Las Vegas Race Preview
There will be plenty of stars and celebrities in the spotlight this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. There always is – it's Las Vegas, the glitz and glamour capital of the world.
But two of the biggest will be Sprint Cup stars Kurt and Kyle Busch, Las Vegas natives who will have the hometown crowd behind them for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400.
The Busch brothers are off to a fast start, as is Jeff Gordon, who snapped his 66-race winless streak last week at Phoenix. Here's a look at what to expect in race No. 3 on the Sprint Cup schedule:
Three Things To Watch
1. Home cooking: Kyle and Kurt Busch are Las Vegas natives and would like nothing more than to win at their home track. They sit atop the points standings and have extra motivation in front of the home fans. Kyle won there in 2009. Can Kurt match him?
2. Rally time: Some top drivers are off to poor starts, putting them in a deep hole in the standings. Jeff Burton, Brian Vickers, David Reutimann, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray all sit outside the top 25 in the points standings and need good finishes to gain some ground.
3. Pit strategy: Jeff Gordon dominated this race last year, but lost it at the end when he took two tires on his final pit stop while Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson took four. Pit strategy likely will be a factor again as teams jockey for track position late in the race.
Who’s Hot …
Jeff Gordon – Big win at Phoenix got the monkey off his back and gave him some early-season momentum with new crew Alan Gustafson. Gordon led 219 of 267 laps in this race last year, finishing third.
Kyle Busch – He survived the chaos at Daytona and finished second last week at Phoenix to take the early points lead.
Tony Stewart – He’s quietly been a factor in both races. He had a shot to win at Daytona before getting shuffled on the final lap and led 59 laps at Phoenix. He’s looking good for a notoriously slow starter.
… Who’s Not
Brian Vickers – Was in the “Big One” at both Daytona and Phoenix, and left last week’s race ticked off after believing that Matt Kenseth wrecked him.
Jeff Burton – A blown engine at Daytona and a wreck at Phoenix has buried him in 32nd in the standings after two races.
Joey Logano – After strong finish last year, he can’t buy a break. Got wrecked late at Daytona and rode around with a sour engine all day at Phoenix before it finally blew.
1. Jeff Gordon – Dominant last year and is riding high after winning last week in just his second start with Gustafson.
2. Jimmie Johnson – He has track record four wins at Vegas and beat Gordon last year. Bounced back strong at Phoenix (third) after getting in a wreck at Daytona.
3. Carl Edwards – Won at Vegas in 2008 and is hungry for a win after winning the pole and getting taken out in a wreck last week at Phoenix.
Winningest Active Drivers
Jimmie Johnson 4
Jeff Burton 2
Matt Kenseth 2
Kyle Busch 1
Carl Edwards 1
Jeff Gordon 1
Mark Martin 1
By The Numbers
28 Record for lead changes at Las Vegas. The first two races of 2011 have set records for lead changes.
Kenny Bruce – Carl Edwards. Finished 2010 with back-to-back wins. Second in the Daytona 500. Won the pole and led laps at Phoenix before a crash took him out. Former Las Vegas winner. Seems like Edwards is due.
Kris Johnson – Kyle Busch. Narrowly missed out on his second career "triple" last week at Phoenix. Figures out a way to grab Cup win at hometown track.
Jeff Owens – Jeff Gordon. Remember the lyrics to the old Doors’ song – “Mojo rising.” Gordon’s got it. He finishes the deal this year.
Bob Pockrass – Greg Biffle. Roush Fenway was strong on the intermediate tracks late last year, and while Edwards might be the first pick from that camp, this one will belong to Biffle.
Last Time Around: Late pit call ruins Jeff Gordon’s dominating performance
LAS VEGAS – Jeff Gordon dominated the Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday, only to lose when his Hendrick Motorsports team made the wrong pit call at the end of the race.
Though he tried his best to put a happy face and a positive spin on it, Gordon was admittedly disappointed and frustrated with his third-place finish.
And, he said, it doesn’t matter that it was Jimmie Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate and winner of the sport’s four previous championships, that beat him.
“You know, we're just like every other competitor out there – we are pissed off about it,” Gordon said. “We came here today on a mission, and we did it all day long. Unfortunately, the two-tire stop just didn't work out for us.”
Gordon, who has just one win in the past two seasons, led 219 of the 267 laps and appeared to have the race firmly in hand until the final caution flag on lap 230.
Gordon had led 106 of the previous 116 laps, through two rounds of green-flag pit stops, until the leaders pitted under caution.
But Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte took just two new tires while Johnson, who had shadowed Gordon throughout the second half of the race, took four.
That gave Johnson the advantage he needed to overtake Gordon for the lead with 17 laps to go.
Gordon, meanwhile, faded to third when Kevin Harvick, who also took just two new tires, got by him with three laps to go.
“I knew we were a sitting duck,” Gordon said. “It was just a matter of time because [of] two versus four [tires], and I was so tight.”