NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
                  === This Week in Auto Racing March 7 - 9 ===
 
 By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
 
 Las  Vegas, NV  (Sports Network) - It's  the third race of the season for both
 the  NASCAR  Sprint Cup and Nationwide  Series this weekend at Las Vegas Motor
 Speedway.
 
 
 NASCAR
 
 Sprint Cup Series
 
 Kobalt 400 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway - Las Vegas, Nev.
 
 This  weekend's Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be the
 first of 11 events contested on 1.5-mile racetracks this season.
 
 NASCAR  has a new  rules package for the intermediate tracks on the Sprint Cup
 schedule.  Forty-eight  teams participated  in  a  four-hour test  session  on
 Thursday at Las Vegas, familiarizing themselves with the 2014 package.
 
 Rule  changes  for the  intermediate  tracks  this season  include  statically
 setting  the race car ride height and eliminating the pre-and-post-race front-
 height  rules and inspections. The package also contains a square leading edge
 on the splitter, side-skirt and rear-fascia adjustments and an eight-inch rear
 spoiler. A 43-inch by 13-inch radiator pan are among the changes as well.
 
 NASCAR   implemented  chassis  and  aerodynamic  adjustments  into  the  setup
 specifications,  with the  hopes of creating more green-flag passing and side-
 by-side  racing.  The sanctioning body  gathered information from lengthy test
 sessions  held  at Charlotte Motor Speedway,  a 1.5-mile track, in October and
 December.
 
 "For  the  most part, I think  it looks like there's  speed in the cars, and I
 think  as the weekend unfolds [at Las Vegas], they'll probably be a little bit
 quicker,"  NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. "I think
 the  important day  will be Saturday [final Sprint Cup practice] where we have
 more  cars working  on race  trim  and around  each  other. It  will be  about
 learning the aero part of the car, how they drive around each other. That will
 probably change significantly from multi-car runs to single-car runs."
 
 Fresh  off of  his win  last Sunday  at Phoenix  International Raceway,  Kevin
 Harvick topped the speed charts in testing at Las Vegas. Harvick, in his first
 season  as driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, made a total
 of  42 laps.  His best lap was clocked  at 190.140 mph. He was the only driver
 who surpassed the 190 mph mark.
 
 "I  thought it  went  really well,"  Harvick  said of  his  test session.  "We
 struggled  in the beginning just to get the feel. It took us a couple of hours
 to  kind of get everything situated and get the balance of the car right. Then
 we  felt pretty good about it after that. Changed a lot of stuff and did a lot
 of  different things to the car. I felt like we made good head way in the end,
 and hopefully, we can progress on that and make it even better."
 
 Harvick  drove for Richard Childress Racing during his first 13 seasons in the
 Cup  Series  before moving over  to SHR. He  has yet to win  a Cup race at Las
 Vegas but finished second there in 2010.
 
 Rookie  Austin  Dillon had the second  quickest lap during the Las Vegas test.
 Trevor  Bayne  was third, followed  by Ryan Newman  and Danica Patrick, who is
 Harvick's  teammate at  SHR. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the current points leader and
 winner of the season-opening Daytona 500, placed 19th on the speed charts.
 
 "Whatever  we  use here  will traditionally  translate to  a lot of racetracks
 throughout the year," Earnhardt said. "We may be able to see trends. We have a
 lot  more  spoiler on the car  with the new  package, on the ride height, that
 changes  the  downforce quite  a bit. So  you're going to  start to see trends
 whether  it  be rear-spring split, different  things that will be a little bit
 different from last year that will help you shortcut understanding how to take
 it to another racetrack."
 
 Both  Earnhardt and Harvick will make it into this year's Chase for the Sprint
 Cup  championship unless there are more than 15 different winners in the first
 26  races (regular  season). That's only happened twice in the 65-year history
 of NASCAR's premier series.
 
 During  the  offseason, NASCAR  made sweeping  changes to  the Chase format by
 expanding  the  field of drivers/teams from  12 to 16. The top-15 drivers with
 the  most wins over  the first 26 races will become eligible for the playoffs,
 provided  they have  finished in  the  top-30 in  points. The  16th and  final
 position will go to the driver who is the highest in points without a victory.
 
 Could  there  be a  third different race  winner this season  on Sunday at Las
 Vegas?
 
 One year ago at this track, Matt Kenseth gambled on tires late in the race and
 then held off Kasey Kahne in the closing laps for the win. It came in just his
 third  start as driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth also
 celebrated his 41st birthday on the day of his Las Vegas win.
 
 Forty-eight teams are on the entry list for the Kobalt 400.
 
 
 Nationwide Series
 
 Sam's Town 300 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway - Las Vegas, Nev.
 
 There  are  four racetracks currently  on the Nationwide Series schedule where
 Kyle Busch has yet to win a race.
 
 Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his hometown track, is one of them.
 
 Last  Saturday,  Busch won a  Nationwide race at Phoenix International Raceway
 for  a  record third  straight time,  even though  the scheduled 200-lap event
 there  was cut  short by  32 laps  due  to rain.  He also  earned his  record-
 extending 64th career win in the series.
 
 Busch  has competed in  the Nationwide race at Las Vegas each year since 2004,
 finishing  second  there two times  (2007 and '13).  In last year's event, Sam
 Hornish  Jr. grabbed the  lead from Busch with 48 laps remaining and then held
 off  Busch  after two  restarts within  the final  15 laps.  It was the second
 career win for Hornish in Nationwide.
 
 "We had a good finish last year [at Las Vegas], considering we started further
 back  in  the pack than we  wanted to, due  to qualifying being rained out, so
 just  had to work  our way through the traffic," Busch said. "Got a second out
 of it, but would like to improve on that obviously. We are off to a good start
 with the Phoenix win. Just hope we don't get wet with any more rain."
 
 There is no chance of rain in the forecast for the Las Vegas area on Saturday.
 
 This season, Busch and Hornish are sharing driving duties in the No. 54 Toyota
 for  Joe Gibbs Racing.  Busch is scheduled to drive it in 26 Nationwide races,
 while Hornish will behind the wheel in the remaining seven events.
 
 Busch won a Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas in 2009.
 
 "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  last two Nationwide  races as Las Vegas have been won by series regulars.
 Hornish  did it  last year, and Ricky  Stenhouse Jr. did so in 2012. Stenhouse
 graduated to Sprint Cup in 2013.
 
 Regan  Smith,  the current  points leader  and winner  of the season-opener at
 Daytona  International Speedway, has four Nationwide starts at Las Vegas, with
 his  best  finish of seventh  occurring this past  season. Smith holds a five-
 point advantage over Trevor Bayne, while Elliott Sadler trails by six markers.
 
 Forty teams are on the entry list for the Boyd Gaming 300. Dale Earnhardt Jr.,
 Matt  Kenseth,  Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson,  David Ragan and Busch are those
 Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in this race.
 
 03/07 13:14:11 ET

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