Mar 1, 2015; Hampton, GA, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (4) during the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
1. Kevin Harvick– Finishing second to Jimmie Johnson four times since late last season is a real bummer. On the upside, the champ has finished no worse than second in the last five races dating back to last season. That’s mighty impressive, friends.
Harvick’s best finish at Las Vegas was second in 2010. You guessed it; he finished second to Johnson in that race as well.
2. Jimmie Johnson– Anytime JJ wins a race in dominant fashion, it sends a chill up everyone’s spine in the Sprint Cup Series garage. Looks like the new rule changes for 2015 have tipped the scales in the six-time champions favor. That’ll make your teeth chatter!
Johnson is a four time Las Vegas winner (2005, ’06, ’07, ’10).
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.- Listening to the radio communication between Dale Jr. and Greg Ives at Atlanta tells me that Junior has complete trust in his new bit boss. Once they find some kind of rhythm, there’s no telling how lethal this combination could be down the stretch.
Dale Jr. has recorded three runner up finishes at Las Vegas in 15 career starts.
Feb 27, 2015; Hampton, GA, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) during qualifying for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
4. Joey Logano– It’s absolutely breathtaking to watch the evolution of Joey Logano unfold before our very eyes. He’s only 25 years old, but it feels like he’s been around for forever, doesn’t it? Living up to your full potential takes time, but it’s all in the getting there.
Logano finished fourth at Las Vegas in 2014.
5. Martin Truex Jr.- Remember all that talk about Martin Truex Jr. not being a suitable fit for Furniture Row Racing? Well, for all the naysayers out there, it’s time to eat crow. How about a little BBQ sauce with that crow?
Truex has recorded two top 10 finishes in 9 career starts at Las Vegas.
6. Kasey Kahne– Hendrick Motorsports’ least talked about driver continues to distance himself from obscurity by turning in another valiant effort to start the 2015 season. Although his Atlanta finish (14th) didn’t quite reflect the quality of his hot rod, Kahne has to be feeling good about what lies ahead.
Kahne has recorded finishes of second and eighth in the last two Las Vegas races.
Feb 22, 2015; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Aric Almirola (43) prior to the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
7. Aric Almirola– Every year a second-tier driver emerges out of nowhere, en route to a breakout season. Judging by his red hot start to the 2015 season, Aric Almirola has what it takes to be that guy.
Almirola’s best finish at Las Vegas was 16th in 2013.
8. A.J. Allmendinger- If you ask A.J. Allmendinger about playing the role of ultimate underdog, he’d probably tell you it’s not that big a deal, but in the back of his mind you know he relishes every opportunity he gets to stick it to the colossal powerhouses that reign over the Sprint Cup Series. Job well done Dinger!
Allmendinger finished 18th at Las Vegas in 2014.
9. Matt Kenseth– Testing your fate to a set of worn-out tires late in the race is a blatant sign of desperation. Matt Kenseth continues to pull out all the stops as he feverishly tries to halt his 46-race winless streak. Love the passion Matt!
Kenseth has recorded three victories (2003, ’04, ’13) in 15 career starts at Las Vegas.
10. Casey Mears– Feel-good stories are always popular among NASCAR fans. Currently sitting sixth in the driver standings is Casey Mears, and if he somehow remains hovering around the Chase picture come September, that’s what you would call a classic feel-good story.
Mears has recorded three top-10 finishes in 11 career starts at Las Vegas.
Mar 1, 2015; Hampton, GA, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski (2) prior to the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
11. Brad Keselowski– Love him or despise him, that’s up to you, but one has to admire BK’s tenacity. He took an ill-handling car that should have finished the race several laps down and drove that thing firmly into the top-10 by the end of the race.
Keselowski has one career victory (2014) in six career starts at Las Vegas.
12. Carl Edwards– Cousin Carl’s tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t exactly gotten off on the right foot. No need to worry about Edwards; he’s heading to Las Vegas, a track he’s done particularly well at in recent years. Winning at Vegas wouldn’t necessarily stop the bleeding, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Edwards has recorded four-consecutive top-five finishes in the last four Las Vegas races.
13. Denny Hamlin– Speaking of getting off on the wrong foot, Denny Hamlin’s debacle at Atlanta totally crushed any momentum his team had leaving Daytona. Now, he’s faced with the tall task of recording a strong finish at Las Vegas, a place that’s been hellish for Denny as of late.
14. Clint Bowyer– Prior to the first practice session at Atlanta last Friday, MWR tweeted out a photo of Clint Bowyer lending some friendly advice to rookie driver Brett Moffitt. Not sure exactly what Clint told the young buck, but whatever it was seemed to be highly effective, as Moffitt would cruise to a career best eighthplace finish in his eighth career Sprint Cup start. Props to Clint for helping out a young brother, but don’t forget you haven’t won in awhile.
15. Brett Moffitt– There’s a lot of talk about how good Kyle Larson is and how good Chase Elliott will be, but if MWR can secure adequate funding for Brett Moffitt’s future, we may be talking about the young man who turned in a very fine performance last weekend at Atlanta for a very long time. Moffitt will once again play the role of super-sub this weekend as he sits in for David Ragan, who’s currently subbing for Kyle Busch.
Feb 22, 2015; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman (31) prior to the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
16. Ryan Newman– Hey, isn’t Las Vegas the place where gambling and luck collide to produce big winners? Trust me, Ryan Newman has his fingers crossed that his number will be a winner this weekend in Sin City.
17. Greg Biffle– Greg Biffle was responsible for bringing out the red flag that virtually cleared the way for Jimmie Johnson to claim his first win of the season. Aside from that, it was a relatively quiet afternoon for the Biff.
18. Jeff Gordon– Ironically, the four-time champion’s last trip around the Atlanta Motor Speedway would end much like his first trip around Atlanta Motor Speedway, with a torn-up race car.
19. Sam Hornish Jr.- What’s the difference between 2010 Sam Hornish Jr. and 2015 Sam Hornish Jr ? 2010 Sam had little to no patience in terms of managing a 400-500 mile race, whereas, 2015 Sam has mastered the art of letting the car adjust to the grueling demands of a 400-500 race.
20. Danica Patrick- I know; it’s way too early to be thinking about the Chase, but if the Chase started today, Danica Patrick would be one of the 16 drivers batting for the Sprint Cup title.