Five drivers to watch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Here are five drivers to watch as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Pennzoil 400.

Kevin Harvick dominated the first race on a 1.5-mile track this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. NASCAR now heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile speedway but a track with many different characteristics than a week ago.

Will the Toyota brigade find themselves back on top a week after the Fords swept the first three finishing positions? How about the Chevrolets, including Hendrick Motorsports, will they be able to rebound after a slow start?

Unlike any other year, this will be the first time NASCAR will visit Las Vegas Motor Speedway twice in one season. The second time will be to kickoff the playoffs, making this first trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway very important.

Here are five drivers to watch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch

The last time Kyle Busch was at Las Vegas Motor Speedway he was remembered more for this post-race altercation with Joey Logano than we was for his finish.

Rightfully so, since Busch finished 22nd on the day and didn’t lead a single lap. This time around, Busch is hoping a visit to his home track turns out different.

“I’m certainly looking forward to getting back to Vegas – always do,” said Busch in his pre-race advance. “This year, it’s going to mean a little bit more. It’ll be a little bit more important to kind of focus on the right things in your racecar to be good. You have that (playoff) race that’s going to be happening there in September, so it’s a great opportunity with our M&M’S Caramel Camry to learn some things for the fall, as well. It certainly is a racetrack that I try to enjoy and run well at but, more importantly, win at.”

Heading to Vegas, Busch knows there is a little more pressure to perform at his home track. “Yeah, Vegas always means a little bit more pressure – more pressure on myself – just because it’s the hometown and you want to win there.”

Busch will start 13th and had the sixth best  10-lap average for final practice.

Joey Logano

Logano leads the point standings heading into Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It’s worth noting that the NASCAR season is only two races in. Still, compared to where Logano and his No. 22 team were at the end of last year, this is a vast improvement.

Logano has two consecutive top-5 finishes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a combined total of 126 laps led in his last three races there. The Team Penske Fords have been off to a strong start, with Brad Keselowski’s 32nd place finish in the Daytona 500 serving as the only finish outside the top-12.

Logano will start 10th and had the 14th best  10-lap average for final practice.

Jimmie Johnson’s crew works on his car during the first practice for the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (World Copyright: Nigel Kinrade, NKP)

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson finds his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet sitting 35th in the point standings. He his currently behind  full-time drivers Matt DiBenedetto Gray Gaulding and also behind Mark Thompson and D. J. Kennington, who only raced in the Daytona 500.

Johnson’s team failed pre-qualifying inspection twice, struggled during the early stages at Atlanta Motor Speedway and ultimately spun out causing a caution.

Will this trend continue? No. But we do expect Johnson and Chad Knaus to turn it around at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Johnson has finished third and 11th in his last two races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Johnson will start 14th and had the 15h best  10-lap average for final practice.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin is the only driver to finish inside the top-five in both races this season. Hamlin also is one of only four drivers to have an average finish of 10th or better at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the last three races.

So far, Hamlin has looked to be the best car from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable and if he and his No. 11 FedEx Toyota team can keep the momentum going, they could continue on that trend.

Hamlin will start 19th and had the ninth best  10-lap average for final practice.

Aric Almirola

Almirola is off to a great start behind the wheel of the No. 10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. He nearly won the Daytona 500, finishing 13th after crashing out from the lead on the final lap, and then finishing 11th at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“It’s great to start the season off so strong. Not only do I feel like the No. 10 team has been strong, but all of the SHR cars have been extremely competitive,” said Almriola before this weekend’s race at Las Vegas.

This will be the first true test to see if Almirola is for real in 2018. He finished 14th a year ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. With better equipment and momentum on his side, Almriola is one to watch.

“At the end of both races so far, two of our cars have had the chance to win the race, and Kevin Harvick was able to go to victory lane at Atlanta. If we keep running strong and putting ourselves in the right position, we’ll eventually get a win.

Almirola will start 29th and had the seventh best  10-lap average for final practice.

Aric Almirola looks to keep the momentum going into the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (World Copyright: John K Harrelson, NKP)

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