The frenzied pace the crews of each driver were exhibiting during Saturday’s final practices were a matter of knowing that practice could be wiped away by rain at any moment. Most of the drivers ran several laps with race trim on Friday before qualifying just with anticipation that Saturday’s all important practice would be rained out.
The second official NASCAR Cup series practice could be construed as the most important practice because of most teams feeling there wouldn’t be much practice and attempted to put out there best stuff with no gimmicks or, “let’s try this” type of attitudes.
Both Saturday practices went through without any rain or obstruction, but the urgency teams placed on the second practice holds a lot of weight when attempting to determine who looks to be the best candidate to win on Sunday.
In the first Saturday practice, Las Vegan Kyle Busch not only had the fastest single lap of the day, but he also had the best average times of the session. Not far behind was his brother with the third best times, Kurt Busch, who is pole sitting Sunday, and had the most laps run of all early practice session drivers with 37.
The big story coming into the week was the resurgence of all the Childress drivers and how their success last week at California could easily translate into success this week. Both are down force tracks that require lots of horsepower and that is exactly what the Childress cars exhibited more than any other team last week.
However, practice has been a different story for at least two-thirds of the team. Clint Bowyer is using a chassis he ran twice last season with mediocre results, but he looked the best and showed that he should be capable of getting a top-5 finish and possibly a win with his great practice sessions Saturday.
Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton are a completely different story. The two Childress drivers who battled for the win last week were less than stellar in practice times, and that may be putting it mildly. Each brought new chassis’ this week and both teams never got the hang of things throughout each session.
Both have the engines to compete and do well Sunday, but they’re going to need a lot of in-race adjustments to get their cars going at the same pace this weeks top contenders.
The Hendrick group of drivers continue to run strong and maybe the best overall collectively, even with Dale Earnhardt Jr dragging down their combined speeds. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Mark Martin are all justified candidates to win Sunday based on practice.
Gordon was the best driver of 2009 in combined performances on the 1.5-mile tracks. Mark Martin will be using his chassis that finished fourth last year at Texas and has stellar practice times in practice, including being fastest in average speeds during the final practice. Martin looks like the driver to beat Sunday.
Johnson came in as the favorite to win the race on the basis of, well, just being Jimmie Johnson. He won last week, but the differences this week are that he’s using an unproven car, a first time starter. Last week Johnson ran with a two-time winning chassis. This week, he debut’s a brand new ride.
It may sound ridiculous, but this may be a good spot to bet against Johnson in a few driver match-ups just because of the great plus-money opportunities he presents against top-flight drivers. Johnson was good in practice with the car, but just knowing he isn’t bringing a proven winner should be encouraging to those choosing to go against the four-time Cup Champion.
Dale Earnhardt Jr starts fourth in the race and had a good run in the second practice session, although he only ran 16 laps — almost as little as the start and park drivers that have no intention of running the race. The encouraging note is that Junior brings in crew chief’s Lance McGrew’s first chassis he built from the ground up that doesn’t have Tony Eury Jr’s finger prints on. Last year at Texas, Junior ran well in this car, but finished 25th because of a late race fuel strategy that proved costly.
Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards lead the Ford’s chase to win at Las Vegas again. The Fenway-Roush Ford’s look closer to 2009 than 2008 where they won almost a third of all the races. Biffle was second best during Saturday’s early practice session in average practice times while Edwards was third fastest in happy hour average speeds. Both should do well, but look short of contending for the win.
Las Vegas NASCAR Ratings
The Vegas race usually garners the second most watched NASCAR audience of the season around the country trailing only the Daytona 500, but it may be difficult to match last years ratings based on what it is up against on Sunday.
Last season, Vegas had a 6.5 Nielson rating which equates to about 11.1 million in audience. Generally there is a golf tournament or the top NBA game in the way as the only competition for viewers around the country, but this season will be a little bit different which will make the final television rating interesting to see.
Starting at virtually the same time will be the gold medal hockey match between the USA and Canada on NBC as well as the West Conference battle between the top two teams in the Nuggets and Lakers on ABC.
In years past, the Vegas race hasn’t had to endure such competition which has had most folks tune into the FOX coverage of the race, but this year might be different.
Many in the USA and Canada are looking forward to the final hockey match-up like never before and the major market of Los Angeles always puts Lakers basketball as a top priority despite all the multitude of happenings going on around southern California.
The final ratings not only have an affect on the bargaining power NASCAR has in their next contract, but also what value the Las Vegas Motor Speedway has in attracting a lucrative deal for next season’s sponsorship for the race.
The best scenario for Vegas would be for NBC to continue it’s terrible coverage of men’s Hockey and show the final few lives minutes of the USA match and then include 15 minutes of analysis afterwards of what we missed.
Then, if we can get the Nuggets to plow through the Lakers like they have every match this year, the final ratings for the Los Angeles market could be less than expected and maybe a few of the fans television sets that are on in the area will count for something in the Nielson game.
One week after visiting Fon-tucky, close to Hollywood, reality show star Kim Kardashian chose the ensuing Las Vegas race to break out her No. 36 perfume sponsored car for Mike Bliss’ entry on Sunday. The car is a very cute pink and has a picture of Kardashian on the hood.
The attempt by Kardashian’s group to break into the proven NASCAR marketing monster isn’t as surprising as it is that they would use the Vegas race to debut it to America rather than the California race closer to where she hails from.
If Kardashian knows that Fontana is a dud, then that should speak volumes to NASCAR/ISC that Vegas deserves a second date.
Nothing Like Vegas and NASCAR
I took a trip downtown for the festivities on Friday night and saw the most amazing sight; NASCAR fans and colors abound. There must have been about 25,000 fans rolling through Fremont street with all their drivers’ sponsors on full display.
As I walked through the casino to get their odds sheet in the sports book, the lively action on the tables and bars were a symbol that Downtown was as alive as I’ve ever seen since cruising Hot Rod’s was allowed before the dome was placed over the top.
When a Johnny Cash tribute band came on as part of the Fremont Street Experience and the crowd sang “Cocaine Blues” in unison, I knew right away that NASCAR had never been as cool as it was at that moment.
I’ve been around, man, and I’ve seen races all across this place, but nothing compares to the marriage of NASCAR and Las Vegas. How about two?
Roberts Weekly Driver Ratings
Each week I will provide an analysis of my top rated drivers on how well they will do in the race based on the following criteria:
• Practice sessions leading up to the weekend’s Sprint Cup race
• Chassis information on what was brought to each track by each team, good or bad
• Driver tendencies at certain tracks
• Recent and overall histories for each driver at each track
• Decipher poor past results with what really happened, good car — or bad luck?
These final ratings should help assist in final betting strategies with the Las Vegas books or match-up and prop plays, as well as help in NASCAR fantasy leagues.
Micah Roberts Top 10 Driver Ratings
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Sunday, February 28, 2010 – 12:15 pm (PT)
Rating Driver Odds Practice 1 Qualifying Practice 2 Practice 3
1. Mark Martin 7/1 4th 8th 13th 3rd
Racing same car that finished 4th at Texas, fastest AVG time in happy hour
2. Kyle Busch 8/1 8th 5th 1st 17th
New car, best single lap and top AVG speeds in 2nd practice Saturday
3. Kurt Busch 18/1 21st 1st 3rd 16th
Brought same car that dominated Atlanta, most laps in 2nd practice
4. Greg Biffle 15/1 10th 7th 2nd 8th
Same car from All-Star race, 2nd fastest AVG time in 2nd practice
5. Jeff Gordon 10/1 5th 2nd 12th 6th
Past winner, the best on all 1.5 mile tracks in 2009
6. Clint Bowyer 15/1 12th 13th 5th 1st
Fastest in Happy Hour, strong average lap times
7. Juan Pablo Montoya 15/1 1st 10th 14th 2nd
2nd fastest in Happy Hour, same car from Miami in 2009
8. Jimmie Johnson 9/2 3rd 20th 6th 4th
Brand new chassis, 4th fastest in Happy Hour with 3rd best AVG speeds
9. Carl Edwards 18/1 35th 12th 11th 12th
Chassis finshed 3rd in Atlanta, 3rd best AVG speeds in Happy Hour
10. Denny Hamlin 12/1 27th 27th 15th 18th
Using favorite Chassis that he won with at Pocono & Martinsville in 2009
Micah Roberts, a former race and sports Director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. He currently writes for various outlets covering all sports. He can be reached at MM.Roberts7Gmail.com.
Odds courtesy of the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book
For more insights on the Auto Club 500, log onto www.LVRJ/Motorsports.com
Las Vegas Motor Speedway Facts
NASCAR Media Services
· The first NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race won by Ken Schrader on Nov. 2, 1996.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was held on March 1, 1998, won by Mark Martin.
· In 2006, the track was reconfigured to include progressive banking.
· There have been 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
· Five drivers have participated in all 12 races: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin.
· Dale Jarrett won the inaugural pole.
· Eight drivers have poles, led by Dale Jarrett, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Bobby Labonte (two each).
· Eight different drivers have won, led by Jimmie Johnson (three).
· Only five of the 12 races have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Las Vegas-native Kyle Busch became the first driver to win from the pole, last season.
· Four of the 12 races have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started was 25th, by Matt Kenseth in 2004.
· There has been one green-white-checkered finish at Las Vegas: 2006 (270/267).
· Only one driver averages a top-10 finish: Jeff Burton (9.8). Burton won consecutive races in 1999 and 2000, and has finished in the top five in the last two races (fifth in 2008, third in 2009). Burton has been running at the finish in all 12 of his events.
· In three of the last four races, the margin of victory was under one second.
· Kyle Busch made his first start and Kasey Kahne won his first pole at Las Vegas, in the same event (2004).
NASCAR in Nevada
· There have been 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in Nevada, one at Las Vegas Park Speedway in 1955 and the rest at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1996-Present).
· 19 drivers all-time in NASCAR’s three national series have their home state as Nevada.
· There have been three race winners from Nevada in NASCAR’s three national series
Top Rated NASCAR Loop Drivers at Las Vegas
Kyle Busch 109.4
Greg Biffle 103.9
Jeff Burton 98.5
Mark Martin 94.9
Tony Stewart 93.5
Carl Edwards 92.3
Kevin Harvick 92.2
Matt Kenseth 91.6
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2008 races (5 total) at Las Vegas.
2009 pole winner: Kyle Busch (185.995 mph, 29.033 seconds)
2009 race winner: Kyle Busch (119.515 mph, 3-1-09)
Track qualifying record: Kyle Busch (185.995 mph, 29.033 seconds, 2-27-09)
Track race record: Mark Martin (146.554 mph, 3-1-98)
Estimated Pit Window: Every 50-55 laps, based on fuel mileage