Driver Handicaps: Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. - This weekend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to newly configured Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. To help you make your Dale Jr. Reality Cup Racing fantasy picks, RacingOne brings you our weekly detailed look at some of the field for the 267-lap event.

    Who's HOT at Las Vegas Speedway
  • Jimmie Johnson has won the last two NEXTEL Cup events.
  • Matt Kenseth has a 3.0 average finish in the last four races, which includes two wins, plus he has led the most laps of any driver with 367 in seven starts.
  • Jeff Burton has the best average finish (10.6) among all drivers that have entered every event.
  • Mark Martin leads all drivers with seven top 10s.
  • Kyle Busch has a 2.5 average finish in his last two starts.

    Keep an Eye on at Las Vegas Speedway
  • Tony Stewart will be driving the same car that posted back-to-back wins at Atlanta and Texas in 2006.
  • Greg Biffle has the second-best average running position (5.1) in the last two races.
  • Jeff Gordon has two straight top-five finishes.
  • Kurt Busch has the best average start among all drivers with more than three starts.
  • Evernham Motorsports (Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs) showed some strength in preseason testing at Vegas.
  • Casey Mears, who will make his first start with Hendrick Motorsports, has finished ninth or better in his last three starts.
  • Greg Biffle has two consecutive top-10 finishes.
  • Robert Yates Racing teammates David Gilliland and Ricky Rudd had the strongest Fords in preseason testing at Vegas.
  • Clint Bowyer will be back behind the wheel of the same car he scored his career-best Cup finish (third) with.

    *Ready to Rebound at Vegas
    Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. is coming off back-to-back DNFs, he's got an interesting fact about the three previous times this has happened to him in his 256 career NEXTEL Cup starts. In Dale Jr's 256 career Cup starts, he has recorded back-to-back DNFs four times. Immediately following the three previous scenarios, the Bud team scored two victories and a sixth-place finish. Earnhardt Jr. will be driving the same chassis (No. 39) that has finished in the top 10 in eight of its nine starts in 2006. Junior, who lost two motors in testing at LVMS, says the team found what caused the engine failure in the most recent race, at California. Junior's teammate Martin Truex Jr. or Evernham Motorsports' Elliott Sadler would be the other choices for this category.

    *Must be a driver with a 20.0 or worse finishing average at LVMS.

    Track Performers
    Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with eight wins on 1.5-mile speedways. His last of eight wins came at Chicagoland Speedway, which now could be the closet track to the re-configured LVMS in terms of speed. Gordon's teammate, Jimmie Johnson, who won the last two races at Vegas, is tied for second with seven wins. Mark Martin (7), Tony Stewart (6) and Jeff Burton (5) round out the top five in wins. Martin leads all drivers with 44 top-10 finishes followed by Gordon with 38. Ryan Newman is the current pole leader on 1.5-mile tracks with nine.

    Testing Report
    Evernham Motorsports led three tests, each with a different driver, during the Preseason Thunder sessions at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Elliott Sadler set the pace with a blistering lap of 188.772 mph, which marked the fastest lap in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series testing. His teammate Scott Riggs was right behind in the p.m. session with a speed of 187.318 mph. Speeds increased even more on LVMS' new track configuration in the last of four sessions with eight cars dropping into the 28-second range. Those drivers that found their way around the 20 degrees of banking in the corners quickly in that session included David Gilliland, David Stremme, Johnny Sauter, Jeff Green, Clint Bowyer and Bobby Labonte. Michael Waltrip posted the best speed, at 186.162 mph, among the Toyota camp. Testing speeds could be thrown out the door because of the new Goodyear tire that will be implemented this weekend at LVMS. Testing Speeds

    Rookie Report
    None of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates have made a NEXTEL Cup Series start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Paul Menard is the only driver of the group with experience at the track in a Busch Series car, posting a 26.0 average finish in three starts on the only configuration. Rookie leader David Ragan made one start in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck in 2004, finishing 34th. David Reutimann, who made three Truck starts at LVMS, is the only rookie with a top-10 finish, with it coming on the new banking last season. Aric Almirola, who also raced in the 2006 Vegas truck race, will attempt to qualify for his first Cup race this weekend driving the No. 80 Joe Gibbs Chevrolet. A.J. Allmendinger, who crashed on both days of testing at Vegas, is still looking to make his first Cup start. Rookie Standings

    Qualifying Tidbits
    Unless Kasey Kahne can win his second pole at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, he will see his 2004 track record lap of 174.904 mph get eclipsed on the new track configuration. With the increase in speed in testing on the new 20 degrees of banking expect a majority, if not all, of the cars to break the record. Bobby Labonte is the only multi-pole winner at Las Vegas. His last pole in 2003 is the only one by a Chevrolet at the track. Greg Biffle is the defending pole winner after he gave Ford their leading fifth pole at LVMS. Jimmie Johnson won the last two Las Vegas races from a top-10 starting position, and Matt Kenseth's 2004 victory came from the furthest starting position - 25th. Starting Positions of Las Vegas Winners

    Banking On Success
    Mike Bliss hopes to carry over his success from last year's Truck Series race on the new track configuration in his attempt to qualify for his first Cup race in 2007. Bliss, who finished sixth and led four laps in the truck race, is one of four drivers (Armirola, Reutimann and Jeremy Mayfield) that have raced in a NASCAR event on the new banking.

    Las Vegas Loop Data Stat Leaders (2005-2006 season)
  • Jimmie Johnson is the fastest driver early in a run during the first 25 percent of a green flag run since a pit stop. Johnson's relative speed percentage (average of how much faster or slower a driver raced versus the average speed of all drivers) of 1.8802 leads all active drivers. Kyle Busch (1.6223), Greg Biffle (1.5516), Matt Kenseth (1.4932) and Tony Stewart (1.3289) round out the top five.
  • Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle, respectively, hold average running positions of 4.6 and 5.1. They are closely followed by Kyle Busch (5.2), Tony Stewart (7.9) and Jeff Gordon (8.8).
  • Jimmie Johnson is the fastest driver late in a run since a pit stop. Johnson's relative speed percentage (average of how much faster or slower a driver raced versus the average speed of all drivers) of .9516 leads all active drivers. Kevin Harvick (.9275), Tony Stewart (.8446), Jeff Gordon (.8237) and Greg Biffle (.7961) round out the top five.
  • Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, respectively, have completed 97 and 67 quality passes (Passing a car running in the top 15 while under a green flag).
  • Jimmie Johnson has the best average Driver Rating at 131.4.

    Dale Jr. Reality Cup Tiebreakers

    Last Five Number of Lead Changes
    2006-22
    2005-25
    2004-18
    2003-17
    2002-23

    Average: 21.0

    Last Five Number of Cautions Laps
    2006-30
    2005-46
    2004-37
    2003-30
    2002-25

    Average: 33.6

    More Driver Notes

    1. Mark Martin (Points: 335): Inaugural Las Vegas race winner Martin is second to Jeff Burton for the best finishing average among all drivers that have competed in every race. Martin's 11.9 average finish is coupled by two finishes outside the top 10 due to mechanical problems in 2003 and 2005. His worst finish (43rd) came in 2003 as a result of engine failure. Martin, who has a series leading seven top-10 finishes at LVMS, will be making his first start in a Chevrolet at the track.

    2. Jeff Burton (Points Behind Leader: -5): At 10.6, Burton has the best finishing average among all drivers that have entered every NEXTEL Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After placing 17th and seventh, respectively, Burton will make his third start at LVMS in an RCR Chevrolet. Burton, who has yet to lead a lap with RCR at the track, will be behind the wheel of the same car (chassis No. 155) that finished fourth at California last month.

    3. Jeff Gordon (Points Behind Leader: -26): Gordon captured his fourth top five at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in this event last season with a fifth-place finish. His best finish at the speedway was in 2001 when he went to Victory Lane. In 2003, Gordon led 53 laps before an accident relegated him to 37th, his worst finish and only DNF at Vegas.

    4. Kevin Harvick (Points Behind Leader: -28): In 2005, Harvick had the fourth fastest time in qualifying, but his GM Goodwrench Chevrolet failed to pass post-qualifying inspection for not having a full tank of fuel during his run. He was forced to start 42nd after NASCAR said the fuel pump had been altered to make it appear like it was full. Harvick battled back from the rear of the field to post his best finish (fifth) at LVMS. Las Vegas is also the site of Harvick's first career top-10 in the NEXTEL Cup Series when he finished eighth in 2001. In 2004, Harvick had a strong run at Vegas leading 43 laps towards the end before running out of fuel. He ended-up finishing 21st, one lap down. Harvick, who has a 13.8 finishing average, will race chassis No. 139 in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. Most recently, Scott Wimmer raced this car to a 12th-place finish last season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

    6. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind Leader: -71): Clint Bowyer will look to score his first top 10 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway driving one of the best cars in the No. 07 stable. Bowyer, who has a pair of ninth-place finishes in the Busch Series at LVMS, will be driving the same car (chassis No. 170) that finished sixth at California last month. Last fall at California, Bowyer also scored his career-best Cup finish (third) with this car.

    7. Joe Nemechek (Points Behind Leader: -76): Nemechek's best finish of ninth in nine starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway came in 2000 and 2003. His overall average finish is 21.7.

    8. J.J. Yeley (Points Behind Leader: -84): Yeley started 12th and finished 17th in his first NEXTEL Cup start last season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

    9. Kyle Busch (Points Behind Leader: -96): Busch has finished second and third, respectively, in his last two NEXTEL Cup starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. His first start at the track came in 2004 when he ran a partial schedule in the NEXTEL Cup Series. In that race he finished 41st after crashing on lap 11. This weekend Busch will race a new car (chassis No. 412) that was tested at LVMS in January.

    10. David Stremme (Points Behind Leader: -99): Stremme started 40th and finished 33rd in his only NEXTEL Cup start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. However, he does have a pair of third-place finishes in the Busch Series in 2004 and 2005.

    11. David Gilliland (Points Behind Leader: -100): Although he's not a rookie, David Gilliland will make his first NEXTEL Cup start this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He will be driving the same car he tested at LVMS in preseason testing.

    12. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind Leader: -103): Kenseth has averaged a 3.0 finish in his last four starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, that includes back-to-back wins in 2003 and 2004. His overall 8.1 finishing average at LVMS is second among all drivers. Kenseth, who has led the most laps at Vegas with 367, will be behind the wheel of the same car (chassis RK-317) that won at California last month.

    13. Johnny Sauter (Points Behind Leader: -111): Sauter's only NEXTEL Cup start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway came in 2004 when he drove the No. 30 Richard Childress Racing machine home to a 24th-place finish. His best Vegas Busch finish in five starts also came with RCR when he finished third in 2002.

    14. Robby Gordon (Points Behind Leader: -117): Gordon has raced in seven NEXTEL Cup races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with four different teams. His best finish came last season when he piloted his own No. 7 machine home to a 12th-place finish. The only time Gordon has led a lap(s) at Vegas came in his first start in 2000 when he led eight circuits behind the wheel of the No. 13 Ford.

    15. Jimmie Johnson (Points Behind Leader: -119): Jimmie Johnson has won the last two NEXTEL Cup Series races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Last year he only led the most important lap when he passed Matt Kenseth en route to the victory. The year prior, Johnson led 107 laps, a personal best at Las Vegas, on his way to his first win at the speedway. Johnson, who will make his 186th career start, has three top-10 finishes in five starts at Vegas. In 2004, Johnson posted his worst finish (16th) at LVMS after making contact with the No. 4 car on pit road.

    16. Elliott Sadler (Points Behind Leader: -119): In 2004, Sadler scored his only top 10 in eight starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after he came home sixth. In six of his seven other starts, Sadler has finished 20th or worse with two outside the top 40. His career average finish at Vegas is 26.6. This weekend Sadler will make his first Vegas start with Evernham Motorsports driving the same car (chassis No. 143) that was the fastest in preseason testing.

    17. Greg Biffle (Points Behind Leader: -124): Last season, Biffle boosted his finishing average at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to 18.0 with two consecutive top-10 finishes. In Biffle's first start at LVMS in 2004, he started ninth and finished 40th after engine problems plagued his No. 16 Ford. This weekend Biffle will pilot a brand new car (chassis RK-407) that was tested at Las Vegas in January. The team has reported that this car is faster than the one Biffle wrecked in testing.

    18. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind Leader: -126): Hamlin started 16th and finished 10th in his only NEXTEL Cup start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He will race the same car (chassis No. 140) that was tested at LVMS in January.

    19. Kurt Busch (Points Behind Leader: -139): In 2006, Busch finished 16th in his first start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Penske Racing. In his five previous starts, Busch captured two top 10s with Roush Racing. Busch, who has the best starting average (5.0) among all drivers with more than three starts at LVMS, will be racing chassis No. PRS-080 this weekend. This is one of the cars that he tested at Las Vegas in January.

    21. Tony Stewart (Points Behind Leader: -149): Stewart has posted five top-10 finishes in eight starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with his best finish coming in 2000 (second). The last time Stewart led a lap at LVMS was last season when he led for 54 laps en route to a 21st-place finish because of a flat tire late in the race. The finish stopped Stewart's top 10 streak at four. Stewart, who has an 11.8 average finish at LVMS, will drive chassis No. 120 in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. This is the same car that scored back-to-back wins at Atlanta and Texas in 2006.

    22. Ryan Newman (Points Behind Leader: -154): Newman, who has a 20.5 average finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is coming off his worst finish at the track after placing 43rd last year. In 2005, Newman earned his first pole at LVMS marking his fourth consecutive start at the track of fifth or better. Newman will be behind the wheel of the same car (chassis No. PRS-71) that was tested at Indianapolis and Charlotte in 2006.

    23. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind Leader: -156): Labonte enjoyed some success in his first eight starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway capturing two poles and four top 10s with Joe Gibbs Racing. Last season saw his first start with Petty Enterprises at the track where he started 17th and finished 30th.

    24. Casey Mears (Points Behind Leader: -162): Casey Mears has enjoyed a solid track record at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Although Mears has yet to lead a lap, he has scored three consecutive finishes of ninth or better. This weekend will mark his first start at LVMS with Hendrick Motorsports.

    25. Sterling Marlin (Points Behind Leader: -165): Marlin has posted three top-10 finishes and one win (2002) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This weekend he will make his second start at the 1.5-mile speedway with Ginn Racing. Last year he finished 36th after the engine expired in the No. 14 Chevrolet in the closing laps.

    26. Carl Edwards (Points Behind Leader: -165): Edwards finished 14th in his first NEXTEL Cup start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2005. During that weekend Edwards also won the pole for the Busch race and went on to finish seventh. Last year, Edwards placed 26th and fifth, respectively, in the Cup and Busch race. After what the team called a successful test at Las Vegas, the team has chosen to bring the same car (chassis RK-272) that started and finished the 2006 November Texas race in the 15th position.

    27. Ricky Rudd (Points Behind Leader: -168): After a year off, Rudd will return to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to make his ninth career start driving in his fourth race at the track with Robert Yates Racing. Rudd, who has yet to score a top 10 at LVMS, tested the No. 88 Ford at Las Vegas and was up on the speed charts in both qualifying and race trim.

    28. Dale Jarrett (Points Behind Leader: -171): Jarrett, the inaugural Las Vegas pole winner, is tied with Bobby Labonte for most poles (two) at the 1.5-mile track. His best finish in eight starts came in 2001 when he finished second after starting from the pole. Jarrett has five finishes of eleventh or better and an overall average of 17.3. This weekend will mark his first track start in a Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.

    30. Reed Sorenson (Points Behind Leader: -177): Sorenson has the worst average finish among all full-time drivers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway thanks to a 40th-place finish in last year's event.

    32. Kasey Kahne (Points Behind Leader: -185): Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the site of Kahne's first career pole after he became the first rookie to take the top spot at the track after setting a new track record of 174.904 mph. He went on to lead two times for 43 laps en route to a second-place finish in that event. Kahne's average finish took a major hit in 2005 when he finished 38th after crashing in Turn 4 on lap 102. He was able to rebound last year by posting another top five with a fourth-place finish. Kahne will drive chassis No. 144 (ran last at Indianapolis) in this weekend's race along with a McDonald's paint scheme.

    34. Brian Vickers (Points Behind Leader: -201): Vickers' best finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway came last season when he finished 23rd. In 2005, he finished dead last after Dale Earnhardt Jr. clipped him early in the race. This weekend he will look to qualify for his second consecutive race with Team Red Bull. It will also be his first Cup start at the track in something other than a Chevrolet.

    36. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind Leader: -213): McMurray has one top-five finish in four starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway - fourth in 2004. Last year, McMurray finished 23rd in his first track start in a Ford with Roush Fenway Racing. The No. 26 team was not happy with the Las Vegas testing results from January and has opted to bring a new car (chassis RK–428) to the track this weekend.

    38. Martin Truex Jr. (Points Behind Leader: -217): Martin Truex Jr. will look to turn his luck around in Las Vegas this weekend driving the same car (chassis No. 053) that was running strong at California before the motor let go.

    40. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points Behind Leader: -225): Earnhardt Jr. has one runner-up finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2003. That year he led 97 of 144 career laps led at the 1.5-mile speedway. Earnhardt's finishing average of 22.1 took a major hit in 2005 when he was the instigator in an early crash when he clipped the left rear of Brian Vickers. The incident triggered a five car crash and saddled Earnhardt, Jr. with a 42nd-place finish. Last year, Junior started 42nd and finished 27th.

    44. Scott Riggs (Points Behind Leader: -268): Riggs' best finish in three starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway came last season when he came home 28th in the No. 10 Dodge.

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