The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kicks off its three-race NASCAR Goes West trip with Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX). Following its trip to Vegas, the NSCS heads to Phoenix before closing its West Coast road trip at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Kevin Harvick, from Bakersfield, California, dominated last season’s edition of NASCAR Goes West, winning the first two races (Las Vegas and Phoenix) and finishing second in the final contest at Auto Club.
Lower Downforce Package Produced Passing, Happy Drivers At Atlanta
The 2016 lower downforce aerodynamics package did not disappoint at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Passing increased, while drivers expressed enthusiasm about the package.
Drivers made 44 passes for the lead on Sunday, the most ever recorded at Atlanta since the inception of loop data in 2005.
The 3,717 green flag passes on Sunday marked the second-highest total at AMS since the inception of loop data in 2005.
“It was fun,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after the race. “You know, everybody just wasn’t hooked up and hauling tail. You had to drive the cars. The cars were a real challenge, and I had a great time today inside of the car and enjoyed driving it.”
Carl Edwards echoed similar sentiments, saying, “This is real racing. We’re driving hard. You can see the guys out here just digging for everything they’re worth. I’m worn out. That’s a tough race and just a lot of fun.”
L3gendary Company: Johnson Ties Earnhardt On All-Time Wins List
Jimmie Johnson visited Victory Lane in last Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to earn the 76th checkered flag of his career – tying him with Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time wins list.
It took Johnson 509 starts over 15 years to reach 76 wins compared to Earnhardt’s 676 starts over 22 years.
Coincidentally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second to Johnson on Friday, marking the 40th time Hendrick Motorsports drivers have finished first and second in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Johnson can pass Earnhardt in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he claims a track-record four wins. In 14 Las Vegas starts, the No. 48 Chevrolet driver also owns five top fives and eight top 10s. He won three consecutive races at the Nevada track from 2005-07.
Among active drivers at LVMS, Johnson also boasts the best average finish (11.6) and driver rating, (111.9) and ranks second in average running position (10.1).
Best Of The West: Harvick Hopes For Another Stellar NASCAR Goes West
Kevin Harvick, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, dominated last season’s NASCAR Goes West trip by winning the first two races at Las Vegas and Phoenix and finishing second in the final event at Auto Club. Combined, he led 400 laps over the three races, far more than second-place in that category (Joey Logano, 82).
Harvick has started off the season strong, placing fourth in the season opener at Daytona and sixth last week at Atlanta. He has led the most laps in the Atlanta race in each of the last three seasons, but failed to win any of them.
In 15 starts at Las Vegas, Harvick has one win, four top fives, six top 10s and an average finish of 13.8. His 98.8 driver rating and 10.9 average running position at the 1.5-mile track ranks third-best among active drivers.
Harvick will make an appearance at an Octagon this weekend in addition to Nevada’s favorite 1.5-mile oval. His KHI Management company manages Miesha Tate, who will fight Holly Holm for the UFC Bantamweight Championship at the MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Busch Brothers Back At Vegas
Las Vegas natives Kurt and Kyle Busch return to their home track to trade paint this weekend.
The Busch brothers grew up starring at LVMS’ Bullring before moving on to NASCAR’s regional touring series.
Kyle won at Las Vegas in 2009, but Kurt is still looking to wave the checkered flag in front of the home crowd. His best Vegas finish was a third-place showing in 2005.
Both Kurt (2004) and Kyle (2015) have won NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships.
Although Kyle only has one win at his home track, his loop statistics there are excellent. Among active drivers at LVMS, he has the top average running position (11.7) and the second-best driver rating (103.4).
In 14 career starts at Las Vegas, Kurt has tallied one top five, three top 10s and a pole. He has an average finish of 22.1 and an 80.8 driver rating.
Truex Off To Another Hot Start
Martin Truex Jr. is proving his Championship 4 effort from a year ago was no fluke.
The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing driver placed seventh at Atlanta, one week after finishing second in the Daytona 500.
Since the beginning of the 2015 season, only three drivers have racked up more top-10 finishes than Truex’s 24 – Kevin Harvick (30), Joey Logano (29) and Brad Keselowski (26).
In 10 starts at Las Vegas, Truex has completed all but four of the 2,691 laps for a 99.9 percent lap completion rate. The four laps he didn’t complete were at the 2009 race.
Truex finished runner-up in last year’s Kobalt 400 at LVMS.
“I feel we’re starting out the season stronger than the way we ended last season,” Truex said. “Our new affiliation with Toyota and our alliance with JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) is really working out for us. I feel we’re only going to get better as the season moves on.”
Roush Fenway Racing Shows Some Speed At Atlanta
At Atlanta, Roush Fenway Racing had three drivers finish in the top 15 in Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the first time since Aug. 15, 2014 at Michigan when Carl Edwards started third, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 10th and Greg Biffle in 11th.
This time, Trevor Bayne started third, joined by Stenhouse and Biffle, who were fifth and 15th on the grid, respectively.
Stenhouse finished 10th, his second career top-10 showing at an intermediate track (Chicagoland, 2013). Biffle placed 13th and Bayne came in 22nd.
RFR will continue to look for more speed at Las Vegas where it boasts a track-record seven wins (Matt Kenseth, 3; Jeff Burton, 2; Carl Edwards, 1; Mark Martin, 1).
NASCAR Sprint Series Etc.
Country music star Craig Morgan, an Army veteran will sing the National Anthem prior to the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Pre-race festivities also include a flyover by the United States Air Force Thunderbirds.