NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Las Vegas: Predicting the Top 10 Finishers

Michael Guadalupe@The_GuadaFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2013

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Las Vegas: Predicting the Top 10 Finishers

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    With two races already completed in the 2013 NASCAR season, the next stop is Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

    We've already seen what the Gen-6 car has done at both Daytona and Phoenix, and while Vegas is somewhat like Phoenix, the race on Sunday will be another test for the new car.

    Will the same drivers who always seem to run up front have the same success at Vegas this season?

    Will Tony Stewart be able to successfully defend his win from last season?

    Anything can happen at Las Vegas, and with the new car changing the way that driver’s race, don't be surprised to see new faces in the top 10 when the race is finished.

    The Vegas race on Sunday will be a test for the drivers and the teams behind them.

    Here are the predictions for the top-10 finishers on Sunday.

10. Paul Menard

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    Paul Menard is a driver who isn't talked about a lot.

    He hasn't really done much this season, finishing 21st at Daytona and 20th at Phoenix, but Las Vegas is a track where Menard can improve on his lackluster finishes.

    Last year, he started back in 26th, but managed to push his way to the front and finished the race in seventh.

    Menard may be a driver who's under the radar in NASCAR, but he's on a solid team—Richard Childress Racing—and the Gen-6 car opens the opportunity for drivers like him to break into the top 10.

    Given his solid performance last year at Vegas, Menard should be expected to crack the top 10 on Sunday.

9. Trevor Bayne

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    Trevor Bayne impressed last season with a solid finish of ninth at Las Vegas. Expect the same result from the young driver this year as well.

    Bayne clearly struggled during the 2013 Daytona 500, finishing in 27th. He is still trying to make a name for himself in the Sprint Cup Series after his 2011 Daytona 500 win.

    However, if Bayne can take advantage of the Gen-6 and how it’s seemingly giving less-funded teams a chance to have a decent finish in a race, he should be able to repeat his performance from last year.

    Bayne has already cracked the top 10 at Vegas, and with the help of the Gen-6 car, he will be able to do it again on Sunday.

8. Kevin Harvick

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    Kevin Harvick looked like he had a chance to win at Daytona, but after he was caught up in a wreck, his chances were cut short. 

    He moved on to Phoenix and finished in 13th—a clear improvement over his Daytona ending.

    Heading into Vegas, though, Harvick should see better results than where he finished last Sunday.  The Closer has an average finish of 13.00 at Vegas, including four top 10s, making a top-10 finish a pretty safe bet for him.

    Harvick might be able to make a run for the front this Sunday, but it really comes down to how he handles the Gen-6 car.  A 13th-place finish isn't bad for The Closer at a track like Phoenix, and if Harvick has gotten a solid handling on the new car, expect a top-10 finish at Las Vegas.

7. Ryan Newman

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    Ryan Newman is one driver who is glad that Phoenix is done. He had two different tire issues and ended up in the wall twice.

    After a fifth-place finish at Daytona, Newman slipped a bit at Phoenix and finished 40th.

    Now that NASCAR is heading to Vegas, he has a chance to finish stronger than he did last week.

    He hasn't won at Vegas yet, but he has an average finish of 16.42 with three top-five finishes, and he finished fourth at Vegas last year.

    Stewart-Haas Racing has been running strong so far this season. With Newman’s general success at this track, expect him to finish in the top 10.

6. Denny Hamlin

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    Only a handful of drivers can do what Denny Hamlin managed to do at Phoenix.

    Starting from the back because the No. 11 team needed to switch out an engine, Hamlin was able to push himself toward the front.

    Then, on the final lap, while Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson were busy battling behind Carl Edwards, Hamlin made a big move and ended up finishing in third.

    While he may not have had as much success at a track like Las Vegas as he has at Phoenix, Hamlin is still a top driver in NASCAR and should be expected to finish in the top 10.

    As long as Toyota can stay away from its engine issues, expect Hamlin to have a solid finish on Sunday.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Dale Jr. is one of those drivers.

    From his second-place finish at Daytona to the fifth-place finish at Phoenix, Jr. will keep the trend going, as NASCAR heads into Vegas.

    Last year, Jr. just cracked the top 10, though he did manage to lead 70 laps and did qualify in the fourth-place starting position.

    Outside of his solid run at Vegas last year, though, Jr. has had mixed success at the track.  He has an average finish of 16.31 and has a total of five top-10 finishes.

    Dale Jr. has been solid so far this season, so expect him to finish in the top 10 at Vegas.

4. Carl Edwards

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    Carl Edwards was finally able to break his losing streak when he crossed the finish line at the Phoenix race last Sunday.

    The last time that Edwards won at Phoenix, he broke another losing streak.  He then went on to win the race the following week.

    Will history repeat itself this week as NASCAR heads into Las Vegas?  It would be pretty tough for Edwards to pull off another win, but he does run well at Vegas.

    Edwards has won two races at Vegas, once in 2008 and then again in 2011.  Besides his two wins, he also has an average finish of 10.25.

    With the win at Phoenix, Edwards was able to get out of the major slump that plagued him for the 2012 season. Now, expect him to return to his once-dominant form and finish in the top 10 at Vegas.

3. Jimmie Johnson

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    With an average finish of 9.82 at Las Vegas, Jimmie Johnson is a sure bet to end up in the top 10 by the time that the race is finished.

    Add in how well he's run in the first two races of the season, and Johnson seems like a top-five pick.

    Now, consider that he's won four times in his career at Vegas and finished second there last season, and Johnson seems like a sure pick to be competing for the win when the white flag is in the air.

    Johnson has quickly reemerged as the man to beat in NASCAR.  He has clearly benefited from the new Gen-6 car. While he did watch the championship slip out of his hands last year, Five-Time has already proven that he's still one of the top drivers.

    Given his success at Vegas, Johnson is a sure pick to finish in the top 10.

2. Tony Stewart

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    Tony Stewart won the Las Vegas race last March and has led a total of 482 laps at the track. He as an average finish of 12.86, along with five top-five finishes and his one win last year.

    Over the last three years, his worst finish was seventh, proving that Stewart is another driver who runs well at Vegas.

    Stewart saw his day end early at Daytona, but was able to finish the Phoenix race last week with an eighth-place finish. Will he be able to keep his momentum heading into Las Vegas, though?

    Smoke should be expected to at least finish in the top 10 at Vegas given his recent success at the track and how well he did at Phoenix. He should also be expected to run up front and push for the lead by the time that the white flag is waved.

1. Clint Bowyer

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    Clint Bowyer has run solid so far this season, finishing 11th at Daytona and sixth at Phoenix.

    Las Vegas, though, is where Bowyer ends up in Victory Lane.

    He was the runner up in the standings last season. And while second place seems to struggle the following season, Bowyer winning at Vegas would put a rest to the superstition and show that he is ready to make another championship run.

    As far as racing stats are concerned for Bowyer at Vegas, he's had three top-10 finishes at the track and placed sixth last season.

    He has also adjusted nicely to the new Gen-6 car. While other drivers, like Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, might be a focus heading into Vegas, Clint Bowyer will fly under the radar like he did during the Chase last season.

    Now is the time for Bowyer and the No. 15 team to make a statement, and what better way than an early season win at Vegas.

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