NASCAR Weekend Preview: Viva Las Vegas!

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NASCAR Weekend Preview: Viva Las Vegas!
Fans attending or watching the NASCAR races this weekend will all be be focused on one thing—and no, it's not seeing Elvis.
 
It's seeing an all-new race track in Vegas.
 
The Nextel Cup Series revs back up after an early-season break, and the Busch Series returns from Mexico for a date in Sin City at the completely revamped Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  Bruton Smith, owner of the track, has made some changes to the ten-year-old, 1.5-mile "D" oval—with the goal of creating the premier venue on the circuit.

 

His remodeling plan: He blew the place up.  Seriously. Aside from one building in the infield, everything inside the track's concrete walls was gone quicker than me playing twenty dollars on the slots.

 

The banks have been steepened, bumping practice speeds up by more than 15 miles an hour to 185-plus.  Pit road has been moved closer to the front grandstands, affording fans a better view of the action.  The "Neon" Garage will be unlike any other in terms of access and sight lines for those with passes: The chosen few will be able to look down on teams as they work on their race cars, and will have easy (but controlled) access to drivers.

 

As for the racing itself—any improvements there remain to be seen. If you don't have a ticket to Saturday's Busch Series Sam's Town 300 or Sunday's Nextel Cup UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400, here's where to tune in for all the action:

 

Friday (Speed):  1 p.m - 9:30 p.m. Eastern — Practice and qualifying (Cup: 6 p.m., Busch: 8 p.m.)

 

Saturday (ABC): 2:30 p.m. Eastern — Busch Series Sam's Town 300

 

Sunday (FOX):   4:00 p.m. Eastern — Nextel Cup UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400

 

In the Busch Series, Juan Pablo Montoya is coming off his first career win on the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City last Sunday.  Montoya took the lead with eight laps to go after making contact with teammate Scott Pruett going into turn one.  The open-wheel veteran will be back in the classroom this weekend, learning how to run at 180 and change on an oval.  Look for Cup Series regulars—"Busch Bashers," as they're known—to dominate in Vegas.

 

For Cup fans, all eyes seem to be on the hometown favorites—Kurt and Kyle Busch.  Hendrick horsepower should show well, meaning Mark Martin could notch his third top-five finish of the young season.  Matt Kenseth looks to run strong, as does Kasey Kahne, who made the mile-and-a-half ovals his bread-and-butter in 2006.  The reconfiguration of the track will make this one a crapshoot...but then again what else would you expect in the city of Lost Wages?

 

And when it comes to Vegas, there are always winners and losers.  Of course, only one man can win the race—but the saying "You can't win if you don't play" holds true for ten unlucky drivers here.  The entry list has 53 teams vying for 43 starting spots.  Only the top-35 in points from last year and Dale Jarrett (under the past champion's provisional) are guaranteed seats at the table. 

 

Bets are out to see if Michael Waltrip will qualify after missing California thanks to his teammate, David Reutimann.  Jeremy Mayfield hasn't been in a race yet, nor has open-wheel defector A.J. Allmendinger.  This weekend is a must-race for Waltrip and anyone else who wants to be in or around the magic top-35 in points after the season's fifth race. At that time, points from this year will be used to "lock-in" cars for future races—and some teams haven't even gotten out of the starting gate.

 

Stay tuned to bleacherreport.com for complete coverage of the race on Sunday, and a look ahead to next weekend's Formula One Season Opener from Down Under—the Australian Grand Prix.

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