Extra Track Time Has Drivers Smiling

Carl Edwards

Joe Gibbs Racing's Carl Edwards is among the drivers looking forward to some extra track time in Las Vegas with Sunday's Kobalt 400 just the second race under NASCAR's new low-downforce rules package. (Photo: Getty Images)

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With the new low-downforce rules package for 2016 still in its infancy, NASCAR is giving Sprint Cup Series teams a little extra track time this week in Las Vegas.

There are two test sessions scheduled Thursday, one in the morning and the other after lunch, to aid teams in preparing for Sunday's Kobalt 400.

Joe Gibbs Racing's Carl Edwards, who's begun the new season with back-to-back fifth-place finishes, says it'll be time well spent before the formal portion of the weekend schedule commences on Friday.

"We've had two solid runs to start the season and with extra track time at Vegas, we get to work on a bunch of things," said Edwards, who's fourth in the early-season standings - five points behind leader Kyle Busch. "This will be the real test of the new package, with newer pavement and higher speeds. Hopefully, it’s a success."

Speaking of Busch, the reigning Sprint Cup champion points out that even though Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway are both 1.5-mile ovals, the similarities end there.

"Vegas is much different than Atlanta, even though both tracks are the same size," says Busch, who's also opened the season with a pair of top-five finishes. "Vegas is really grippy, with the tire being a little harder. You've got good speed but then in the race, it gets sunny and slick. Your car can get loose. Once you get it handling well, you still have a lot of speed and don’t fall off as much as you do at places like Atlanta and Texas."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads west in search of his first victory on the one-mile desert oval and plans on taking the "high road" come Sunday.

"That track has some crazy bumps getting into Turn 1," said Earnhardt, who is 18th in the regular-season point standings. "With low downforce and slower corner speeds, it lends itself to running the high side, which I love. It works well because the billboards shade that corner (Turn 1). With a cooler track surface, you can find speed and grip without beating your tires up."

Earnhardt placed fourth in last year's race at Vegas, when Chevrolet swept the top four finishing positions led by Kevin Harvick.

In the Ford camp, Ryan Blaney and Wood Brothers Racing see the new rules package as a giant step in the right direction.

"At Vegas, the tires don’t fall off as much as they do at other tracks," said Blaney, currently running second to Chase Elliott in the Rookie of the Year standings. "This is a good direction. In Atlanta, we could pass cars a little easier with this package. It’s the right way to go."

All told, teams will get five hours of test time on Thursday. There'll be one more practice session Friday morning before qualifying later in the day. Harvick is bidding to become the first driver with back-to-back wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway since Jimmie Johnson put three in a row together from 2005 to 2007.

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