This Week in Auto Racing March 9 - 11

This Week in Auto Racing March 9 - 11

This Week in Auto Racing March 9 - 11
By Chris Symeon

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - NASCAR rolls into "Sin City" this weekend, with the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series running at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Sprint Cup Series

Kobalt Tools 400 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway - Las Vegas, NV


When NASCAR comes to Las Vegas Motor Speedway early in the season, it's a homecoming for Kurt and Kyle Busch. However, the Busch brothers generally have a busier weekend than normal when they're in Las Vegas.

"It's a weekend I always look forward to because it is home," Kurt Busch said. "I'll be spending a few days this week just kind of catching up, but then there are sponsor appearances, team appearances and a sponsor golf outing. That's all before we even get to the racetrack. It's a busy time, but it's a fun time."

Kurt Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion, comes to Las Vegas this time with a new team. Following his dismissal from Penske Racing shortly after the 2011 season concluded, Busch moved over to Phoenix Racing to drive the No. 51 Chevrolet. He's begun the season with a 39th-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a 15th-place run at Phoenix, which currently has him 26th in the point standings.

Busch's best finish in 11 starts at Las Vegas is third, which came in 2005, his last season with Roush Fenway Racing.

One of Kyle Busch's biggest wins in Sprint Cup came at Las Vegas in 2009. Busch won the pole position for the race but had start from the rear of the field due to an engine change. He held off then Richard Childress Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton in a three-lap shootout to the finish for his first victory at his hometrack.

"Hopefully, we'll have a good race," Kyle said. "We've won there in the past. I love being able to win in my hometown. That's the best feeling ever."

Busch moved up from 17th to ninth in the point standings after finishing sixth at Phoenix.

When the series came to Las Vegas one year ago, Kyle and Kurt Busch occupied the top-two spots in points, with Kyle holding a three-point advantage over his elder brother.

Denny Hamlin, who is Kyle Busch's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, won last Sunday's race at Phoenix and moved into the points lead. Hamlin snapped a 22- race winless streak.

Carl Edwards is hoping his drought will end in the desert as well. Despite finishing second in the point standings last season, Edwards has not won a Sprint Cup race since one year ago at Las Vegas.

"Last year was a huge weekend for us, and I'm excited to go back," Edwards said. "This will be our first opportunity of the year to run on a 1.5-mile track and to try the things [crew chief] Bob Osborne and everyone at [Roush Fenway Racing] have been working on over the winter. It's a huge event for us strategically on the schedule to build our intermediate program, which is obviously very important in our quest for the championship."

Edwards and Tony Stewart finished the '11 season in a points tie, but Stewart won the championship by virtue of his five wins.

Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with four victories at Las Vegas. Johnson won three consecutive races at this track from 2005-07. His most recent win there came two years ago.

"Vegas has been awesome to me," he said. "It's a fun track. It's a track with a ton of grip, oddly enough. You've got to drive hard every lap."

Johnson is currently 37th in the point standings, due in most part to his team's loss of 25 points for rules violations that occurred last month at Daytona.

But don't expect the five-time series champion to be low in the rankings for too much longer.

Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400.

Nationwide Series

Sam's Town 300 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway - Las Vegas, NV


Danica Patrick is off to a rough start in her first full season of Nationwide Series competition, but she might be in luck this weekend, as Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the next stop on the schedule.

Patrick's fourth-place finish one year ago at Las Vegas put her in the NASCAR record books. She became the highest finishing female ever in a NASCAR national touring series race.

Currently 21st in points, Patrick is betting on another strong performance at Las Vegas.

"I think the expectation for this week is a top-10 finish," she said. "We ran well on the mile and halves last year. I get along better with the banked tracks with more grip. They're a little more of a translation from my experience in IndyCar. That's why Texas and Vegas and places like that are good for me because that's more of what I am used to."

Mark Martin, the defending race winner, will make his first start in the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. As of now, Martin's only Nationwide event with JGR is Las Vegas, but additional races could be added later in the season.

"Their Nationwide Series program is one that has had everyone's attention for years," Martin said. "They've won a lot of races and had great cars, and they've been the premier Nationwide Series program for a few years. So I couldn't be more excited to get a chance to work with them."

Martin has four wins in six Nationwide starts at Las Vegas. Last year there, he gave Turner Motorsports its first victory in the series.

As a previous driver of JGR's No. 18 car, Kyle Busch is now behind the wheel of his own No. 54 Toyota. Busch has yet to win a Nationwide race at his hometrack. In fact, he has failed to finish in three of the last four events there.

Busch holds the series record for most wins with 51, while Martin is second on the list with 49.

Elliott Sadler comes to Las Vegas with a 10-point lead over rookie driver and Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon. Last Saturday at Phoenix, Sadler won a Nationwide race for the first time since the 1998 fall event at Rockingham, NC.

"Momentum is huge in this sport," Sadler said. "Our team is so strong and so focused that I know the win last week at Phoenix will just add to our drive. We have one goal, and that is to win the championship, and I think this week we will continue to go along with our game plan."

Sadler finished a distant second to champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the 2011 Nationwide point standings.

Forty-three drivers are on the preliminary entry list for Saturday's Sam's Town 300.

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