Las Vegas

Early-season favorites emerge as NASCAR hypes Gen-6 car

Through the Gears: Four things we learned in the Kobalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas
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<p> Through the Gears: Four things we learned in the Kobalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas</p>

If Matt Kenseth were a betting man, he’d have bought a Play 4 ticket on the way out of Las Vegas.

The numbers? 3-3-3-3.

Kenseth, in the third race of the 2013 season, became career Sprint Cup driver number three to win a race on his birthday (joining Cale Yarborough and Kyle Busch). The new, third member of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable also has more career victories in Vegas (along with Auto Club Speedway) than any other track on the circuit: Three.

Matt Kenseth wins Kobalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas

Kenseth gets first win for Joe Gibbs Racing in third start.
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<p> Matt Kenseth won the NASCAR Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>

The biggest name in NASCAR's 2012 version of Silly Season made his presence known early in the 2013 season. Matt Kenseth, in only his third start with Joe Gibbs Racing, gave the No. 20 team its first win since June 2012, when he won the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin vows to avoid paying fine, laments NASCAR relationship

NASCAR: Five Things to Watch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
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<p> Five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Las Vegas for the Kobalt Tools 500.</p>

Five storylines for the Kobalt Tools 500 in Las Vegas

1. Hamlin draws NASCAR’s (thin-skinned) ire
NASCAR suddenly, quickly and, well, mistakenly landed a $25,000 shot to Denny Hamlin's wallet on Thursday as Sprint Cup teams set up shop in Las Vegas. And no: this wasn't a case of Brian France cleaning Hamlin's clock at a swanky blackjack table.

Fantasy NASCAR Picks for Kobalt Tools 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Predicting the best fantasy drivers in Las Vegas so you don't have to.
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<p> Dustin Long ranks each driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit for this weekend's Kobalt Tools 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season rolls on to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt Tools 500. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long will be offering up his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes—A-List, B-List, C-List.

6 Amazing NASCAR Stats for Las Vegas Motor Speedway

NASCAR Numbers Game: The Kobalt Tools 500
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<p> Six amazing stats for NASCAR's Kobalt Tools 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>

The Gen-6 car for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, after a two-race introduction, appears to be a work in progress. Passing last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway was at an all-time low for its current configuration (1,213 green-flag passes, down from 1,995 in the 2012 race) and pit stop speed decided the race for a driver who hadn’t seen Victory Lane in almost two calendar years.

Tony Stewart Hits Jackpot in Vegas

Stewart grabs win in Kobalt Tools 400

by Matt Taliaferro

It took 27 races for Tony Stewart to find Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last year. Four additional wins followed in the remaining nine weeks and Stewart earned his third Cup championship in one of the more dramatic finales in the sport’s history.

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<p> Tony Stewart won the Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>


Pennell’s Picks: Fantasy NASCAR Trends at Las Vegas

Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's race in Las Vegas

by Jay Pennell

While our 2012 fantasy season got off to a great start in Daytona, last weekend's race at Phoenix International Raceway proved even the hands-down favorite — in this case Kasey Kahne — can find trouble and ruin a fantasy day.

Anything can, and will, happen throughout the course of a race, making NASCAR one of the toughest fantasy sports to predict.

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<p> Fantasy NASCAR predictions for the Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>


Another driver I have my eye on this weekend is five-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

Like Stewart, the 2012 season has not gotten off to the kind of start Johnson or his Hendrick Motorsports team expected. Issues during the initial inspection at Daytona cost the No. 48 team 25 driver and owner points, a hefty fine, and the loss of crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec for six races (pending appeal).

Once in the race, a wreck on Lap 2 resulted in a 42nd-place — and his sixth straight finish of 27th or worse in the Daytona 500. The subsequent penalty from the failed inspection left Johnson heading to Phoenix with negative points in the championship standings.

While Knaus and Malec have been able to remain at the track as NASCAR and HMS work through the appeal process, the No. 48 team is in a huge hole. That said, the team was able to recover nicely in Phoenix, scoring a fourth-place finish on Sunday, but Johnson is currently 38th in the standings, 71 points out of the lead.

Sitting so deep in the standings, Johnson has set his focus on making the Chase — one way or another. Well out of contention for the points lead, the former champion understands that at this point, his best bet to make the Chase could be through one of the two Wild Card spots. That means the No. 48 team will be looking to win races early and often.

And if that’s the objective, Vegas is a good track for Johnson to meet the goal. His 48 team has four wins, four top 5s and five top 10s in 10 LVMS starts. With that track record and Knaus and Malec still at the track, I expect the 48 to be among the front-runners throughout Sunday’s race, leading to a strong day on the fantasy side of things.

For this weekend’s darkhorse pick, I’m looking towards Richard Petty Motorsports’ Marcos Ambrose. Although the driver of the No. 9 Ford has only three starts at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Ambrose lists the track among his favorite on the circuit. During last year's event, Ambrose started from the outside pole and finished the day in fourth after showings of 14th in 2010 and 20th in ’09.

Already in 2012, Ambrose and the team have shown they are capable of running up front and contending for wins. After a strong run throughout the afternoon in Phoenix, engine issues late in the race ruined what looked to be an assured top-10 run. If Ambrose and his Todd Parrott-led team can avoid mistakes and engine issues, I expect a solid fantasy day from the No. 9 group.

Throughout the weekend, keep a close eye on practices and qualifying, as track position will be key in Sunday's race. Clean air and pit strategy will be paramount in determining the winner at the end of 400 miles in Vegas.

Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell