Two-time Las Vegas winner Jeff Burton will make his season debut this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, as this marks the beginning of a part-time campaign for Burton in this season, who will be retiring at the end of the season to join NBC Sports’ broadcast team in 2015.
Burton won back-to-back events at the track in 1999 and 2000. In 1999, it was a battle between the Burton brothers, with Jeff edging Ward.
Burton, 46, joined Michael Waltrip Racing during the offseason, as the team cut back to a two car operation after being caught in a cheating scandal involving rigging the outcome of the final race before the Chase at Richmond International Raceway, losing NAPA as its primary sponsor, and losing Martin Truex Jr., as the two-time Nationwide Series Champion, left for Furniture Row Racing.
Burton expects to compete in six to 14 races this season, but the team is being careful about which events to take part in. Burton will be in contention for a top 25 finish.
So far this season, Chevrolet’s have already taken two spots in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup. However, this weekend, I can see a different manufacturer making a statement. Although his track record has not been stellar, Brad Keselowski has an excellent chance to get into the chase this weekend. Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series Champion, had an up-and-down defense to his title, but the season was not completely lost. Keselowski started his title defense with three consecutive top five finishes, tying a record set by the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., in 1995.
With two third place finishes to start 2014 and a pole, Keselowski is on his way to go for the extra mile on Sunday. Speaking of thirds, Keselowski also finished third in this event a year ago. Expect Keselowski to be in the hunt all day, stalking his prey and stealing the trophy at the end of the race.
Kasey Kahne, runner-up a year ago at this event, has had a rocky start to the season. Kahne has admitted that he struggles mentally at times. “I get too down on myself when things are not going the way I feel they should and it actually hurts my performance,” Kahne said. “I need to do a better job of being motivated throughout the year and not getting down when things happen that you can’t control or mistakes that you make and just come back stronger the next week.” With that being said, Kahne’s performance depends on how much he has improved in his attitude. Kahne could be in the hunt for the win, or he could be struggling. Consistency is where Kahne struggles the most.
How about our Daytona 500 champion, Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Jr. has not had a season off to this great of a start since his last 500 victory. His average finish at Las Vegas is around 15th, but this is a new animal. With confidence and a great team rallied behind him, Jr. will be challenging for the win, but a battle between Jr. and his protege, Keselowski, will be just what the doctor ordered, when NASCAR visits Sin City.
Coverage for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 begins at 3 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.