Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Kobalt Tools 400

Thursday, March 07, 2013

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, Dream Racing (Italian sport cars) and Exotics Racing. 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 6, 2011: Carl Edwards won the Kobalt Tools 400 from a third 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 three laps and finished in 11th place. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 16 Greg Biffle 11 laps, finished 28th; Race-winner Edwards 69 laps and No. 14 Tony Stewart led the most laps (163) and finished 15th.

March 11, 2012: Tony Stewart won the Kobalt Tools 400 from a seventh place start. It was the No. 14 Chevrolet driver’s first victory and first top-10 finish in 2012 and his first victory and ninth top-10 finish in 14 races at Las Vegas. Pole-sitter, No. 5 Kasey Kahne never led a lap and finished in 19th place. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 17 Matt Kenseth 21 laps, finished 22nd; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 35 laps, finished second; No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 70 laps, finished 10th and Race-winner Stewart led the most laps (127 of 267).

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners: Carl Edwards 3/2/08, Kyle Busch 3/1/09, Jimmie Johnson 2/28/10, Carl Edwards 3/6 11 and Tony Stewart 3/11/12.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Kyle Busch 3/7/04, Aric Almirola 3/11/07 and Timmy Hill 3/11/12.
First Cup pole: Kasey Kahne 3/7/04.
First Cup win: No driver yet.

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 20 finish as track favorites Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. 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 20 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 20 after Race 5 (March 24th 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.

Clint Bowyer struggled in his first three of seven Sprint Cup starts at the Las Vegas mile-and-a-half venue but his last four races resulted in a 15th and three top 10s. He made four starts in the Nationwide Series at LVMS and qualified all in eighth or better. Aside from an early wreck in one of those races, his other three ended with top-nine finishes. So far this season, Bowyer has matched his 2012 Daytona 11th place finish and improved on his 2012 Phoenix 30th place (finished sixth last week). The chances are pretty good that he won’t have a problem maintaining his 15.7 average finish at the Sin City track.  Give the No. 15 Toyota Camry a look for a top-20 or better this weekend.

Jeff Burton is the only driver who has been running at the finish of all 15 Sprint Cup races held at the Nevada track. In those 15 races, he's scored eight top-tens, including two wins, and finished on the lead lap 14 times (also the most of any driver). He’s also an excellent “closer”. His average start in those races was a 19.1 coupled with a 10.9 average finish. In nine Nationwide Series starts at LVMS, he has three wins, a pole and a 9.4 average finish. At Daytona, Burton got caught up in “somebody else’s wreck” and was credited with a 30th place. He came back last week and finished 10th at Phoenix. We think the No. 31 Chevrolet SS will finish somewhere between 10th and 20th on Sunday.

We’re looking for top-20 performers in this column so Marcos Ambrose comes to mind. In four Sprint Cup LVMS starts, his best finish was a fourth and his worst was a 20th (scored in his first Cup start at the track). He earned a seventh here in the 2006 Camping World Truck race and a 10th in the 2007 Nationwide Series race. Ambrose may still be considered a road-course ringer but, 29 of his 85 top 20 Sprint Cup career finishes were scored on the 1.5 mile venues.  The No. 9 Ford driver logged a pair of 18th places finishes in the first two races so far this season. We think it’s safe to gamble on his continuing that string.

Joey Logano has overall numbers similar to Ambrose. He, too, has 85 career top 20 finishes with 25 of them scored at the mile-and-a-half tracks. In four Cup starts at LVMS, he has an average finish of 14.5 with a best of sixth and a worst of 23rd place. He finished 19th at Daytona and 26th at Phoenix but his Penske Racing PR report tells a different “coulda been” story. In Daytona, he was running sixth with three laps to go when he lost his drafting partners. In Phoenix, while running 10th with five to go, his No. 22 Ford developed fuel pickup problems forcing him to pit under green. If Lady Luck is with him, look for Logano to improve on those finishes while making his milestone 150th Sprint Cup Series start on Sunday.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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