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NASCAR Las Vegas preview: Expected high winds to challenge drivers

Sustained winds between 20 to 30 mph and gusts reaching 40 mph are forecasted for Sunday’s Kobalt 400.

In the Feb. 21 season-opening Daytona 500 drivers had to contend with the variables brought about by restrictor-plates, which clumps them in large packs just inches apart. The following week Atlanta Motor Speedway's aged surface combined with a low downforce aerodynamic package and a softer tire compound saw cars constantly slide around as if they were on ice.

So what encounters await drivers in the third race of 2016 Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? The answer comes with a look at the projected forecast, which calls for sustained winds between 20 to 30 mph and gusts reaching 40 mph, according to meteorologist and SB Nation contributor Brian Neudorff.

A wind advisory has already been issued for the Las Vegas area on Sunday by the National Weather Service.

"It is going to be dangerous, treacherous for sure."-Joey Logano

The projections have drivers on their toes. Because of its smooth surface and moderate banking, drivers are already running on the edge flirting with speeds close to 200 mph at Las Vegas. Adding strong winds only increases the potential of havoc and the possibility of a usually sedated race morphing into something far more harrowing.

"If you are already right on that edge, a lot of times it doesn't take but a little bit to push you over that edge when you are right on it," said second-place qualifier Joey Logano. "When you think of 30 mph winds, that is a big deal.

"It will be kind of dangerous for sure."

When pole-sitter Kurt Busch (196.328 mph), who broke Jeff Gordon's year-old track record in qualifying Friday, describes the increased downforce caused by the wind as "staggering." Because gusts are expected to originate from the southwest, the Las Vegas native says his car will be pushed entering Turn 3 while encountering resistance down the front straightaway.

"It looks pretty gnarly for the wind," Busch said. "When you have a tailwind multiplied by 30 mph that is a headwind of 30 mph down the front straightaway that is a swing of 60 mph. That is a significant difference that these cars are going to feel."

There is very little a driver can do other than just try and hold on and hope a gust doesn't send them spinning. The best-case scenario Sunday is there is a steady wind with minimal gusts.

"If you get big gusts the car jumps out of the race track and leads you into the wall or spins you right out," Logano said. "It is going to be dangerous, treacherous for sure. It is going to be just crazy to think about what that wind is going to do."

With the headwind and tailwind the same, presumably the positive and negative affects should balance out. Not so, Brad Keselowski contends.

"Aerodynamics are inherently inefficient it always affects you in a worse manner than it does in a positive manner," he said. "It is impossible to be as helpful on one end as it is hurtful on the other end."

But because everyone will face the same conditions, Keselowski offers a straightforward methodology in what drivers must do on Sunday.

"You can't change it and as it pertains to our car there isn't anything I know of you can do to lessen its effect," Keselowski said. "You have to pull up your pants and drive around."