Which Jimmie Johnson will show up?

March, 8, 2012

Looking straight up at the Sprint Cup winners at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, two teams have dominated Victory Lane -- Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing, combining to win 12 of the 14 races at the track.

And although Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have both won there recently, I want to analyze two Hendrick drivers for my little blog this week. And I can, because it's my blog.

Jimmie Johnson has won four of the past seven Las Vegas races, but in true Sin City fashion, it's been all or nothing for the 48.

Besides those four wins, Johnson has never had a top-5 finish at Las Vegas, and he's finished 16th or worse in three of the past four races. His race here last season was especially a letdown.

In that race, Johnson was passed 84 times under green flag, the most he's been passed in a Vegas race since NASCAR began tracking loop data in 2005. He also failed to lead a lap and spent just 37 percent of his laps in the top 15, so a 16th-place finish might've been better than he ran.

Jeff Gordon is another story. He has one Vegas win, coming back in his last championship season, 2001. But Gordon has been overdue for a win at Vegas, as he's had five top-5 finishes in his past seven races.

So what's his problem?

Plain and simple, Gordon has to run a clean race. His only two non-top-5 finishes in the past seven events there were races he wrecked out of, including a hard crash in 2008 that was scary to watch. Last year, Gordon finished 36th after wrecking out. Over the past four Vegas races, he's the only driver with multiple crash-related DNFs.

In fact, Gordon has been involved in four accidents at Vegas since the track opened, the only driver involved in that many.

Looking for Trouble

Every week, our stats and analysis team sends out a breakdown of the wrecks at a track. I'm going to call this weekly entry Looking for Trouble. Here's this week's takeaway:

Watch out for Turn 2 at Las Vegas. Statistically, the second turn is usually the most dangerous, as six of the past seven most-wrecked areas of all tracks are the second turn. But Vegas' second turn is especially treacherous.

At Vegas, 46.8 percent of all wrecks take place in the second turn. That's the highest percentage of any track's accidents in a single area dating back to 1999.

The Eliminator: Las Vegas

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to make my race pick. It's pretty simple: Instead of telling you why one guy will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, is the race winner.

1. The past eight Las Vegas winners finished 16th or better in both of the previous season's Charlotte races (32 eliminated, 11 remaining).

2. Every Las Vegas winner finished in the top 15 in the most recent Chicagoland race since that track opened (five eliminated, six remaining).

3. Every Las Vegas winner had a top-4 finish in one of the first two races of the season (five eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kevin Harvick.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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