Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Las Vegas: Kobalt Tools 400

Thursday, March 03, 2011


Track history: The Las Vegas Motor Speedway, situated on 1600 acres northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, opened for business in 1996. The facility covers over a dozen forms of racing, including a go-kart track, a 4,000-foot drag strip, a 3/8 mile "bullring" oval, a couple of road courses, paved and dirt short tracks, motocross circuits, and a Cup Superspeedway. They are also home to several racing schools like the Richard Petty Driving Experience and the Mario Andretti Racing School. With Las Vegas food and entertainment nearby, and over 100,000 affordable hotel rooms available, LVMS is a favorite of race teams and fans alike. The speedway was opened September 15, 1996 with the Indy Racing League Las Vegas 500k, won by Richie Hearn. NASCAR Cup racing came to LVMS in 1998 with the inaugural Las Vegas 400. The superspeedway is a 1.5 mile tri-oval. The backstretch runs 1,572 feet and the front is 2,275 feet.
In 2007, the Cup drivers competed on a brand-new track configuration. The 1.5 mile track was changed to its current 20 degree banking compared to the previous 12 degrees in the turns. For the fans, pit road was relocated 150 feet closer to the grandstands and the new fan-friendly garages debuted that weekend as well.

March, 1, 1998: Dale Jarrett ran a 168.224 mph qualifying lap in Robert Yates Racing's No. 88 Quality Care Ford to start on the pole for the 1998 Las Vegas 400. He led 40 laps but dropped out on lap 219 after losing the engine. Mark Martin put Roush Racing's No. 6 Valvoline Ford 7th in the lineup, led 82 laps and took the inaugural victory with a race speed of 146.554 mph.

March 1, 2009: Las Vegas native, Kyle Busch, gave his family and hometown friends a show in the 2009 Shelby 427. He won the pole with a lap of 185.995 mph in the No. 18 M&M's Toyota but, because of an engine change, had to drop to the rear of the field at the start of the race. It took only 50 laps to get to the front and take the lead. Busch led 51 of the 285 lap event, including the final one.

February 28, 2010: : Kurt Busch set a new track qualifying record, 188.719 mph, in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for the start of the 2010 Shelby American. Unfortunately, he got loose right after the green flag dropped and No. 24 Jeff Gordon led the first lap. Busch never recovered, was collected in a lap 93 wreck and finished 8 laps down in 35th. Gordon led the most laps (219 of 267) but came up short (finished 3rd) to teammate, No. 48 Jimmie Johnson. With about 30 laps to go, Johnson's crew chief opted for a 4-tire change and Gordon's went for 2. This proved to be the winning choice for Johnson to score his 2nd consecutive win of 2010.

Your fantasy game won't allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin. There were 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend's Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mid-Pack picks

The top 15 in points is starting to take shape but there are still large swings in the standings after each race. Mid-Pack Attack will go back to our practice of avoiding drivers in the top 15 after Race 5 (March 27th at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California). Until then we will not choose any driver considered a favorite at the current track, but all others are fair game as mid-packers.

Jeff Burton is the only driver who has been running at the end of all 13 Sprint Cup races held at the Nevada track. In those 13 races, he's scored 8 top tens, including 2 wins, and finished on the lead lap 12 times. He's also an excellent "closer". His average start in those races was an 18.8 and his average finish was a 9.9. In 10 Nationwide Series Vegas races, Burton has 3 wins, a pole and a 9.4 average finish. An engine failure at Daytona and getting caught up a 14-car wreck last week at Phoenix set him back to 25th in the points so far this season, but we think Burton will turn it around on Sunday.

Another driver having a rough 2011 start is Greg Biffle. He wrecked at Daytona and wasn't a factor at all at Phoenix. This is Las Vegas. In 7 Cup starts, he has a pole and a 12.9 average finish. Throw away his first start where he blew the motor after 20 laps and it's an 8.3 average finish for the last 6 races. He has 8 top tens, including a win, in 9 Nationwide Series races at this track. Earlier in his career, when he was full-time in the trucks, Biffle made two starts at LVMS. He qualified 5th in both events, finished 5th in the first one and won the other. We like his chances this weekend.

Clint Bowyer struggled in his first 3 of 5 Sprint Cup starts at the Las Vegas mile-and-a-half venue but his last two races resulted in a 2nd and an 8th. In this race last season, he was one of the drivers who opted not to put on new tires with about 30 to go and his 8th place might have turned into a top 5. Bowyer made four starts in the NNS and qualified all in 8th or better. Aside from an early wreck in one of those races, his other three ended with top 9 finishes. He looked good at Daytona, leading 31 laps and finishing 17th, but was also a casualty of the 14-car wreck at Phoenix. Give Bowyer a look for a top 15 or better this week.


We're going way out on a limb with one of the home-town Vegas drivers for our deepest pick this week. As mentioned above in last year's race rundown, Kurt Busch holds the track record for qualifying at LVMS. In 10 Cup starts here, he's averaged a 5.2 start but only has one top-5 finish. In fact, it's his worst finishing track (21.9 average finishes) which is embarrassing in front of his home-town fans. He did pick up a 4th place in his lone Nationwide Series start and an 8th in a K &N Pro Series West race at this track. Why are we picking him at a track that hasn't been very kind to him? Well, 2011 seems to be going a little better for Kurt. He won the Bud Shootout; he won his Daytona Gatorade qualifier, finished 5th in the Daytona 500 and was 8th last week at Phoenix. Face it, this is Fantasy Racing and this is the land of Lady Luck.



Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at RotoWorld.com.
Email :Anthony Ballantoni



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