Weekend Preview: Kobalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas

By Blake Smith and Moon Mullins

                After Subway’s “February” campaign, they brought it to a close last Sunday as Carl Edwards ended a 70 race winless streak by winning the Subway Freshfit 500K. In a race that saw many “comers and goers” and changing weather conditions, veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig was able to keep on top of the adjustments of the #99 Fusion and get his driver in victory lane.  Jimmie Johnson finished second, Denny Hamlin third, Brad Keselowski was fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 5.

If you follow Blake on Twitter, you may have seen his tweet about how NASCAR may not approve of Denny Hamlin’s post race comments following Sunday’s race. Hamlin told reporters, "We learned a lot. I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning. The teams hadn't figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th-place with 30 (laps) to go, I would have stayed there -- I wouldn't have moved up. It's just one of those things where track position is everything." On Thursday, NASCAR issued a $25,000 penalty to Hamlin for violating section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) of the 2013 NASCAR Rule Book. Hamlin is expected to appeal the fine. So much for “free” speech.

NASCAR teams arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday night for the annual hauler parade along the Las Vegas strip. Drivers and teams took to the 1.5 mile Vegas track on Thursday for 2 test sessions with the Gen6 car in preparation for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400. Matt Kenseth topped the morning speed charts with a speed of 187.936 followed by Edwards, whose last win in Vegas was in 2011, Harvick, Earnhardt Jr. and Truex Jr. In the afternoon session it was Greg Biffle’s #16 Ford atop the charts with a lap of 189.427 followed by Johnson, Martin, Edwards and Harvick. No accidents were reported during Thursday’s sessions.

44 teams are entered for this weekend’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motorspeedway. Among those entered include Michael McDowell in the #98 Ambient Edge Ford who skipped last week’s race at Phoenix due to lack of Generation 6 cars available. Scott Speed and the #95 will return to the track with their “Surrender the Sponsor” Ford Fusion featuring a large white skull and cross bones on the hood of the black machine.

Danica Patrick will make her first attempt at Las Vegas this weekend in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  Shawna Robinson is the only female driver to make a start at the track, starting 36th and finishing 42nd. Patrick was a victim of a right front tire failure in last week’s race at Phoenix giving Danica her 1st DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be bringing a familiar chassis this weekend to the track but with an unfamiliar look. Earnhardt will be bringing the same primary car that he raced to a seventh place finish at Texas last November. If you are looking for Earnhardt’s Green/White AMP Energy car this weekend, you may be looking for a while. AMP Energy Active Orange will be the primary sponsor for this weekend’s race making the Most Popular Driver’s car orange and black. Earnhardt hopes to continue his streak of top 5 finishes in the 2013 season.

Since we are in Vegas, let’s look at race odds for this weekend. Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin are all favored at 6-1. Last week’s winner Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon are both favored at 10-1 odds. Danica Patrick heads into this weekend with the odds stacked against her at 300-1 for the race win!

The last time Brad Keselowski was in Vegas was for the awards banquet in December and on that night, he left with the series’ Championship trophy. During the off season, his team owner Roger Penske switched manufacturers and moved to the blue oval camp of Ford. When making the switch to Ford, Penske aligned himself with Roush Fenway Racing for manufacturer support. Roush Fenway Racing holds the record for wins at Vegas with 7. My pick for victory lane on Sunday is the defending series champion, Brad Keselowski.

NASCAR announced this week the National Rifle Association will be the title sponsor fpr the Sprint Cup Race series in Texas in April. It will be the “NRA 500”.

In other racing news this week News Corp., parent of Fox TV, has announced and new all-sports channel to be launched later this year. It will occupy the space held by Fox-owned Speed Channel. Speed will go away but many of its hosts and programs will be on the new Fox Sports.

Tune into Sunday’s coverage of the Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas Motorspeedway beginning at 1PM on WBKR and WBKR.com