Here are some storylines for today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
Big names in new places need big days
Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer were two of the more prominent names to switch teams over the offseason. Thus far, two races into 2012 neither have had much success with their respective new rides.
Kahne has wrecked four cars, hasn't finished better than 29th and finds himself buried 31st in the standings. Bowyer, while not having near the same misfortune as Kahne, has had his own issues. At Daytona he ran out of fuel while running in the top 10 and had to scramble just to finish 11th; and last week at Phoenix he blew two right-front tires within the first 25 laps.
However, this weekend it appears both Kahne and Bowyer's luck looks to be changing for the better. With a speed of 190.456 mph, Kahne blazed to his 23rd career pole, while Bowyer qualified a very respectable fifth. Now let's see if that speed in qualifying carries over to today's race.
Showing your hand
Because Las Vegas is the first of the 11 mile-and-a-half tracks on the schedule, what happens today will be a great indicator of what we can expect to see play out over the course of the year. If a team shows great speed throughout the race, it's to be assumed that speed will carryover to Texas, Kansas, Charlotte and the other 1.5-mile tracks that clutter the schedule.
There is a reason why in the Chase era, only once has a driver won at Las Vegas and not gone on to make the Chase.
For proof, look no further than last year's Vegas results where Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart finished first and second, a precursor to what we witnessed in the Chase as the title combatants slugged it out for the championship.
Stewart looking to finally hit it big in Las Vegas
Las Vegas is one of three tracks Tony Stewart has never won – Darlington and Kentucky are the others – but it's not as if he's never come close. As mentioned above, the defending series champ finished second in this race a year ago as well as in 2000, he also has six other top-10 finishes in 13 career starts.
And one more thing: Today he will be driving the same chassis which he won with at Chicagoland – another mile-and-a-half track – last September to open the Chase.
Can Michael Waltrip Racing keep the momentum going?
Now its sixth year, Michael Waltrip Racing has never started off a year as strongly as it has this one. Martin Truex Jr.'s worst finish is 12th so far, while teammate Mark Martin hasn't finished outside the top 10 and won the pole last weekend in Phoenix. As a result they sit sixth and seventh in points, respectively.
With Martin having a Vegas win under his belt (1998) and Truex finishing fourth here a year ago, there's little reason to think that momentum won't continue for at least another week.
• Of the 14 races run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, half of them have been won by a driver with a blue Ford oval on their hood, including last year's race-winner Carl Edwards.
• Kyle Busch is the only driver to have won this race from the pole. But it does come with a bit of an asterisk, as Busch was forced to start in the back due to an engine change between practice and the race.
• When the green flag waves today, it will signal the 400th career Sprint Cup start for Dave Blaney.
1. Matt Kenseth
There are a lot of things to like about Matt Kenseth's prospects this weekend. He's a two-time Vegas winner (2003 and '04), drives a Ford for the man who's won nine races here and has the intermediate tracks figured out more than anyone else. Plus, and in qualifying Friday, he clocked-in the 11th fastest time – and when Kenseth qualifies well, he typically runs well – eight of the last 11 times he qualified in 11th or better, he's finished in the top 10.
2. Jimmie Johnson
As last week proved when Jimmie Johnson led 55 laps and rallied back from a loose wheel to finish fourth, any talk of him and his team being distracted by Chad Knaus' possible suspension is merely that – talk. With Johnson having been to Las Vegas' Victory Lane four times, it would be silly to discount his chances this afternoon.
3. Tony Stewart
Unlike Kenseth and Johnson, Stewart has never won in Las Vegas; however, as detailed above, he has come close. With him wheeling the same chassis he's won with on a similar type track, pardon the pun, but I'm not betting against him this afternoon.
Jeff Burton's 10.7 average finish in Las Vegas is better than every driver in today's field except for one – Jimmie Johnson and his 10.6 average finish. With how well Burton has run this year – he finished fifth at Daytona and was in the top 10 at Phoenix before his engine expired – a good day should be in the cards for the veteran driver.