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Brad Keselowski leads NASCAR into Las Vegas this weekend.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2017

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup looks more like its usual self after last week’s event in Atlanta evened out a shaky start to the season ahead of Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Brad Keselowski taking the checkered flag in Atlanta helped the series and fans forget about a wild, crash-riddled Daytona 500 that cast doubt on how well a variety of changes would impact the sport.

Now things return to Las Vegas, one of the hottest budding spots for NASCAR as a whole, hence the locale moving toward adding a second event in 2018.

With two familiar names clutching wins so far and some of the sport’s best young talent showing well, the showdown in Las Vegas this weekend isn’t one to miss as the season kicks into gear.

     

Viewing Details

Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Watch: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Tickets: ScoreBig.com

       

Kobalt 400 Lineup

1 2 Brad Keselowski
2 78 Martin Truex Jr.
3 21 Ryan Blaney
4 20 Matt Kenseth
5 42 Kyle Larson
6 22 Joey Logano
7 5 Kasey Kahne
8 77 Erik Jones
9 18 Kyle Busch
10 1 Jamie McMurray
11 19 Daniel Suarez
12 24 Chase Elliott
13 14 Clint Bowyer
14 27 Paul Menard
15 11 Denny Hamlin
16 48 Jimmie Johnson
17 41 Kurt Busch
18 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
19 4 Kevin Harvick
20 6 Trevor Bayne
21 31 Ryan Newman
22 3 Austin Dillon
23 47 AJ Allmendinger
24 13 Ty Dillon
25 37 Chris Buescher
26 95 Michael McDowell
27 34 Landon Cassill
28 10 Danica Patrick
29 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
30 43 Aric Almirola
31 32 Matt DiBenedetto
32 38 David Ragan
NASCAR.com

 

2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings

1 Kurt Busch 86 1
2 Brad Keselowski 84 1
3 Kevin Harvick 90 0
4 Chase Elliott 82 0
5 Joey Logano 80 0
6 Kyle Larson 79 0
7 Martin Truex Jr. 67 0
8 Ryan Blaney 63 0
9 Kasey Kahne 63 0
10 Trevor Bayne 58 0
11 Jamie McMurray 49 0
12 Aric Almirola 47 0
13 Clint Bowyer 46 0
14 Paul Menard 44 0
15 Matt Kenseth 41 0
16 Cole Whitt 38 0
NASCAR.com.

    

Drivers to Watch

Chase Elliott

Expect someone else?

Chase Elliott isn’t slowing anytime soon, which he made apparent over the course of the season’s first two races. The rising Hendrick Motorsports driver took the pole at the Daytona 500 before finishing 14th, then turned around and rode the momentum to a fifth-place finish in Atlanta.

The first cup win still eludes Elliott, but he has momentum to build on and continues to absorb what the top drivers do.

In fact, he used Atlanta’s event to keep close tabs on the movements by Kevin Harvick, as captured by Fox Sports’ Tom Jensen: “I don’t think Kevin’s car was any better than ours. I think he was just doing a little better job driving than I was and being consistent and doing a good job around the bottom and conserving his tires and still running fast. Something for me to try to improve on coming back.”

Elliott finished 38th at this event a year ago, but two near misses to start the season and 82 points thanks to a strong showing in the new stage format bodes well for his coming races.

For fans awaiting the next generation to stake its claim, Elliott has the momentum to do so in Las Vegas.

     

Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch made it clear in Atlanta he doesn’t plan on going away.

Maybe some viewed the veteran’s legacy-enhancing win at Daytona after leading only the final lap as a one-hit-wonder of sorts.

Wrong. Busch placed 13th in qualifying in Atlanta but turned it into a seventh-place finish. He’s looking like a veteran ready to make a season-long push, which is more than he could say at this time a year ago after finishing just 10th at Daytona.

Now Busch heads to his hometown, where he has yet to secure a win.

“It’s a unique feeling of coming back home—a place where I grew up at the little bowling track next door, and there’s the extra fans and friends and a little bit of pressure—just because I want to deliver for my hometown crowd,” Busch said, according to Robin Leach of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

It’s an exciting time for Busch and NASCAR seeing as he touts series sponsor Monster Energy on his hood. If he keeps going at this pace, which so far is a career-best tempo, the series could have an epic story on its hands as a seasoned veteran finally claims his due.

A potential hometown victory just makes this storyline all the sweeter.

    

Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski knows how to win in Las Vegas.

Brad Keselowski knows how to win in Las Vegas.Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Keselowski isn’t a stranger when it comes to running the series.

A week ago, he took the No. 2 Ford to Atlanta and seized a checkered flag, leading 21 laps before the win on what was formerly one of his worst tracks.

Now Keselowski heads to Las Vegas and looks to make it two in a row, both this season and at this particular event, which he won last year after leading all of 24 laps.

More important than momentum or history at tracks, though, is a newfound life balance for Keselowski. He opened up about this change during an interview with David Scott of the Charlotte Observer:


I feel lucky that I have a team that’s letting me have some slack with all those things and try to find that right balance. I’ll never forget [team owner] Roger [Penske’s] son Greg asked me: ‘How do you balance your work life and your home life, what’s your work-to-life balance?’ For a lot of years, I had a terrible work-to-life balance with respect to just being all work. In general, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been because I have a better work-to-life balance than I’ve ever had.

A lengthy quote but an important one to help understand Keselowski’s hot start and what it could mean not only for him moving forward, but for the rest of the series.

With a season highlighted so far by changes to the structure of races and rules, it’s only right personal changes put on by one of the sport’s most notable names have him riding better than anyone else.

Fans can expect this to continue in Las Vegas, where Keselowski already knows a thing or two about winning.

    

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.



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