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NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series notes heading into Las Vegas

Posted On Wednesday, 04 March 2015 19:00 Written by
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Wild Wild West
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend for its first stop on a three-race west coast swing – Sunday’s Kobalt 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX). Following Las Vegas, the series moves on to Phoenix and concludes its Pacific trip at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California before heading back east to Martinsville. Phoenix was formerly the second race on the docket, but is now the fourth. Auto Club still occupies its traditional fifth race slot.

Jackpot For Johnson In Vegas?

By his standards, six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson had a sub-par season in 2014, logging a career-low 11th-place finish in the final points standings (he had never been worse than sixth).
It looks like Johnson has put 2014 in his rearview mirror.
The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet driver out-dueled defending NSCS champion Kevin Harvick to win the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, one week after a fifth-place showing at Daytona. Johnson now has 71 career wins – five behind Dale Earnhardt for sixth on the all-time list – and owns at least four victories at nine different tracks. He will try to hit the jackpot again in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he holds the track record with four wins.

Bet on Jeff: Gordon Tries To Change His Luck In Las Vegas
Jeff Gordon started the season with a bang by winning the pole at his final Daytona 500. Since, he has struggled to produce strong finishes in the first two races due to tough-luck wrecks at both Daytona and Atlanta. Gordon will attempt to turn around his luck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Sunday’s Kobalt 400. The 43-year-old has competed in all 17 races at the 1.5-mile track and will move ahead of Jeff Burton as the sole leader in starts there. Gordon’s lone win at Las Vegas came in 2001 – the same year he won his last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.

Keselowski Set To Join 200 Club
One of NASCAR’s ultimate success stories, Brad Keselowski harnessed his talent, working his way up from a family-owned ride in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series all the way to a Team Penske car that he piloted to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in 2012. Now one of NASCAR’s most recognizable superstars, Keselowski will make his 200th career start in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The 31-year-old Ford driver will try to make his deuce wild, and show up in Victory Lane for the second straight season as Sin City’s defending race winner. Now in his sixth full-time season on the NSCS circuit, Keselowski boasts 16 wins, 50 top fives, 80 tops 10s and eight Coors Light Pole Awards.

Vickers Ready For Fast Finish After Speedy Recovery
Tough. That’s usually one of the first words that comes to mind when describing Brian Vickers.
Just three months after undergoing corrective heart surgery, Vickers will make his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start of the season in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The 31-year-old, who has battled issues with his heart, as well as blood clots in the past, has three career NSCS wins and will race full time for the rest of the season in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota. Brett Moffitt, a member of the first-ever NASCAR Next class in 2011, posted an eight-place finish as Vickers’ sub at Atlanta.

Truex Leads Furniture Row To Fast Start Out Of The Gates
Martin Truex Jr. didn’t get his second top-10 finish last year until the 13th race of the season, at Dover, in June.
This year, it took the 34-year-old New Jersey native only two races to notch a pair of top 10s.
Truex Jr. has been hot out of the gates with a second-place finish in the Sprint Unlimited, followed by showings of eighth and sixth at Daytona and Atlanta, respectively. The production from the two-time NASCAR XFINITY champion has earned him the fifth-spot in the final standings – the highest his solo-car Furniture Row Racing team has ascended in its 10 years of existence. On NASCAR’s west coast swing, Truex will try to pilot his No. 34 Furniture Row / Denver Mattress Chevrolet to its first win since Regan Smith drove it to Victory Lane at Darlington in 2011. An added incentive for a west coast Truex victory – Denver, Colorado-based FRR is the NSCS’ only team with headquarters outside of the Carolinas.

Fond Vegas Memories for Roush Fenway Racing
The inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway featured a nearly unprecedented ‘five of a kind.’
Jack Roush kicked off an era of Las Vegas dominance by placing all five of his drivers inside the top 10 of the 1998 Las Vegas 400. The quintet was led by NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Mark Martin, who held off teammate Jeff Burton for the checkered flag. Johnny Benson (4th), Ted Musgrave (6th) and Chad Little (10th) also earned top-10 finishes for Roush Racing.
Roush became the first team owner in the Modern Era with five top 10s in one race, a feat previously accomplished by Peter DePaolo in the 1950’s. The team’s Las Vegas success continued with Burton, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards each winning two races at the 1.5-mile track. Roush still holds the record for most Las Vegas wins, with seven.

Mears Gears For Strong Finish At Las Vegas
With two strong performances to start the season, Casey Mears ranks sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings entering Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet driver finished sixth at Daytona, 15th at Atlanta and will try to notch his fourth top 10 in his 12th start in the Entertainment Capital of the World. At Daytona, Mears’ crew chief Robert ‘Bootie’ Barker earned his first career MOOG Problem Solver of the Race Award by guiding his driver to the greatest second-half of the race improvement in average lap time while finishing on the lead lap. The duo picked up 35 positions overall to notch its sixth-place showing.

Gaughan And Back Again
Las Vegas resident Brendan Gaughan returns home for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at the 1.5-mile track. Gaughan has never finished higher than 22nd in NSCS action at LMS, but did win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race from the pole there in 2003. He is the grandson of Las Vegas gaming pioneer Jackie Gaughan and the son of Michael Gaughan, a hotel and casino magnate. His family owns South Point Casino Hotel Casino and Spa.


Buescher And Dillon Have Risen To The Top

Roush Fenway Racing’s Chris Buescher and Richard Childress Racing’s Ty Dillon are tied for the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship standings lead with 83 points each after two races. Buescher and Dillon are cruising eight points ahead of third-place Ryan Reed as the series heads to Las Vegas for the Boyd Gaming 300 on March 7 on FOX Sports 1.
Buescher is having the best start of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career, finishing second at Daytona and following it up with a fourth at Atlanta. His average finish thus far this season is 3.0 and his season-to-date Driver Rating leads the series with a 116.4.
Buescher has started to excel on 1.5 mile tracks, in seven of his last 13 starts on 1.5-mile speedways he has finished in the top-10; including his one start at Las Vegas last season, starting 12th and finishing ninth. Buescher’s pre-race Driver Rating for Las Vegas is 86.8 (13th-best) and his Average Running Position is 12.645 (10th-best).
Dillon has also reached the summit in his NASCAR XFINITY Series career standings ranking; his previous best points position was third last season. Dillon is on pace to contend for a title this season, and his season-to date Loop Data supports his early success. He is ranked second in Driver Rating with a 107.7 and second in Average Running Position with a 7.273.
Dillon has made two series starts at Las Vegas, twice finishing 11th at the 1.5 mile speedway. Dillon has made 15 series starts on 1.5-mile tracks posting an average finish of 10.3. His pre-race Loop Data for Las Vegas has him ranked ninth in Driver Rating (94.5) and seventh in Average Running Position (9.553).

XFINITY Series Youth Movement
The top five drivers in the NASCAR XFINITY Series are all under the age of 24. Top Five in points: 1. Chris Buescher (22 years old), 2. Ty Dillon (23), Ryan Reed (21), Darrell Wallace Jr. (21) and Dakoda Armstrong (23). The average age of the drivers in the top five of the series standings is 22 years old. If any of the five drivers listed above wins this weekend at Las Vegas they will hold the record for youngest series winning driver at LVMS – the current record holder is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (24 years, 5 months, 8 days).

Qualifying Counts at Las Vegas
As the old adage goes, “it’s not where you start, but where you finish.” However, in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where you start really does matter. In the previous 18 races held at the speedway, 13 race winners started from inside the top 10. Defending race winner, Brad Keselowski, started second in last year’s 200 lap event.

Hometown Hero: Gaughan Heads Home
Who says you can’t go home? Brendan Gaughan does just that this weekend as he competes in the Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Gaughan has four series starts at the speedway including two top-10 finishes. The Las Vegas native will compete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race on Saturday and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday. Gaughan is currently 12th in the XFINITY Series championship standings.

Sunoco Rookie Spotlight: Cale Conley & Harrison Rhodes
Rookie Standings Update: Darrell Wallace Jr. captured the Sunoco Rookie of the Race award at Atlanta for being the highest finishing rookie in the race. Wallace is currently second in the ROY standings one point behind Ross Chastain.
This week’s Sunoco Rookie spotlight shines on Cale Conley and Harrison Rhodes.
Cale Conley: Conley is currently fifth in the Sunoco Rookie standings seven points behind the rookie points leader Ross Chastain. Conley, a 22 year old who hails from Vienna, West Virginia is driving the No. 14 TriStar Motorsports Toyota for car owner Mark Smith. Conley has 13 series starts, posting one top-10 finish, last season at Kentucky. In his two starts this season he has finished 30th (Daytona) and 35th (Atlanta). This will be Conley’s NASCAR national series debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend.
Harrison Rhodes: Rhodes is currently last in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings with nine points, due to failing to qualify for the race at Daytona. Rhodes made his first series start last weekend at Atlanta where he started 35th and finished 34th. At the age of 21, Rhodes has made 14 series starts dating back to 2013. This season he behind the wheel of the No. 0 Chevrolet for car owner Andrea Nemechek.

Elliott, Smith and Scott Make Biggest Moves In The Standings
Following a surprisingly disappointing start to 2015 for Chase Elliott, Regan Smith and Brian Scott, who all finished 25th or worse at Daytona, the trio was able to bounce back in impressive fashion this past weekend at Atlanta. All three drivers gained 11 or more positions in the series standings – the most in the series following Atlanta.
The 2014 series champ, Chase Elliott, finished 28th at Daytona putting him 20th in the series standings. This past weekend Elliott was able to rebound considerably. He finished fifth at Atlanta jumping 12 positions in the standings from 20th to the top 10 (eighth). Watch for Elliott’s ascension up the standings to continue this week at Las Vegas. He finished in the top five in his one and only start there, last season.
Elliott’s JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith was caught in an accident at Daytona ultimately finishing 35th in the season opener. Smith’s finish at Daytona had him 26th in the points standings, but last weekend at Atlanta he was able to capitalize on his situation. Smith finished in the top 10 and in doing so leap frogged 12 positions in the series points standings from 26th to 14th. Smith has made five starts at Las Vegas posting two top-10 finishes.
Of the three biggest movers in the point standings this week, Brian Scott moved up to the highest point standings position (seventh). Scott finished 25th at Daytona and was 18th in the points heading to Atlanta. Scott moved up 11 positions in the standings following his seventh-place finish at Atlanta and all signs point to Scott’s momentum not slowing at Las Vegas. In his last two starts at the 1.5-mile track he has posted two top-10 finishes.

After Two We Have Three: The Owner Points Lead Is Split Three Ways
After two races the NASCAR XFINITY Series has a three-way points tie for the owner standings lead among car owners Jack Roush (No. 60 Ford), Richard Childress (No. 3 Chevrolet) and Roger Penske (No. 22 Ford) with 83 points each.
When it comes to NASCAR XFINITY Series owner titles, all three car owners have enjoyed success. Roush has two series owner titles. He won his first series owner title in 2002 with driver Greg Biffle. His second came in 2011 with multiple drivers. This season Chris Buescher drives the No. 60 Ford full-time for Roush Fenway Racing.
Childress is tied with Joe Gibbs for the series’ most owner titles with four each. Childress won his first in 2001 and his third in 2006 with driver Kevin Harvick. He won his second and fourth owner titles in 2003 and 2007 with multiple drivers behind the wheel. This season his grandson Ty Dillon is driving the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.
Penske is returning from back-to-back NASCAR XFINITY Series owner titles (2013, 2014) with the formidable No. 22 Ford team. Penske has captured both titles by rotating both veteran and upcoming drivers in the seat of the No. 22. This weekend at Las Vegas Brad Keselowski will be in the No. 22 to defend his win from last season at the 1.5-mile speedway.

Texas native Brennan Poole, will be replacing Kyle Larson this week in the HScott Motorsports with Chip Ganassi No. 42 Chevrolet at Las Vegas. This will be Poole’s NASCAR national series debut. … NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin will be piloting the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Toyota this week for driver Kyle Busch.

-- Press release courtesy of NASCAR

Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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