Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Las Vegas: Kobalt Tool 400

Thursday, March 08, 2012


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.

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.

March 6, 2011: Carl Edwards won the Kobalt Tools 400 from a 3rd place start. It was the No. 99 Ford driver’s first victory of 2011 and his second victory at Las Vegas. Pole-sitter, No. 17 Matt Kenseth, led 3 laps and finished in 11th place. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 16 Greg Biffle (11 laps, finished 28th), winner Edwards (69 laps) and No. 14 Tony Stewart led the most laps (163) and finished 15th.

Active drivers who made their Cup series debut at Las Vegas: Kyle Busch on 3/7/2004 and Aric Almirola on 3/11/2007. 

Fantasy games 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 Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. There were 45 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 25th 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 finish of all 14 Sprint Cup races held at the Nevada track. In those 14 races, he's scored eight top-tens, including two wins, and finished on the lead lap 13 times (also the most of any driver). He’s also an excellent “closer”. His average start in those races was an 18.9 coupled with a 10.7 average finish. Burton has scored the most driver points in the last five Vegas Cup races. In nine Nationwide Series starts at LVMS, he has three wins, a pole and a 9.4 average finish. Give the No. 31 look for a top-15 or better this weekend.

In eight Cup starts at LVMS, Greg Biffle has a pole and a 14.8 average finish. That average includes his first start in which he blew the motor after 20 laps (credited with 40th place) and last year’s 28th place. Remember, Biffle had a terrible 2011 but seems to have turned it around this season (3rd place at both Daytona and Phoenix). He has eight top-tens, including a win, in nine 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.

While driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, David Reutimann made four Cup starts a LVMS and averaged a 16.8 finish. His last three averaged a 10.0 finish. In one of those (2009), he qualified 4th, had to drop to the rear before the initial green flag because of an engine change but still managed a 4th place finish. Reutimann is one driver who keeps up with the best of them on the 1.5 mile tracks. This year, he's driving the Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 10 with Earnhardt Childress Racing Chevy power. That should be a big plus. We suggest you consider Reutimann for a fourth or fifth driver on your fantasy roster.

We’re taking a Vegas gamble on one of the home-town drivers for our deepest pick this week. As mentioned above in the 2010 race rundown, Kurt Busch holds the track record for qualifying at LVMS. In 11 Cup starts here, he has averaged a 6.7 start but only has one top-5 finish. Much to his embarrassment in front of his home-town fans, it is probably one of his worst finishing tracks (a 20.7 average finish). Busch surprised us with a 9th in this event in 2011. 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. He’s a gamble since this will be his first start here with Phoenix Racing; a team a lot smaller than what he ran in the past. But, hey, 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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