegas Speedway, Las Vegas, Nev.
Date: Sunday, March 9
Start Time: 3 p.m. ET
It has been a bit of a shaky start to the season for Richard Childress Racing's Paul Menard. He finished 32nd at the Daytona 500 and followed that up by crossing the finish line 23rd in Phoenix at The Profit on CNBC 500.
However, it's probably time to cut the 33-year-old some slack, as he has a little something that is likely taking most of his attention—literally a little something. Menard's wife is expecting the couple's first child any day now, and as such, Matt Crafton will be on standby in Vegas in case Menard is called home.
Crafton spoke with reporters about his relationship with Menard and the situation:
It's tough, because you just don’t know when or even if it will happen, but kind of like that backup quarterback, you have to be ready at any time. Paul and I have been good friends going back to 2001. We’ve raced together and I actually spotted for him early in his career. For him to have the confidence in me to get the job done if he has to head back home—that’s awesome.
The 37-year-old is the reigning 2013 Camping World Truck Series champion, but has never participated in a Sprint Cup Series race.
Of course, while we may see one debut in Vegas, we'll also see a four-time champion with over 700 Sprint Cup races under his belt who just so happens to be off to his best start in nearly two decades.
To me, next week's the real test. We really struggled at Vegas last year and this is a great way to get us fired up and ready to go. If we can get a top-five next week, then this team is really, really onto something and it's something I'm excited about.
Finally, NASCAR.com gives us a sneak peak at the new paint schemes that will be revealed in Vegas.
Sprint Cup Standings
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Hendrick Motorsports||88||90|
|2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||2||84|
|3||Jeff Gordon||Hendrick Motorsports||24||80|
|4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||4||79|
|5||Jimmie Johnson||Hendrick Motorsports||48||78|
|6||Joey Logano||Team Penske||22||75|
|7||Matt Kenseth||Joe Gibbs Racing||20||70|
|8||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||11||68|
|9||Carl Edwards||Roush Fenway Racing||99||65|
|10||Greg Biffle||Roush Fenway Racing||16||64|
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
We already talked about Jeff Gordon's early success. Well, it's been a complete team effort for Hendrick Motorsports.
Kasey Kahne improved in Phoenix after a rough time at Daytona, Jimmie Johnson has two top-10 finishes and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been transcendent, following up a win at Daytona with a second-place finish in Phoenix.
Where will Junior finish in Vegas?
Of course, while Junior is off to a red-hot 2014 start, his success dates back to last year's Chase. After a 35th-place finish at Chicagoland thanks to a blown engine, he finished in the top 10 in nine of the season's final 10 races.
Moreover, Vegas Speedway is a 1.5-mile track. At those final two particular races of the season in Fort Worth, Texas, and Homestead, Fla., he finished second and third.
Junior started off hot in 2013 and finished seventh here. Expect him to top that mark this time around.
Jimmie is the king of Vegas, and it's not just because he does things like this:
The 38-year-old defending Sprint Cup champion has four career wins at the Kobalt 400. He won three times in a row from 2005-07 and again in 2010. Furthermore, in the last two seasons, he has netted two more top-10 finishes—second in 2012 and sixth in 2013.
Hendrick Motorsports is in line for another dominant performance in Vegas. You've surely already seen what Gordon and Junior are up to, while Kahne has a record three poles on this track.
However, Johnson's history here suggests he'll lead the way for the foursome.
Brad Keselowski followed up a Sprint Cup title in 2012 with a disappointing 14th-place finish last year, but he must really like even-numbered years because he seems set to right the ship in 2014.
The 30-year-old finished third at both Dayton and Phoenix, and after grabbing the pole in the qualifying format in the latter, ESPN Stats & Info indicated that he accomplished an impressive feat:
Brad Keselowski is 1st driver to win Sprint Cup and Nationwide pole in same weekend since Kyle Busch in April-May 2010 at Richmond.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 1, 2014
Keselowski has historically been a little shaky in Vegas, but he finished third last year. Much like Junior, he excelled down the 2013 stretch on the 1.5-mile tracks.
Pencil him in for a third straight top-five to start the season.