Las Vegas: News of note, schedule

Aric Almirola Attempts First Cup Start * Jon Wood Renews Family Tradition In NNCS * J.J. Yeley Prepares For Full Week * Several Drivers To Participate In Off-Track Activities Keys To Victory: LVMS has changed. Some musts to succeed ...

Aric Almirola Attempts First Cup Start
* Jon Wood Renews Family Tradition In NNCS
* J.J. Yeley Prepares For Full Week
* Several Drivers To Participate In Off-Track Activities

Keys To Victory:

LVMS has changed. Some musts to succeed Sunday:

Adapt to the new race track -- With the new surface and reconfigurations, teams must settle in and take care of their equipment. Manage the pit stops -- A smaller fuel cell will require an adjusted pit strategy. Who manages it the best could come out on top. Have something at the end -- Be patient, keep your car balanced and have something left to race for the win.

NNCS Etc.

Jon Wood (No. 21 Air Force Ford) will carry on a family tradition when he makes his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut this weekend. Wood will follow in the footsteps of his grandfather Glen Wood who once drove the famous No. 21. The elder Wood is one of 18 drivers on NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers list to pilot the No. 21. Jon's father Eddie Wood oversees the team's marketing and sponsorship and is the team's spotter during practices. ... Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) is seeking his third consecutive victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Johnson has a history of winning consecutive races at a track. He has accomplished the feat at Dover International Speedway in 2002 (swept both races), New Hampshire International Speedway in 2003 (sweep), Pocono Raceway in 2004 (sweep) and Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2004 and 2005 when he won four straight. ... Roush Fenway Racing has a history of dominance at Las Vegas. The team has won five of the track's nine races (Mark Martin in 1998, Jeff Burton in 1999 and 2000 and Matt Kenseth in 2003 and 2004). Kenseth lost last year's race to Johnson by 0.045 second.

Almirola To Attempt First Cup Race

Aric Almirola (No. 80 Joe Gibbs Driven Chevrolet) will climb the final rung of the NASCAR ladder system when he attempts to qualify for Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400.

Just three years ago, Almirola was racing late model stock cars in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series as part of the Joe Gibbs/Reggie White Driver Development Program. Almirola, a Tampa, Fla., native of Cuban descent, was selected from almost 200 applicants to compete in a full season at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C.

He impressed Joe Gibbs Racing officials with his performance that season, finishing with two wins, six top fives and 15 top 10s.

"Everybody gets their chance or their break, and that was mine," Almirola said. Now it's up to me to take it and run with it. The fact of the matter is racing is a sport, and just like any other sport, you have to perform."

Over the past three years, Almirola has continued to shine. He had two top-10 finishes in four starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at the end of 2005 to earn a full-time ride in the series.

In 2006, Almirola grabbed the pole position at The Milwaukee Mile while qualifying for teammate Denny Hamlin. It was only his third qualifying attempt in the NASCAR Busch Series.

This year, Almirola is running 18 NASCAR Busch Series races. He earned his second career Busch pole at the season-opening Orbitz 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

"Everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing obviously believes in me or else they wouldn't be putting me in this situation," Almirola said. "That definitely gives me a lot of confidence and it's a good feeling to know that everybody supports me 100 percent."

J.J. Yeley Has Busy Week Ahead

Although J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) finds himself in a position he's never been in -- eighth place in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings -- he will have little time to enjoy it this week. Yeley will run in three races in Las Vegas as well as host his inaugural J.J. Yeley No. 18 Drives for Kids Charity Golf Classic in his hometown of Phoenix.

The busy week starts Wednesday when Yeley will visit the Phoenix Children's Hospital, the beneficiary of the tournament.

On Thursday, Yeley and Phoenix International Raceway will host the tournament at Kierland Golf Club which will raise money and awareness for the youth from the Valley area and beyond at Phoenix Children's Hospital. Among those scheduled to participate are baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount, Arizona State All-American Ron Pritchard, Kyle Petty and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Yeley's race schedule kicks off Thursday evening when he will compete in the USAC/CRA Las Vegas Dirt Classic. When he was 16, Yeley became the youngest driver to earn a USAC license.

Yeley will conclude his week racing in both the NASCAR Busch Series Sam's Town 300 and the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400.

"It's going to be a really busy week, but I'm looking forward to it because it's also going to be a lot of fun," Yeley said. "I never dreamed that I would be able to help people like I have since I became a Nextel Cup driver. The golf outing is a great way to give back to my hometown of Phoenix and in particular, Phoenix Children's Hospital."

"Running the full NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series schedules is busy enough in itself. Even though it's going to be a crazy week -- I wouldn't have it any other way."

In The Loop: More Banking At Vegas Will Bring More Speed

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, huh? Well no one told that to the drivers after they finished testing there in January. They got the word out quickly and clearly -- the place is fast.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway underwent a major renovation over the past 12 months, increasing the banking in the turns from 12 degrees to 20 degrees and adding six degrees of banking on the backstretch -- from three to nine. There is also a new garage and a new pit road.

The results? We'll have to wait until Sunday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 to fully find out, but the safest bet in all of Las Vegas has the track being much faster than last year.

If January's NEXTEL Cup testing there is any indication, look for speeds to increase by as much as 18 mph over last year's mark. Elliott Sadler had the fastest lap at testing with a 188.772 mph mark. During last year's Happy Hour prior to the 2006 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, Kyle Busch had the top speed with 170.089 mph.

The speeds in race conditions are another story. This will be the first NEXTEL Cup race at Las Vegas, but there is some data to go on. Last September, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series raced at the newly renovated track and the speeds increased considerably. For instance, though Jack Sprague had the fastest average Speed on the Backstretch in both 2005 and 2006, the numbers were vastly different. He posted a speed of 158.176 mph on the backstretch during the 2005 race at the "old" LVMS. Last year, at the "new" track, he posted a 174.242 mph speed.

Figure the same to hold true for the NEXTEL Cup race. Also figure that those drivers who have excelled in the past at Las Vegas will continue to do so. It happened for the Craftsman Truck drivers, as Ted Musgrave, Mike Skinner and Sprague all earned top-10 Driver Ratings in both the 2005 and 2006 versions of the track.

Jimmie Johnson has clearly been the class of the Las Vegas field since NASCAR started collecting Loop Data at the beginning of 2005. The winner of the last two races at LVMS, Johnson has an average Driver Rating of 131.4 (a perfect rating is 150.0). The mark is over 15 points ahead of second place Kyle Busch (115.2).

Over the past two years, it looks as if Hendrick Motorsports has pumped out the most qualified cars at LVMS. Joining Johnson and Busch in the Driver Rating top five is Jeff Gordon, who has a 106.1 average Driver Rating. The three also have top-five rankings in Average Running Position. Johnson, with a 4.564 Average Running Position, ranks first, while Busch (5.237) and Gordon (8.820) are third and fifth, respectively.

Around Town: Plenty Of Activities On Tap For Drivers In Las Vegas

Wax Job ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) and Richard Petty will be immortalized in wax this weekend when Madame Tussauds Las Vegas unveils full-size wax figures of the drivers. The unveiling will take place Friday at 2 p.m. in the Neon Garage, where the figures will stay for the weekend. After the weekend, the figures will move to The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino where they will join figures of Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. Flying High ... Las Vegas native Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's/Delphi Chevrolet) will soar the skies above Nevada on Wednesday. Busch will take a special ride in an F-16 fighter jet with the Air Force Thunderbirds out of Nellis Air Force Base.

For The Kids ... The Las Vegas Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities will hold its annual NASCAR Driver Auction at Sam's Town Live! inside Sam's Town Hotel & Gambling Hall on Thursday at 6 p.m. Drivers Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford), Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Toyota) and Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) as well as ESPN commentator Rusty Wallace are scheduled to appear at the fundraiser. Shop Til You Drop ... Mark Martin will be the featured guest on Friday night's edition of QVC's "For Race Fans Only" from 8-10 p.m. ET live from Harrah's Casino. Martin has made several appearances on the show over the past years, the last one coming from his hometown of Batesville, Ark., last year.

Gentlemen, Start Your Skillets ... Several rookie drivers will participate in the Second Annual Raybestos Rookie Cooking Challenge at ESPN Zone on Thursday. The drivers will participate in a cooking class with the ESPN Zone culinary team and will then prepare the dishes they learned to cook. Kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Las Vegas will judge the competition. Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Krisiloff, Brad Coleman, Timothy Peters and Justin Diercks are among those expected to participate. On Deck: Atlanta Motor Speedway

The fourth race on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule will be Sunday, March 19 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kasey Kahne (No. 9 UAW Dodge Dealers Dodge) won last year's race, his first of a series-high six wins. Kahne started the race from the pole position.

FAST FACTS

The Race: UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400

The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

The Date: Sunday, Mar. 12
The Time: 4:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: FOX, 4 p.m. (ET)

Track Layout: 1.5-mile oval
Distance: 400 miles (267 laps)

Purse: $6,381,100

2006 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2006 Pole: Greg Biffle

Pre-Race On-Track Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 11:30 a.m.- 1 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:10 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 9-9:50 a.m.; Final Practice,10:20-11:20 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing