Jimmie Johnson is back.
Actually he never went anywhere, but after a 35th place finish in the Daytona 500, many were trying to say that it would derail him from contending for a fifth straight championship.
Unfortunately for them, Johnson dominated at his home track in California pick up his 48th career win in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. He now heads to Las Vegas looking for his fourth win in Sin City and second of the season, as he continues his climb toward the top of the standings.
If he gets there, he’ll have to dethrone current points leader Kevin Harvick. Over the last three seasons Harvick has more non-point wins than he does points paying victories. He’s still searching for the big one after winning the Daytona 500 in 2007, while leading the resurging Richard Childress Racing bunch.
A bunch that heads to Las Vegas looking for some luck would be teammates to Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. They both had their runs spoiled in California because of part failures, Gordon a souring engine, and Earnhardt Jr. an axle problem that still concerns the entire company.
And don’t count out the hard charging Kyle Busch and one Juan Pablo Montoya. Busch returns to his home track as the defending winner of the event as Montoya looks to put a disappointing California race behind him and capture his first oval track win. Don’t be surprised to see them near the front on Sunday.
Near the front in the Creature competition are some familiar faces. After winning last years competition, Ben Bomberger is right back in the mix as he picked up his first win of the year thanks to Jimmie Johnson. The same goes for new point leader Kara Martin who will have the target on her back this weekend in Las Vegas.
Which creature will be the next one to pick up a much-needed victory? Here’s whom they’re hoping will do that for them in Sin City this weekend.
Misan Akuya: Tony Stewart
We'll I haven't gotten off to a good start in points have I? I’m still looking for my first top 15 and I’m going to get more than that with the help of Smoke.
Stewart is coming off of a ninth place run in the Auto Club 500 and ran up in the top five at times. Like Auto Club, he has no wins at Las Vegas but has run well there. He has four top fives, six top 10s, 185 laps led, and an average finish of 15.45 in 11 starts. The last two seasons he has had cars capable of winning but he blew a tire in 2008 placing him 43rd and a loose wheel in 2009 left him with a finish of 26th two laps down.
But this year Stewart will not have any issues, as he will pilot his No. 14 Chevy to victory for the first of many wins this 2010 season.
Ben Bomberger: Jeff Burton
For this week, I'm going with the rejuvenated team of Richard Childress Racing. The trio of RCR has been contending for wins in each of the two points races and it was Burton's teammate Kevin Harvick that won the Shootout, so for Las Vegas, I'm picking Burton to bring home a solid finish.
Burton has two wins, five top fives, eight top-10s and an average finish of 9.8 at Las Vegas, and I expect another solid finish on Sunday. Burton's average running position of 9.9 is third best and his driver rating of 98.5 is fifth best. RCR may have been shut out of victory lane and the Chase last year, but Burton could bring home a win this weekend for a team drooling for one.
James Broomhead: Kyle Busch
After two weeks of near blind faith speculation and believing I can see the future (unfortunately I always thought this skill only extended to NASCAR results, rather than lottery numbers) for week three I've decided to go to the numbers.
First, Busch won here last year, second he has the best average finish over the last five races, 5.2, and the highest cumulative points tally. That's all good and I'm hoping even in the face of the Hendrick juggernaut and the RCR resurrection he can keep his run going.
And above all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Kelly Crandall: Kevin Harvick
Even without a win to his name, Harvick is the hottest driver on the circuit. After a 2009 that couldn’t have gotten any worse for the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil team, so far so good in 2010.
The California native took the Budweiser Shootout home, and then he dominated but lost in the final laps of the Daytona 500. That’s ok because at the Auto Club Speedway he showed that his Daytona Speedweeks weren’t a fluke, as he once again asserted himself at the top of the leader board and was a contender for the win.
But being a contender isn’t good enough for Harvick, he wants to win and after showing his frustration of finishing second to Jimmie Johnson by saying he had a golden horseshoe stuck up his ass, Harvick will have the dice roll his way in Las Vegas this weekend by pulling into victory lane for the first time since 2007.
Billy Fellin: Kevin Harvick
After an abysmal year in 2009, RCR has turned the corner it seems and all three of their cars are driving really well thus far in 2010. I'm going with Harvick though at Vegas. He has an average finish of 14th at the speedway and according to NASCAR.com and I just think he is the most confident and arguably the most hungry of all the RCR drivers.
Adam Heasley: NO PICK SENT
No pick sent.
Christopher Leone: Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson won three consecutive Vegas races from 2005-07 and won last week in California. He was the best of my five suggestions last week. I know it’s an easy pick, but can you fault me for taking Johnson this weekend?
It somehow feels okay to me because of his off and on nature at Vegas. In eight starts at the track, he has three wins, but only one other top-10. During the past two years, he hasn’t finished in the top 20, although he led the most laps in last year’s event before a pit road mistake took him off the lead lap.
Kara Martin: Kyle Busch
I tossed around three potential drivers for this week: Jimmie Johnson or one of the Brothers Busch. Ultimately, I went with Kyle since he’s the defending champion. Feels like a safe bet.
Las Vegas is home turf for Kyle and Kurt, so a sibling showdown could be in the cards. Let's just hope for my sake it's the Shrub!
Dustin Parks: Kyle Busch
There's nothing like being the hometown boy when it comes to racing. Everyone and their brother are cheering on your side. This is probably the only racetrack where Rowdy will get more cheers than jeers, and that's to be expected.
But, he has a good record when it comes to 1.5-mile tracks. He got Toyota's first win at Atlanta in 2008, and we know how well that season went for him. Texas is his own personal playground as he's won everything there except a Cup race. Charlotte is also a strong track for him.
I'm expecting nothing less from the No. 18 team this weekend. He's going to go full blast every corner, every lap, right until the checkered flag. There will be a NOS shower in victory lane, and Rowdy will be holding another belt in victory lane.
Patti Rodisch: Juan Pablo Montoya
After a rough race on Sunday in Fontana, Juan Pablo Montoya will be looking to rebound. He had a fast car last weekend and I don’t expect anything different this weekend. I think Montoya will finally win on the oval this weekend, if he could avoid bad luck and mistakes on Sunday.
Las Vegas has not been very kind to Montoya but I suspect with the momentum this organization is carrying, expect to see him in victory lane.
Sal Sigala Jr.: Kyle Busch
Hometown track is one of the reasons, but mostly because it is a mile and a half, which better suits his aggressive driving style. After missing out on the Chase last season, this should be the race where he turns up the heat, and begins to make big strides to assure himself a spot for the last 10 races.
It’s still early in the season and anything can happen, but Busch is a driver who has his best finishes when momentum is on his side. I don't see him waiting until the latter part of the season to begin peaking, because just like last season it could be to late.
Rob Tiongson: Jeff Burton
He's been due for a victory since taking the checkers in Charlotte back in October of 2008. Ol' JB had a tough season last year, finding himself in the highlight reels for wrecks more so than his ability to be a front-runner.
I look for that to all change in the Sin City, where he's won twice (1999-'00) and last year placed third. RCR has been strong off the bat and I wouldn't be surprised if their resurgence hits its first high note with a victory on Sunday at Vegas.
David Yeazell: Matt Kenseth
New crew chief, new attitude, new trophy, makes perfect sense.
Kara Martin (370 ) Jimmie Johnson won (1 )
Ben Bomberger (321 ) Jimmie Johnson won (1 )
Adam Heasley (309 ) Greg Biffle finished 10th(0 )
Kelly Crandall (260 ) Greg Biffle finished 10th (0 )
James Broomhead (251 ) Kasey Kahne finished 34th (1 )
Christopher Leone (243 ) Matt Kenseth finished seventh (0 )
Rob Tiongson (240 ) Jeff Gordon finished 20th (0 )
Dustin Parks (231 ) Greg Biffle finished 10th (0 )
Billy Fellin (224 ) Matt Kenseth finished seventh (0 )
Misan Akuya (209 ) Jamie McMurray finished 17th (0 )
Patti Rodisch (205 ) Jeff Gordon finished 20th (0 )
David Yeazell (159 ) Denny Hamlin finished 29th (0 )
Sal Sigala Jr. (158 ) Kasey Kahne finished 34th (0 )
If you’re looking for a winner on Sunday don’t be surprised if it comes from the Ford camp. The blue oval boys have won six of the tracks 12 races. Chevrolet is the second best thing with four victories, including three straight from Jimmie Johnson between 2005 and 2007.
Starting position isn’t that big of a factor at the track in the west, seven winners have come from outside the top ten, including Kyle Busch last year that even though he won the pole had to start last after an engine change. Matt Kenseth also went to victory lane in Vegas after starting 25th in 2004.
Summary of Picks
Kyle Busch – 4
Jeff Burton – 2
Kevin Harvick – 2
Tony Stewart – 1
Jimmie Johnson – 1
Juan Pablo Montoya – 1
Matt Kenseth – 1