Las Vegas: Round three preview

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - Las Vegas Las Vegas Finishes: One Thriller Reputation Daytona Beach, Fla. (Feb. 23, 2008) - You either have "it" or you don't. Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- especially in the case of the NASCAR ...

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - Las Vegas

Las Vegas Finishes: One Thriller Reputation

Daytona Beach, Fla. (Feb. 23, 2008) - You either have "it" or you don't. Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- especially in the case of the NASCAR Nationwide Series over the last five years -- definitely has "it."

"It" is the whisker-thin finish that fans at the 1.5-mile track north of the Strip are accustomed to.

In four of the last five years, the Margin of Victory in races at Las Vegas has been half a second or less.

The stage was set five years ago in 2004 when two-time series champion Kevin Harvick (No. 33 KHI Chevrolet) withstood the charge from Kasey Kahne and set the MOV record at the track -- .119 seconds.

It wouldn't be the last time in that span those two drivers were involved in close LVMS finishes.

In 2005, Mark Martin, the series' all-time leader in wins (48) and poles (30), passed David Stremme with eight laps to go. Harvick managed to work his way into the mix but couldn't catch Martin, who beat him by 1.4 seconds.

Kahne entered the picture again in 2006 when he managed to pull away from Matt Kenseth and Harvick on a green-white-checkered restart to win by .316 seconds.

The 2007 race was one that still stands as one of the wildest finishes in recent series memory. Las Vegas' own Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota) had dominated the race but Jeff Burton (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) ran him down on the final lap. The two drivers made side-by-side contact down the frontstretch toward the finish line but it was Burton who held on for the win while Busch spun across the line in second, .101 seconds behind.

Last year, Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Klondike Chevrolet) was in the hunt for his first series win, challenging Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scotts Ford). But Martin, his JR Motorsports teammate who had just taken fresh tires, nudged Edwards, whose resulting spin collected Keselowski. The two drivers were taken out of contention while Martin was able to escape the challenges of former series champions Greg Biffle (No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford) and Clint Bowyer following the green-white-checkered restart and win by .586 second.

Biffle, Busch, Burton, Edwards, Harvick and Keselowski return to continue the trend on Saturday.

Kyle Busch, Gaughan Look For Better Luck In Vegas

So much for home-court advantage.

Las Vegas natives Kyle Busch and Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet) haven't had the success they'd hoped for at their home track throughout their NASCAR national series careers.

They have had high points, no doubt. Busch finished second two years ago in a thrilling last-lap dash to the checkers with Jeff Burton. He'd led a race-high 81 laps before surrendering his lead as he spun across the finish line an instant behind Burton.

But in his four other races at Las Vegas, Busch has an uncharacteristic average finish of 19th.

Gaughan will be starting at his home track in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the first time. Before making the move to a new series, he had 10 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts there and accomplished the ultimate by winning from the pole in 2003.

But in his other nine races at LVMS, Gaughan hasn't fared well, posting an average finish of 22.1.

However, the native sons are coming home with some momentum that might swing their recent slumps back to the plus side.

Busch had a day for the ages last Saturday at Auto Club Speedway, becoming the first driver in NASCAR's top three series to win two races on the same day when he swept the NASCAR Camping World and NASCAR Nationwide Series doubleheader events. He also moved into the lead in the series standings this week .

Gaughan, meanwhile, finished 15th at Daytona International Speedway in only his second series start and followed up with a ninth-place result last week at Auto Club. He's eighth in the standings and also leads the Raybestos Rookie rankings.

It's Early, But There's Unfinished Business For Keselowski

Last year at Las Vegas, Brad Keselowski was on the verge of winning his first career NASCAR Nationwide race.

He was leading with four laps to go when his JR Motorsports teammate, Mark Martin, triggered a spin involving Keselowski and Carl Edwards that took them out as Martin went on to the victory.

Couple that memory with his current results following the first two races of 2009, and you'd think Keselowski would be as frustrated as a blackjack player holding 20 when the dealer turns 21. Not so.

"The race last year at Las Vegas was a good morale booster for the team, despite the wreck," he said. "I felt like that race we all got on the same page and were able to believe in each other from there on. Even though the day didn't end how we had hoped, everyone was still happy with the effort because it was the first time we were running up front and were considered a contender."

Two weeks ago at Daytona he led six laps in the last quarter of the event and was fifth when a cut tire and resulting accident on Lap 110 ended his bid for a win.

Last week at California -- a track where he's been snake-bitten -- he was running seventh on Lap 96 when he was caught in an accident not of his doing.

A pre-season favorite to challenge for the series championship, Keselowski is 17th in the standings. He was 18th one year ago after California and managed to turn his season around despite his Las Vegas woes.

"These first two races have been frustrating and encouraging at the same time," he said. "Encouraging because we've been competitive and had a shot at the win but frustrating, because we don't have the finishes to back that up. It's just a good thing that the season is 35 races long because we have 33 races to get past the disappointment of these past two weeks, and I feel like Las Vegas is a good place to do that."

Rookies Cooking On -- And Off -- Track At Season's Start

The 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie class -- now totaling eight strong with the addition of Ken Butler III (No. 23 Aaron's Chevrolet) to the mix -- has opened to good reviews in the early going.

Two rookie drivers finished in the top 15 at Daytona led by Michael McDowell (No. 47 Kingsford & Smith Ford) in 14th.

Last week at Auto Club Speedway, McDowell started a career-best third and was running well until his engine gave way causing a fiery halt to his night.

Five rookies placed in the top 20 at ACS lead by Brendan Gaughan (ninth). All but McDowell were running at the finish, an improvement over Daytona where two drivers failed to finish.

Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge); Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America's Incredible Pizza Co. Toyota) and John Wes Townley (No. 09 Zaxby's Ford) will be part of the annual Raybestos Rookie Cooking Challenge in Las Vegas on Thursday from 2-4 p.m. PT at the ESPN Zone located on the Strip in the New York New York Hotel Casino.

The drivers will be divided into two teams and prepare dishes with the guidance of ESPN Zone chefs. Members of the local Boys & Girls Clubs will act as judges for the contest.

In The Loop: Bet On Kyle, Carl Or Jeff At Vegas

The pre-season prognosticators have nailed it -- so far.

The favorites to win the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship were Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. Currently, they sit 1-2 in the series standings.

That front-running battle should continue -- and possibly bubble over -- at Las Vegas.

Clearly, both want the win. Edwards has gone 0-for-2 in Victory Lane appearances, and Las Vegas is one of his best tracks. Busch is likewise strong here, and looking for his first national series victory at his home track.

The pre-race Loop Data statistics favor Edwards. In four Vegas races since Loop Data's inception in 2005, Edwards has a Driver Rating of 111.6, an Average Running Position of 7.3, a Pass Differential of plus-34 (passes minus times passed), a series-high 107 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), a series-high Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 94.7% and a series-high 78 Fastest Laps Run. He has also been passed fewer times than any other driver -- 89.

Busch is likewise solid at Vegas. He has a Driver Rating of 99.7, an Average Running Position of 12.0, a Pass Differential of plus-49, 50 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 68.4. Busch has also made more passes than any other driver -- 159.

Jeff Burton will start his second consecutive series race in the No. 29 Chevrolet, and with good reason.

Statistically, he's the best at Vegas. In his last two Vegas races, which includes a win in 2007, Burton has a Driver Rating of 114.3, an Average Running Position of 8.5, 64 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 79.1%. He has three career series wins at Las Vegas in eight starts, which is tied with Mark Martin for the all-time lead at the track.

Gaughan, Steve Wallace Bolster RWR Early Results

Now it its sixth year, Rusty Wallace Racing looks prepared to assert itself in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and challenge for top-10 positions in the driver and owner championships.

Drivers Steve Wallace (No. 66 USfidelis Chevrolet) and Brendan Gaughan are meshing well, and it's showing in their early results.

Gaughan, who will start just his fourth series race Saturday, is eighth in the driver standings and has his No. 62 Chevrolet ranked ninth in the owner standings.

Wallace was running well in the season-opener at Daytona before being relegated to 42nd after an incident on Lap 72 ignited by Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota).

But Wallace, 21, who had been streaky in his consistency during his first two full-time seasons, has settled in over the last year. He rebounded with a 10th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, finishing one spot behind Gaughan. The finish was his first top 10 on a track longer than 1.5 miles and the fifth in his last 16 races. He'd had only three top 10s in the 73 races before this current run.

Gaughan understands the team's improvement and the expectations that come with it.

"My goal is to go out there, try to win the Raybestos Rookie title, and also to compete for the championship," Gaughan said.

"Rusty Wallace has a great race team. David Stremme finished in the top 10 with this team last year. Steven finished 12th in points last year so it's two great race teams.

"It's not like I'm jumping into a start up, not like I'm jumping into a third car. (There are) a very mature, very powerful bunch of guys at the shop.

"For the year, I like what I see."

NNS Etc.

A "Happy" Anniversary: Kevin and DeLana Harvick will celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary Saturday in Las Vegas. It will be the first time Harvick has raced on his anniversary.

The couple exchanged vows on Feb. 28, 2001 in a Las Vegas ceremony. They didn't have time for a honeymoon due to Kevin's full-time double-duty driving in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. But DeLana notes that season was still full of "wedding presents," including the first of his two NASCAR Nationwide Series championships, his first two NASCAR Sprint Cup wins and the Rookie of the Year honor in the premier series.

And in the fall of that year, the couple put its first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series entry on the track for their team, Kevin Harvick Inc. The team won the series title in 2007.

Wimmer Hopes To Get Back On Track -- Literally: Scott Wimmer (No. 40 Key Motorsports Chevrolet) missed the race last week at California, only the second time he's suffered a DNQ in his 170-race series career. The last time he didn't qualify was in the fall of 2000 at Rockingham.

Wimmer hasn't raced in the series at Las Vegas since 2003 when he earned a top-10 finish. He's tested at the track over the last several years, however.

AIPC "Incredible Hero" At LVMS: America's Incredible Pizza Co. and CJM Racing continues its "Incredible Heroes" program at Las Vegas.

Nevada Highway Patrol Sergeant Charles Lee will represent a group of officers who voluntarily give money from their paychecks to help purchase toys for patients at Sunrise Children's Hospital and University Medical Center's respective Pediatric Units.

Update: Bill France Performance Cup

Chevrolet is the leading manufacturer at Las Vegas with seven wins, including the last two races in succession.

Jack Roush leads all owners with four wins in Ford but hasn't won since 2005. Dodge won in 2006 with driver Kasey Kahne.

Toyota has won four times in NASCAR Camping World Truck competition but has yet to win in the NASCAR Nationwide Series or in NASCAR Sprint Cup.

However, Kyle Busch -- who will pull double duty this weekend and comes off his historic dual wins last Saturday at Auto Club Speedway -- could certainly be a favorite to break that winless streak for Toyota.

Up Next: A Double-Dose Of Open Weeks

Following its second of two West Coast races, the NASCAR Nationwide Series will take two weeks off before resuming March 21 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The series has six open weekends on the schedule overall:

March 7 (NCWTS, NSCS at Atlanta)
March 14 (Open Week for Top 3 Series)
March 28 (NCWTS, NSCS at Martinsville)
May 15 (NCWTS, Sprint All-Star at LMS)
Sept. 19 (NCWTS, NSCS at New Hampshire)
Oct. 31 (NCWTS, NSCS at Talladega)

Fast Facts

The Race: Sam's Town 300
The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway; 1.5-mile oval

The Date: Saturday, Feb. 28
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET

The Distance: 300 miles / 200 laps

TV: ESPN 2, 4 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / PRN

2008 Winner: Mark Martin
2008 Pole: Brian Vickers

Event Schedule: (Local PT time)
Friday-Practice 10:30-11:50 a.m.; Final Practice 1:45-3:30 p.m.;
Saturday-Qualifying-9 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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Drivers Jeff Burton , Matt Kenseth , Rusty Wallace , Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Michael McDowell , Kasey Kahne , Scott Wimmer , Brendan Gaughan , Brian Vickers , Carl Edwards , Scott Lagasse Jr. , David Stremme , Jack Roush , Brad Keselowski , Ken Butler III , Justin Allgaier , DeLana Harvick , John Wes Townley , Steve Wallace , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams JR Motorsports