Viva Las Vegas: Previewing Sunday's Sprint Cup Series Action from Las Vegas

Paul CarreauAnalyst IMarch 2, 2011

LAS VEGAS - FEBRUARY 28:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, celebrates by doing a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on February 28, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Geoff Burke/Getty Images

Race number three on the Sprint Cup Series leads us to Las Vegas. Coming off his first win in the last 66 attempts, Jeff Gordon leads the list of possible contenders to drive out of Sin City with a win.

Whether or not he was coming off of a win, Gordon would have to instantly be considered one of the favorites this weekend. Last season, he sat on the outside pole for this event. He went on to lead the most laps, and finished in third place.

For his career, Gordon has been very successful at Las Vegas. He has scored one victory at the track, and has posted seven top-10 finishes in 13 starts. Five of the last six times the Sprint Cup Series has gone to Las Vegas, Gordon has finished in the top 10, with the worst of those finishes being sixth.

The other heavy favorite for this event would have to be Gordon's teammate, Jimmie Johnson. He is the defending winner of this race, and over the course of his nine starts in Las Vegas, it has either been feast or famine for Johnson.

Johnson has scored five top 10's in those nine starts at this track. Four of those were wins. Only once in his career has Johnson left Las  Vegas without leading a single lap, and of the 2,424 laps that have been run over those nine years, Johnson has only failed to finish three of them.

Kyle Busch is a driver that could play the role of spoiler for the Hendrick teammates. Not counting his first trip to Las Vegas in 2004, Busch has not finished worse than 15th in six starts at the mile and a half track. He has four top 10 finishes and was the winner in 2009.

A couple of Roush Racing teammates, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, should also prove to be formidable challengers for the trophy this weekend.

Biffle, in seven starts has five top 10 finishes in Vegas, and aside from 2004, when he had an early engine failure, he hasn't finished worse than 16th. He has also failed to complete just one lap in his last six trips.

Kenseth meanwhile, has also found success at this particular track. In 11 starts, he has won twice, while scoring six top 10's. All but one of his Las Vegas finishes have been in the top 20, and that like Biffle, came as a result of an engine failure.

The final driver to consider as a main threat is Mark Martin. Martin won the inaugural event in Las Vegas back in 1998. His success has continued over the years. He has started all 13 races at this track, and has been in the top 10 for 10 of them.

Martin has finished in the top 10, four out of the last five times here, including a fourth-place finish a season ago.

Other drivers that have typically run well at Las Vegas, that at least deserve mentioning are Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, and even Kasey Kahne has had some solid runs here in the past.

One driver to keep an eye on as a potential sleeper is Bobby Labonte. The 2000 Sprint Cup champion has had some moderate success in the past at Las Vegas. More importantly, he has had a good start to the season.

After finishing a somewhat surprising fourth at Daytona, the No. 47 team finished 21st at Phoenix, after being involved in the 13 car pileup on the backstretch.

Labonte's past successes here, plus the fact that Marcos Ambrose led this team to a respectable 14th place finish at this track a season ago, make him the "under the radar" driver to watch.

During the first few years of its existence, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was not a track you could go to expecting to see a lot of cautions. That has changed in the recent past.

In the first seven races here, there was never an event that saw more than six yellow flags. However, in each of the last six races, there have been at least seven caution flags. The way cautions have been flying to start this season, this week may yet again be a case where the winning driver was just forced to survive the carnage.

Either way, regardless of who leaves Las Vegas a big winner, they will undoubtedly have earned it. And, you can bet on that.