The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, now two weeks into the 2016 campaign, heads West this week with the first of three events before returning to the East Coast. The stock car set will be in Las Vegas on Monday before moving on to Phoenix and Fontana.
Kevin Harvick, the reigning Kobalt 400 champion at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS), has been installed as the 5-1 favorite for Monday’s 267-lap race around the 1.5-mile track. There are 39 entries for the race, one short of a full field under new rules.
Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson prevailed last Monday in Atlanta and reigning series champion and Las Vegas native Kyle Busch. Both are at 6-1 odds of winning. Johnson is a four-time winner at LVMS (the last in 2010) and Busch, who won the race in 2009, did not compete in 2015 because of injuries suffered in the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona.
Johnson’s win at Atlanta, his fifth on the track, was his 25th on a 1.5-mile track, a NASCAR record. It was also the 76th career win for the El Cajon native, tying him with the late Dale Earnardt Sr. for seventh on the Sprint Cup list. Cale Yarborough is sixth with 83 wins.
Harvick, from Bakersfield, enjoyed the Western swing a year ago. In addition to winning in Las Vegas, he also finished first in Phoenix and second at Fontana for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Competing in his hometown brings the fire out in Busch.
“Vegas always means a little bit more pressure — more pressure on myself — just because it’s the hometown and you want to win there,” the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (JGR) driver said. “Thankfully I have won there and I’ve knocked that one off the list, but certainly you want to win there every year.”
“It seems like either [JGR teammate] Carl [Edwards] or Jimmie are better than most there, but I love Vegas; the atmosphere and everything going on around that place. It’s always been a big race for us and the M&M’S team,” he added.
Edwards has two wins, but isn’t among the sports book favorites. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is fourth at 7-1, followed at 12-1 by 2004 series champion Kurt Busch.
LOW DOWNFORCE RULES
Monday’s race will be the second under NASCAR’s low downforce rules. It debuted in Atlanta and there were 44 passes for the lead and a total of 3,717 green flag passes, the second-highest total at Atlanta.
“It was fun,” Earnhardt said after the race. “You know, everybody just wasn’t hooked up and hauling tail. You had to drive the cars. The cars were a real challenge and I had a great time inside of the car and enjoyed driving it.”
Edwards was more blunt in his praise for the new package.
“This is real racing,” he said. “We’re driving hard. You can see the guys out here just digging for everything they’re worth. I was worn out. That’s a tough race and just a lot of fun.”
Kyle Busch is the favorite for Sunday’s Xfinity Boyd Gaming 300 at 6-5,with Brad Keselowski second at 11-5 and Erik Jones third ay 7-2.