NASCAR drivers studying Vegas to prepare for playoff return


CAPTION: Kyle Busch talks with crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. after Busch won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Stratosphere 200 on Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This year's event, however, is about getting much more than a few hands of blackjack and the checkered flag.

Ryan Blaney, the pole-sitter for Sunday's Monster Energy Cup series race, came in fourth ahead of Elliott Sadler in fifth.

"There is definitely some added importance to this race with (Las Vegas) being in the playoffs", said Kyle Larson, who excelled in practice this week at the track where he finished second to eventual Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. past year.

"This has been a good, long-standing partnership and we plan to continue", speedway management said in a statement to USA Today. However, he came back last with a third-place finish at Atlanta.

The NASCAR XFINITY Series always bills itself as the future of NASCAR, but the Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday was a more direct view of what fans can expect in the Cup Series as it heads into the next decade.

The injury couldn't keep Frankos down, however: He returned to the track for the race.

"This race has more importance around it than it ever has before, just because of the playoff atmosphere that will be around it in September", said Kurt Busch, who was born in this city. The speedway has been chilly this week, with occasional 40 miles per hour winds buffeting cars and possibly changing drivers' tactics.

"It all happens so fast over the last couple weeks", Harvick said. It was Blaney's third career pole and he led a 1-2-3 sweep for Ford in the starting order. We out-raced them at Homestead there a year ago but we definitely got to go to work at Atlanta and Las Vegas - we know those are really his strong tracks. Penske's rising star gets another chance to earn his second career Cup victory in Vegas. Johnson won seven races in 2009 including the October race at Fontana and the November race in Phoenix. Johnson intends to get his season back on track on his native West Coast. Look for Harvick to hunt for the lead early Sunday, as he hopes the dice roll in his favor at Las Vegas as our Must-Have!

"It was kind of ironic it went in descending order for me - Cup, XFINITY, and now truck", Busch said.

FORD TOUGH: Fords earned the first three spots in qualifying, along with five of the first eight, and eight of the first 12. When he gets in the driver's seat for this series, he finds his way to the front. However, they clearly weren't satisfied with the runner-up spot since they came out of Saturday's practices on a mission to get the vehicle ready for 400 miles, and did they ever!