Round three of the Cup Series will take place in the desert West as the circuit heads to Las Vegas for the UAW-Dodge 400. The reconfigured Las Vegas Motor Speedway is set to offer up some very intense racing with its variable banking. As the teams continue to figure out this new car configuration, the passing on the track becomes more and more prevalent. Hopefully fans are appreciating the fact that cars are actually making passes for the lead on the track this year. To see which drivers our experts think will make the passes that count and end up in the front or rear this weekend, read on in this week’s Picks ‘n’ Pans.
Cami’s Race Rewind
Despite making contact with the wall and suffering a miscue on pit road, Jimmie Johnson scored his third straight win at Las Vegas in last year’s UAW Daimler-Chrysler 400. While Johnson worked to overcome his early problems, Jeff Gordon led much of the middle stages of the race before eventually finishing second to his teammate. Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin rounded out the top five. Nine cautions slowed the race, but that was less than what was expected after the track underwent a makeover in the offseason. However, several top drivers made early exits after making contact with the wall.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
The newly reconfigured LVMS is rivaling Atlanta for the fastest circuit in the series. The graduated banking offers multiple racing lines for the drivers to choose from to try and get their cars to work the best. It will be similar to California, shorter but just as fast if not faster. Most likely, the teams who ran well at California will run well again at Vegas. Expect to see the Hendrick brigade out front with all four of their cars running well. Roush will obviously be strong again coming off Carl Edwards‘s win at California. Don’t count out Joe Gibbs either after they put two cars in the top 10 at California. On the Dodge front, expect Kasey Kahne to continue his even-numbered year resurgence.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Johnson was quoted last week, after finishing second in the race, that his team still didn’t have a handle on the new car configuration. The rest of the series should be very worried when the No. 48 team finally does get the feel of it. Johnson has won the last three races held at Las Vegas. He is in danger of making Vegas “Charlotte Motor Speedway West.” With six races under his belt at Vegas, Johnson has an average finish of sixth. Expect the two-time defending champion to be at the front all day again this weekend.
Kyle Busch leads the points standings in Cup and Trucks. He was dominant at Daytona, and has passed the most cars in both of the races held this season. In four career starts at Vegas, he has three top-10 finishes. Busch is on a mission to dominate everything he races in this season, and has a very legitimate chance to bring home Toyota’s first Cup win this weekend. After his effort last weekend, expect him to run at the front of the pack again this Sunday.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Clint Bowyer is undergoing his sophomore slump a year late. A 24th-place finish at Daytona and a 19th place finish at California has last year’s Chaser mired in 19th in the points. Add to that his record at Vegas of a 15th and 36th-place finish, and things do not look good for the No. 07 ride. While Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton have run well in the new car configuration, Bowyer seems to be having some difficulties with it. It’s best to let Bowyer ride the pine for a week or so until he proves he’s back to last year’s form.
Elliott Sadler got everyone’s panties in a bunch with a solid run at Daytona, but followed it up with a performance at California typical of those in 2007. A mid-race spin and a lap down 24th-place finish looked like the GEM efforts of old. Sadler has one top-10 finish in nine races at Las Vegas. The odds look pretty strong that Sadler will continue his average to subpar performance this weekend.
Roll the Dice:
Casey Mears was moving up through the pack early in the race at California before a weeping racetrack took him and his newest Hendrick teammate out of the race. The other two Hendrick cars finished in the top three at California, so expect to see Mears run a little stronger this coming weekend. He needs to pick up his performance considering he is 42nd in points right now. Fortunately for Mears, in five races at Vegas, he has three top-10 and four top-15 finishes. Sure, its a gamble considering his early season performance, but expect Mears to have a strong run this weekend.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Last week at California, Kenseth saw his chance of pulling off the three-peat stopped by his teammate Edwards. This week at Las Vegas, Kenseth is hoping to stop Johnson from making it four in a row. Kenseth had his own streak going in 2003-2004 with back to back wins. While he hasn’t been back to victory lane since, he has been in the top 10 in those three events. Look for Kenseth to keep climbing up the standings after his rough start at Daytona.
Another driver who is looking to put a bad start to the season behind him is Hamlin. After being involved in several near misses at Daytona, he made contact with the wall at California and finished deep in the field in 41st. His teammates have been running strong, but he hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do, yet. With top-10 finishes in his two Vegas starts, Hamlin should find himself in a position to finally get on track this season.
Sit ‘Em Down:
At Vegas sometimes you hit the jackpot and sometimes you go bust. That’s exactly what has happened to Kahne in his four career starts in Vegas. He’s scored two top fives, but he’s also scored two finishes of 35th and lower. That kind of inconsistency has not only plagued Kahne at Vegas, but over the last two seasons. While things appear to have possibly turned around in 2008 from last year’s disastrous season; the jury is still out on whether or not it’s the real deal.
Juan Pablo Montoya is another driver who has yet to perform up to last year’s results. It’s been six races, dating back to last season, since Montoya has scored a top-10 finish and while his teammate Reed Sorenson ran well at Daytona, the Ganassi Dodge’s haven’t been setting the world on fire as of late. In his first run at Vegas, he started fourth; but various troubles during the day relegated him to a 22nd-place finish. In fantasy racing, it’s the bottom line that counts and right now, Montoya isn’t getting it done.
Roll the Dice:
Ryan Newman showed his performance at Daytona wasn’t a one-hit wonder and backed it up with a 10th-place finish last weekend in California. And with four top 10s in his seven career starts at Vegas, look for the good times to keep on rolling this weekend. Another victory might not be in the cards, but he’s a solid choice for another good run.
Cami: I was all excited about my two top-five finishes last week at California then I realized that you pulled off the 1-2 finish. Very nice.
Mike: Thank you very much. I think our loyal readers got their money’s worth last week when it came to the Crank ‘Em Up picks. Pretty hard to argue against four of the top five finishers.
Cami: Yeah, we hit it out of the park in that area. But not all of our other picks panned out as predicted. Well, just my Roll the Dice pick. You had a bit more trouble with your Sit ‘Ems.
Mike: I don’t know. My Roll the Dice pick came in 40th. Let’s hope this week goes a little better. I see you think Newman is going to continue his early season roll. He has definitely looked strong early on.
Cami: That he has. His record at Vegas hasn’t been without some issues, but that’s why they call it a gamble. I think his early season run will work in his favor. Speaking of Vegas records… do you think Johnson can really pull off four in a row?
Mike: Due to the fact that he was leading late in the race last week, and came out after the race saying they haven’t got a handle on the new configuration car yet, yeah, I think he’s got a real good chance to pull off four in a row. I’m surprised you think Hamlin is going to be able to shake off his early season issues.
Cami: His other teammates have been running so well, I can’t believe they can truly be that far off everyone else. He’s had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s been good at Vegas in his two starts, I think this week will be a good chance for them to turn things around. Speaking of his teammates, I see you jumped on the Kyle Busch bandwagon. Can he really keep up that pace?
Mike: He is on fire starting this year. I think he’s on a mission to prove the naysayers wrong, and I think this new car really fits his driving style. Now that is seems like most of the teams have figured out how to make the car loose, it is going to fall right into Kyle’s hands. I think he’s going to continue to run up front as long as he keeps his emotions in check. Speaking of keeping your emotions in check, are you serious with your pick to sit Kahne? He was top 10 last week and this is an even-numbered year. He has been awesome in even-numbered years at Vegas.
Cami: You’re right, he’s either feast or famine at Vegas for sure. But I’m still not 100% sold that they have turned things around over at GEM. Which you must agree with somewhat since you sat your buddy Sadler. Kasey might run well, but I wouldn’t bet on him when there are so many other good teams out there to chose from.
Mike: True, I had to jump back on my boy Esad after that effort last week. It’s the kind of mistakes that he seems to make that cost him in the end. I just feel like he isn’t too far ahead of where he was last year. Are you really bagging on Montoya? He ran decent last week and was even near the front for a little while.
Cami: Well, like you said, it’s where they are in the end. So far this year he hasn’t even cracked the top 15 yet. And last year at Vegas he squandered a solid top-five starting spot and finished outside the top 20. There isn’t much there to get excited about. But I guess we’ll have to see how it all pans out.
Crank – 12.8
Sit – 24.5
Roll – 25.5
Crank – 9.8
Sit – 21.5
Roll – 39