Las Vegas: Team Monte Carlo preview

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Feb. 27, 2002): When the Chevrolet Monte Carlo teams arrive at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend for the third race of the 36-event 2002 Winston Cup Series season, and only the fifth-ever Cup race on this track, they'll...

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Feb. 27, 2002): When the Chevrolet Monte Carlo teams arrive at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend for the third race of the 36-event 2002 Winston Cup Series season, and only the fifth-ever Cup race on this track, they'll be aiming for a repeat performance of the brand's win here last year.

It was Jeff Gordon, driving the No. 24 DuPont Chevy Monte Carlo, who came from 24th to first to score Chevrolet's first Winston Cup win here in 2001 and the first of his championship-winning season. "We turned our whole program around here last year and went on to win the championship," said Gordon, four-time Winston Cup champion, who also contributed to Chevrolet's claiming its 22nd manufacturer's crown (in the modern era) last year. "A lot of it had to do with the momentum that came out of that event." Gordon stands fourth in points after two races, and is the only Chevrolet driver in the top 10.

Other Chevrolet teams and drivers would like to see their Monte Carlos in the winner's circle at this 1.5-mile "flat" track. Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the No. 8 Budweiser Chevy Monte Carlo, whose best finish here was a 10th in 2000, hopes his 2002 season turns around here. "We need a good finish, it's that simple," he said. "I've said all winter that every points race I have lost, it was because of a poor start in the first five or six races, and this season has not started out very well for us." Earnhardt Jr. suffered cut or blown tires in the first two races so far, placing him 31st in the point standings.

Earnhardt Jr. is eligible for the Winston No Bull 5 one-million-dollar bonus here. The top-five finishers at the 2001 EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway are qualified for the first of five 2002 No Bull events at Las Vegas. Bobby Hamilton, driver of the No. 55 Schneider Electric Racing Chevy Monte Carlo, is the only other Chevy driver eligible for this prize. "We've done some more pre-race planning than we normally do for events," said Hamilton, who tested fastest here in January. "We chose to use Vegas as one of our test sessions for the No. 55 Chevy. We test several places throughout the off-season, but felt that Vegas was important because we really didn't run well at those types of tracks last year. I'll prepare for the race the same way I always do simply because I want to win every week. We just hope that Vegas will be our first, but not the only, win for the year."

Kevin Harvick, in the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Service Chevy Monte Carlo, is another hopeful for a Chevrolet victory here. Harvick has competed at LVMS in NASCAR Southwest Tour, Winston West Series, NASCAR Busch Series, and last year for the first time in the Winston Cup Series, finishing eighth, his first top-10. "Anytime you reach a milestone in your career it holds a special significance," said Harvick. "But Vegas has always been good to me. It's a track that I just get, you know? I've won races there and have run there a lot in both the Southwest Tour and Winston West Series. So, connecting the top 10 with Vegas is cool, but when I think about the speedway, it's not the first thing to pop in my head. The wins are."

Jimmie Johnson has been the top qualifying rookie for the first two races in his No. 48 Lowe's Chevy Monte Carlo, taking the pole at the Daytona 500 and qualifying 11th at Rockingham. His best finish at Las Vegas in the Busch Series was 14th in 2001. "We still need to have a solid qualifying effort," he said. "We tested strong (at Las Vegas) last month. I hope off the truck we can be toward the top of the leader board and be able to solidly be in the race. If we do we will get a good pit selection, which will help with track position because it is so important these days, especially on a 1.5-mile track like Las Vegas. Our goals will be to continue to qualify for the race and finishing on the lead lap. Once we achieve those goals on a regular basis, we can set our goals a little higher."

The 400.5-mile/267-lap event is scheduled for Sunday, March 3, at 12:30 p.m. local time. It will air live on FOX, with the pre-race show beginning at 3 p.m. ET. PRN Radio will air the race live, beginning at 3 p.m. ET.

-tmc-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson