*Johnson The Favorite As Series Heads To Las Vegas *In The Loop: A Trio Who Could Challenge Johnson *Next Up: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tests At Phoenix Quadruple: Johnson Eyes Fourth Consecutive Las Vegas Win DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 26,...
*Johnson The Favorite As Series Heads To Las Vegas
*In The Loop: A Trio Who Could Challenge Johnson
*Next Up: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tests At Phoenix
Quadruple: Johnson Eyes Fourth Consecutive Las Vegas Win
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 26, 2008) -- Given today's ultra-competitive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, it's not often that drivers dominate certain race tracks.
Behold the exception: Reigning and two-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) hopes Sunday's UAW-Dodge 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be his fourth consecutive win there.
Johnson also has dominated at Lowe's Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile layout. He swept both events there in 2004 and '05, and has won three consecutive Coca-Cola 600s at Lowe's -- from '03 through '05.
Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont-Nicorette Chevrolet) is the last driver to win the same event four consecutive times. Gordon did it in the fall event at Darlington Raceway (1995-98).
January Test Data Provides Road Map For Las Vegas Preps
Sunday's UAW-Dodge 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway marks another significant milestone for NASCAR's new race car. The now-generation car will compete for the first time on a 1.5-mile track, an event presaged by the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' two-day test there in late January. Reaction was positive.
"Teams came out of there with high marks on the new car, the way it handled and they really liked the tire package," said Brett Bodine, NASCAR's Director of Cost Research. "We feel like the education process for the teams really went to another level after that test, with them coming out of there with a really good feeling about the car and what they learned."
Teams used the new car in 16 of 36 events last season. It will run fulltime in 2008; in fact, the season's first four events come at tracks where the new car races for the first time -- Daytona International Speedway, Auto Club Speedway, Las Vegas and Atlanta Motor Speedway.
In The Loop: Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch All Las Vegas Contenders
Most of the stories this weekend will revolve around one central figure -- Jimmie Johnson. The topic will either be A) Can Johnson win his fourth consecutive race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? Or B) Who can knock off Johnson from the Las Vegas pedestal?
As tough as it would seem, Johnson absolutely can pull off the incredible four-in-a-row feat. He's been phenomenal over his streak: A Driver Rating of 133.7, an Average Running Position of 5.1, 149 Fastest Laps Run and average Green Flag Speed of 163.075 mph, 749 Laps In the Top 15 and 197 Laps Led. All those numbers are by far the tops in the series at Las Vegas over the last three races.
But there are four other drivers who own Las Vegas Driver Ratings that eclipse the 100-point barrier. And three own at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup title -- Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart (No 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 USG Ford).
Gordon, who finished second in last season's race, might have the best shot at ending the No. 48 team's dominance. He has a Driver Rating of 114.1 (second-best), an Average Running Position of 8.1 (third), 66 Fastest Laps Run (second) and 748 Laps in the Top 15 (second). He leads the series in Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green) with 153.
Another Las Vegas contender is Stewart, who finished seventh last year and has two top 10s in the last three Vegas races. Stewart has a Driver Rating of 100.9 (fifth) and an Average Running Position of 9.7.
Also watch for Kenseth to have a strong run. Kenseth, always a threat on 1.5-mile layouts, is the last driver not named Jimmie Johnson to win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He won in both 2003 and 2004, and since then has three consecutive finishes in the top 10. Kenseth has an Average Running Position of 12.7 (eighth), a Driver Rating of 104.5 (fourth) and 39 Fastest Laps Run (tied for fourth).
Arguably, Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) has been the strongest driver over the first two races of the 2008 season. That consistency should continue at Las Vegas, where Busch has three consecutive top-10 finishes -- including results of second (2005) and third (2006).
At Vegas, Busch has a Driver Rating of 108.7 (third), an Average Running Position of 7.1 (second), 49 Fastest Laps Run (third) and 746 Laps in the Top 15 (third).
Pit Stop: Series Teams Test At Phoenix Before Heading To Atlanta
Following Sunday's UAW-Dodge 400, NASCAR Sprint Cup teams will stop next Monday and Tuesday for a two-day test at Phoenix International Raceway.
It's one of five NASCAR-sanctioned tests selected by teams for 2008 (not including the annual Preseason Thunder test at Daytona International Speedway). Teams already tested at Las Vegas and Auto Club Speedway and will test at Pocono Raceway and Lowe's Motor Speedway later this year.
Phoenix data will be applicable at similar tracks such as Richmond International Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
"Whenever teams test, it usually helps the back half of the field more than the front," said Brett Bodine, NASCAR's Director of Cost Research. "The Las Vegas/Phoenix combination week will certainly improve the competition for future races."
Off The Track: Special Events, Entertainment for the UAW-Dodge 400
Given that one of the world's entertainment hubs sits just a few miles south of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, fans should expect to see -- and hear -- stars this weekend.
The quiet stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series lead off, with team haulers scheduled for a Thursday parade down Las Vegas Boulevard, known as "The Strip."
Transporter drivers will stage their trucks at 2:30 p.m. PT just south of the Russell Road-Las Vegas Blvd. intersection, parading north for five miles in the middle lane. A left turn on Sahara Avenue takes them to Interstate 15 for the short drive to the track.
Carol Linnea Johnson, who stars in "Mama Mia!" at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, will sing Sunday's National Anthem.
Blue Man Group, which can be seen at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, will perform Saturday and Sunday in the Neon Garage; also during Sunday's pre-race show.
Country music artist Jason Michael Carroll will perform Sunday morning in the midway behind the main grandstands.
And as they did prior to the 50th Daytona 500 two weeks ago, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, from next-door Nellis Air Force base, will perform Sunday's flyover.
Clock Ticks For Teams Flirting With Top-35 Cut-Off; 2008 Points Are Criteria After 5th Race
Tick, tick, tick ...
For those NASCAR Sprint Cup teams residing in the proximity of the 35th position in car owner points, the pressure is already being felt.
For the first five races of the 2008 season, the top 35 teams in the final 2007 owner points are assured starting spots. Beginning with this season's sixth race, March 30 at Martinsville Speedway, the 2008 points determine the weekly top-35 guarantees. Teams outside the top 35 will have to qualify based on pole day
This week, the 35th spot belongs to the No. 40 Target Dodge team owned by Felix Sabates, with driver Dario Franchitti, last year's winner of the Indianapolis 500 AND the IndyCar Series championship. The No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge team owned by Roger Penske, is 33rd. That team's driver is Sam Hornish Jr., who won the Indy 500 in 2006 and the IndyCar Series title in 2001, '02 and '06.
60 Years Of NASCAR (1948-2008) Includes 1955 Race In Las Vegas
There have been 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- and 11 overall, counting a somewhat-forgotten desert classic held in the autumn of 1955.
The date was Oct. 16. The place was Las Vegas Park Speedway, a one-mile dirt track.
Norm Nelson, driving a Chrysler for legendary car owner Carl Kiekhaefer, won the dirt-track race at Las Vegas Park Speedway.
The event, was the 43rd of the 45-race season. Scheduled for 200 laps, it was shortened to 111 due to darkness. That problem was caused in part by a 12-car accident early in the race.
Up Next: The Kobalt Tools 500 At Atlanta Motor Speedway
After two early-season West Coast events, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns east for next Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
As in Las Vegas, Jimmie Johnson will be the pre-race favorite based on last year's season sweep at Atlanta. He'll be looking for his third consecutive win there, overall.
Reigning Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) is the defending pole winner for the March event.
The Race: UAW-Dodge 400
The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 2
The Time: 4:30 p.m. (ET)
The Track: 1.5-mile oval
The Distance: 400 miles/267 laps
TV: FOX, 3:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio
2007 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2007 Polesitter: Kasey Kahne
Pre-Race Schedule: Friday -- Practice, noon-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:40 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 10:30-11:15 a.m.; Final Practice, 11:50 a.m.-12:50 p.m.