NASCAR is in Las Vegas for the Kobalt 400 this Sunday, and the mile-and-a-half track at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway will test every driver to the limit.
Matt Kenseth comes into the race as the defending champion, having beaten out Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski last year.
There's a new twist to this year's race in Vegas: NASCAR's aerodynamic package will be unveiled for the first time this season. Kenseth (and likely others) is unsure about how it will affect his performance compared to other drivers on this intermediate track.
“Nobody’s raced here, obviously, with this new no ride-height rule and with the new aero package and the bigger spoiler and all that stuff,” he said, as noted by Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer. “It’s a little bit of an unknown really, until you get going.”
This bit of uncertainty makes predicting a winner difficult, but fans will be on the edge of their seats throughout the race as a result.
Here's a look at the race schedule, followed by an examination of the top drivers to watch.
When: Sunday, March 9, at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Drivers to Watch
Dale Earnhardt Jr. entered two races thus far in 2014, and he's finished in first and second place to gain an early lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson has seen Earnhardt's confidence swell since last season, when he finished strong down the home stretch.
“The last couple of races certainly show where his confidence is and what comes with it,” Johnson said, via Jerry Bonkowski of Motor Sports Talk. “I can say that throughout all of last year, and even into part of the season the year before were when things really started turning around for him. That success leads to confidence."
A 14th-place qualifying finish doesn't necessarily scream "sure thing" for this upcoming race, but nobody should count out Dale Jr. after his last two starts.
After finishing in third place last year, Keselowski appears to be in terrific shape to finally break through with a win in the Kobalt 400.
Keselowski finished qualifying in second place behind Penske teammate Joey Logano.
“When you’ve got fast cars, it makes your life a lot easier, and Team Penske has done a great job of finding that speed in qualifying trim,” he said afterward, as relayed by NASCAR Wire Service (via MassLive.com). "...I think we’ve got our cars really refined well for this package, and I’m very proud of where we are.”
Making matters worse for the rest of the field is the fact that Keselowski also held off Kyle Busch to win the NASCAR Nationwide Boyd Gaming 300 on Saturday.
Kenseth is a three-time winner and defending champion. According to Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "His 513 laps led in Cup events in Las Vegas is the most of any driver."
“I think it helps any time you’ve had success because you have a better feel for it and you can get a little better information a little quicker,” Kenseth said, via Anderson.
Furthermore, since the start of the 2012 season, no driver has fared as well as Kenseth has on intermediate tracks. According to DriverAverages.com, his average finish is 7.75, which is phenomenal, and he's won five of the 20 qualified races since that time—three more than any other driver.
After finishing in sixth place at the Daytona 500, Kenseth earned a 12th-place finish last weekend in Phoenix, but nobody should expect such a low finish this Sunday in Vegas.
Simply put, until someone knocks him off his perch, he's going to be a top driver to watch on this track.
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