With two weeks already in the books, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will emanate from Las Vegas Sunday as 43 of the world's best drivers vie to take the checkered flag in the Kobalt 400.
Las Vegas has been a Sprint Cup stalwart since 1998, and the 1.5-mile track has proven to be a major challenge for the drivers. A select few have seemingly conquered the annual race, however, as there have been four repeat winners over 16 years.
Since so many elite drivers still haven't won in Sin City, though, there is little doubt that several of them will roll the dice. That is especially true now that a victory essentially guarantees a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Conservatism used to be the name of the game early in the NASCAR season, but now that teams are being rewarded for throwing caution to the wind, the races figure to get even more exciting.
Here is everything you need to know about the Kobalt 400 in Las Vegas as drivers hope to get a little bit of luck and hit the jackpot in the form of a trip to Victory Lane.
Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nev.
When: Sunday, March 9 at 2 p.m. ET
Live Steam: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Performance Racing Network
|Start||Driver||Car No.||Speed (mph)|
|6||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||17||192.596|
|12||Martin Truex Jr.||78||191.510|
|14||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||191.618|
|37||Justin Allgaier||51||Owner Points|
|38||Michael Annett||7||Owner Points|
|39||Ryan Truex||83||Owner Points|
|40||Reed Sorenson||36||Owner Points|
|41||Timmy Hill||33||Owner Points|
|42||Travis Kvapil||32||Owner Points|
|43||Marcos Ambrose||9||Owner Points|
Drivers to Watch
Having already won the Sprint Cup Series championship six times at the age of 38, it may not seem as though Jimmie Johnson has much left to accomplish. If he is to be considered the greatest driver of all time by the time he calls it quits, though, winning another title or two is likely necessary.
Johnson has performed well through the 2014 season's first two weeks, but he has yet to pick up a win. Pressure isn't exactly mounting yet since he has plenty of time left before the Chase, but he would undoubtedly love to get that first win out of the way. The odds would seem to be in his favor, as he is the winningest Sprint Cup driver since 2010, according to ESPN's John Buccigross:
Most NSCS Wins - Since Start of 2010 Season Jimmie Johnson 19 Denny Hamlin 15 Kevin Harvick 13 Matt Kenseth 13— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) March 3, 2014
Johnson has also had plenty of good fortune in Las Vegas. His four Vegas victories are the most ever, although he hasn't crossed the finish line first since 2010. After a strong qualifying run that slots him into the No. 5 starting position, Johnson is definitely in a good spot in terms of taking the No. 48 Lowe's machine to the front of the pack.
If Johnson is the master of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, then it can certainly be argued that Matt Kenseth is nipping at his heels. Kenseth has enjoyed a great deal of success in Vegas, winning three times. That includes a victory last year that ultimately kick-started his season and sent him on track to finish second overall in points.
Kenseth will have more than just racing on his mind when he controls the No. 20 car Sunday. His pregnant wife is due to give birth soon, but he certainly seems to have a good sense of humor about it, per Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network:
Since Kenseth is one of the toughest competitors on the Sprint Cup circuit, it is unlikely that his focus and determination will waver in Las Vegas. In fact, Kenseth's crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, feels very good about his driver's chances Sunday, according to Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
I'm anticipating that things are going to get exponentially better as we head to Las Vegas this weekend because I feel that we were able to learn so much last week at Phoenix in regards to the new rules package, as well as the new qualifying format.
Kenseth definitely knows how to win in Las Vegas, and he'll likely go all-in when it comes to trying to cement his Chase status.
After a difficult 2012 season that saw him go winless, Carl Edwards enjoyed a bounce-back campaign in 2013 with two victories. Now that there is such an emphasis on winning races, there is a great deal of pressure on Edwards to find Victory Lane prior to the Chase. That has often eluded him in recent years, as he has won just five times since picking up a career-high nine victories in 2008.
If there is one track at which Edwards can break that trend, however, it is Las Vegas. He has driven the No. 99 care to victory on two occasions in Vegas, and his car looks awfully good heading into Sunday's race. His qualifying position of No. 11 was somewhat disappointing, but he was the fastest in practice, per NASCAR on ESPN:
That means Edwards has the goods to get to the front and stay there for the majority of the race. Based on how the past few seasons have played out, it's safe to assume that he would like to get a win out of the way as soon as possible. Perhaps it will come in Vegas.
Who will win the Kobalt 400 in Las Vegas?
All three of the highlighted drivers have a legitimate chance to win Sunday, but they're not the only ones. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski will start in the front row, and they are definite threats to win, as both have started the season off well.
Tony Stewart is another name worth considering. He has won in Las Vegas before, and he always seems to be in the mix at the end of the race.
The win-heavy format could lead to some surprise winners this season, and one dark horse to watch Sunday is Paul Menard. The underrated driver has three consecutive top-12 finishes in Vegas, so he should be within striking distance.
With all of that said, Johnson remains the king of NASCAR, and he is bound to get a win eventually. There is no reason why he can't tally his first at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter