The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series begins its annual, early-season voyage West this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Drivers will hit the high-speed, 1.5-mile tri-oval for the only time in 2016 in the third race of the season.
It’s the second week in a row the circuit will hit a cookie-cutter mile-and-a-half, following last Sunday’s race at Atlanta. But Las Vegas is a totally different track than the beast from last weekend.
Its pavement isn’t nearly as aged and its banks aren’t as high, so drivers won’t be slipping and fighting for grip all afternoon. The race is also 100 miles shorter, so the physical exhaustion shouldn’t be as demanding. But NASCAR’s new setup that lends to a lower downforce could present a few surprises.
Here is an event guide to this weekend’s Kobalt 400—the 19th Sprint Cup race in LVMS history.
Date: Sunday, March 6
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Commentators: Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon (booth)
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Performance Racing Network
Favorite: Kevin Harvick, +425 (per Odds Shark)
And here is a look at the 39-car starting grid:
|Kobalt 400—Starting Grid|
|10||Martin Truex Jr.||78|
|16||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||17|
|20||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88|
This race has featured six different winners the last six years, but Odds Shark has the defending winner, Kevin Harvick, as the unanimous favorite to return to Victory Lane at +425 odds.
Harvick finished second last week to Jimmie Johnson, who has the second-best odds to win this week. Johnson’s four victories at Las Vegas are the most in track history.
The six-time champ led Thursday morning’s test session at Las Vegas, which was held to give teams six hours to continue working the kinks of NASCAR's new base rules package, which debuted last weekend.
Two-time Vegas winner Carl Edwards said he believes it's been a roaring hit, per Lee Spencer of Motorsport.com:
The biggest surprise is how fast the cars are going. The speeds are high. Tons of corner speed, tons of throttle time. It’s going to be treacherous.
I really applaud NASCAR for going in this direction. I hope they continue to go in this direction.
Six teams head to the desert on the heels of points penalties for infractions at Atlanta—most prominent of which Martin Truex Jr., whose crew chief will be suspended Sunday due to his second straight roof-flap violation.
No. 78 crew chief, Cole Pearn, is in his second season with Truex, and the pair finished second in the Daytona 500 by 0.01 seconds.
Las Vegas won’t offer the compact racing seen at Daytona. A few drivers gave a rundown on the important factors that will be at play Sunday:
A few of the other regular suspects should also run up front, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, whose 516 laps led at Vegas are more than any driver. Kenseth also has the highest average finish among current Sprint Cup drivers at 11.375.
Drivers loved the new rules package last week at Atlanta, which produced many lengthy green-flag runs. Sunday’s race could be another clean and collected affair, where the fastest car avoids trouble and finds Victory Lane.