This Week in Auto Racing March 7 - 10

Las Vegas, NV (Sports Network) - NASCAR is in Sin City this week, as the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series compete at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


Sprint Cup Series

Kobalt Tools 400 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway - Las Vegas, Nev.

With the continuing development of NASCAR's new race car, the Gen-6, track activities for Sprint Cup Series teams at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this week will begin sooner than normal.

Teams will be testing the car at Las Vegas throughout the day on Thursday. The test should provide drivers and crew chiefs with more valuable information on how the car will perform on intermediate racetracks, which are tracks that are one mile or more but less than two miles in length.

Las Vegas is the first of 11 Sprint Cup races that are contested on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Teams tested at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is also a mile and a half, twice during the offseason.

"Without a doubt, the 1.5, two-mile tracks can make your entire season," said Steve Letarte, who is the crew chief for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. "As a crew chief, you are trying to figure out what area you should be working in."

Last year, Earnhardt finished no worse than 10th in the races that he competed in at 1.5-mile tracks. He sat out the fall events at Charlotte and Kansas due to a concussion. Earnhardt won the June race at Michigan, which is a two-mile oval.

In addition to Thursday's test, teams will practice on Friday and Saturday, in preparation for Sunday's 400-mile race at Las Vegas.

"With it being an intermediate track and a place that's really fast, the aero part becomes the biggest thing that you fight, and I think everybody in the garage needs to learn a little bit (more) about this new car and where the splitter needs to be compared to the racetrack," said crew chief Rodney Childers, who oversees the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota that Mark Martin put on pole last weekend at Phoenix.

Since the season-opening race, the Daytona 500, was contested on a restrictor- plate track, the Gen-6 got its first true test in competition at Phoenix, which is a one-mile oval.

After extensive offseason testing and now two races completed this year, drivers and teams are finding out the Gen-6 cars -- Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry -- are faster and have more downforce and better grip than the most recent cars, which were used from 2007-12.

But drivers have noticed some other things about this car. Passing has been difficult, and there hasn't been much side-by-side racing.

"I think (this) week in Vegas we have a track that has multiple lanes, and we'll see some great side-by-side racing," Hendrick Motorsports driver and five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. "The garage area and the teams and owners and the competition side of NASCAR have worked so hard to make these cars equal, and we keep changing and jumping through hoops, new chassis, new bodies, new this, new that. The cars are equal, and when they're equal, you're going to have a situation like this. What we need now is the racetracks to consider the asphalt they're putting down and even reconfigure the lanes so that we have somewhere to race."

Johnson, who holds an eight-point lead after winning the Daytona 500 and finishing second at Phoenix, continues to have a favorable opinion of the car.

"I think we have a great product," he said. "It's going to continue to get better. One of the things that we've all recognized over the years is the faster we go the narrower track gets the harder it is to pass. Speeds will be up, especially when we get to the mile and a halfs, so with all that being said, I think we need to leave the cars alone for a good 10, 20 years. Let the teams be. There's a lot of work that can be done to help create better racing and keep the fans in the grandstands."

Johnson has the most wins at Las Vegas with four. He won three consecutive races here from 2005-07. His other victory at this track came in 2010.

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kobalt Tools 400.

Nationwide Series

Sam's Town 300 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway - Las Vegas, Nev.

After winning last Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, Kyle Busch is hoping to carry his momentum over to his home track in Las Vegas.

Busch, a Sprint Cup Series regular and Las Vegas native, snapped his 24-race winless streak in Nationwide at Phoenix. The victory was his first since September 2011 at Richmond International Raceway. He extended his record of career wins in NASCAR's second-tier series to 52.

"It was a phenomenal day for us to just get back here in victory lane and feel the taste of it again," Busch said after his Phoenix win. "I was almost nervous, feeling like it was my first win, even though it's win number-52 in the series."

Busch did not score a victory while driving for his own Nationwide team in 2012. During the offseason, he agreed to drive the No. 54 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in most of the 33-scheduled races in the series this season. Most of his Nationwide wins have come with JGR.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway is one track where Busch has yet to win a Nationwide event. He won a Sprint Cup race here in 2009.

Busch has finished no better than 16th in the last five Nationwide races at Las Vegas. He wrecked in the last two events here. Busch's only top-10 finish in nine starts at this track came in 2007 when he placed second.

So will this be the year he finally gets a Nationwide win in front of his home crowd?

"As long as I don't wreck, I'll be okay, because I have wrecked there every year," he said. "I don't need to wreck. I just have to make it to the checkered flag. One year, I had a flat tire, and another year, I was making a bold move to the finish line and wrecked. I don't need to show my rookie stripes again, for the third time in a row, this year."

Busch is one of three Sprint Cup competitors entered in this race. Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the others.

After the first two races, Sam Hornish Jr. and Justin Allgaier are tied for the points lead, while Brian Scott trails them by six points. Hornish, Allgaier and Scott are the only drivers who finished in the top-10 at both Daytona International Speedway and Phoenix.

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


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