Start 'N' Park Blog

Race Preview: Kobalt Tools 400


From the first two races where cold temperatures ruled, the Sprint Cup Series makes it way west for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400. The high for Sunday’s race is supposed to be in the low-70s, which will be a welcome change for drivers and fans alike. Something else that can be a welcome change is a qualifying session that goes without any issue.

At Daytona it was teams and drivers trying to pull fast ones on another by waiting for the last second before starting up their laps. Rule changes were made to qualifying to keep this from happening, but it was long technical inspection lines that kept many drivers from even completing a lap. Whether the blame lies on NASCAR or the teams, fans will really be turned off if there’s a third race in a row that has a qualifying SNAFU.

Two drivers trying to climb out of the basement are Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Both had high expectations coming into 2015 for very different reasons. Gordon was charged up from a successful 2014 and everything has lined up for him to compete to go out on top during his final season in 2015. For Stewart, he came into the season finally feeling 100% healthy and mentally clear for the season. Things have not gone as plan for either, but Las Vegas is a good place to run around their fortunes.

Stewart comes into the gem in the desert having led the most laps (297) over the last five races at the track. During that time span he has a win, two top-5s, three top-10s, and an average finish of 10.8. For his career there he has six top-5s, 9 top-10s, and an average finish of 14th in his 16 starts.

Jeff Gordon remains the only driver to have competed in every race at Las Vegas since the inaugural race in 1998. In those 17 starts he has one win, six top-5s, 9 top-10s, and an average finish of 15th. Over the past five races he ranks behind Stewart in laps led (223), but his average finish is a pedestrian 17th.

Last_Five_Las_VegasNot only has Carl Edwards has had the best run over the past five seasons at Las Vegas, but in 10 career starts he has completed 100% of all the laps he’s run. For his career he has two wins, five top-5s, and six top-10 finishes to go with his 13.5 average finish. With a new team in Joe Gibbs Racing and new sponsor this weekend, Edwards will look to grab his third win.

The top-5 best drivers from 2014 at intermediate tracks were Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano. Take Busch out of that equation, he is still (and will be) shelved due to a broken leg, and you’ve got four other strong candidates for a win on Sunday.

Newman and Kenseth both had average finishes in the 14 intermediate races under 10th place, Newman at 9.79 and Kenseth at 9.86. Neither driver found victory lane at intermediates or any tracks in 2014, so it will be important for both to get a win and be done with the Chase talk. For his career, Kenseth has three wins total, six top-5s, and eight top-10s. Newman has no wins, a best finish of fourth, three top-5s, and seven top-10s.

Larson was impressive in his rookie season and put up a 10.43 average finish at intermediate tracks. Those included five top-5s and nine top-10s and a 19th place finish one year ago at Las Vegas. Logano scored a fourth place finish last year at Las Vegas after winning the pole and leading 44 laps. He has momentum on his side this season after winning the season opening Daytona 500 and finishing fourth last weekend at Atlanta.

One more name to file away for this weekend is Kevin Harvick. He’s finished second in both of the first two races, had three wins at intermediate tracks last year, and is the defending Sprint Cup Series champion.