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Matt Kenseth's good luck might hold up at Las Vegas

He can make NASCAR history with a third consecutive victory to start the season.

February 27, 2009|Jim Peltz

LAS VEGAS — Even in a town where the house usually wins, it's a good bet Matt Kenseth will make NASCAR history this weekend.

After winning the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of the year in Daytona and Fontana, Kenseth hopes to capture Sunday's Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and become the first Cup driver to win the first three races of the season.

Kenseth, who drives the No. 17 Ford prepared by Roush Fenway Racing, is a bona fide threat to pull off the feat because he's already a two-time winner at Las Vegas, in 2003 and 2004.

And team co-owner Jack Roush knows how to get his drivers around the 1.5-mile oval, with Roush cars having won six of the 11 races held here since the track began hosting the Cup stock-car racing series in 1998.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, February 28, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 68 words Type of Material: Correction
NASCAR milestone: An article in Friday's Sports section about this weekend's NASCAR race in Las Vegas said Jeff Gordon would reach the 20,000-lap milestone in his Sprint Cup career when he completes 11 laps Sunday. In fact, the 20,000 refers to the number of laps he has led, not simply completed, in his Cup career. He needs to lead 11 more laps before he will reach that milestone.

Qualifying is scheduled today to establish the race's 43-car field at LVMS, located a few miles north of the Strip.

"I feel really good about Vegas," Kenseth said after his win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana last Sunday.

"I was more confident coming into this year than I have been probably in a lot of seasons."

But at least two drivers are odds-on favorites to derail Kenseth's march into the history books: Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth's teammate Carl Edwards.

Johnson not only has won the Cup championship for the last three years for Hendrick Motorsports, he also won at Las Vegas in three consecutive years (2005-2007).

And Edwards is the defending winner of the race. The Missouri native broke Johnson's winning streak last year by beating Dale Earnhardt Jr. on two late restarts.

Edwards' win was soon tarnished, however, when NASCAR announced that a post-race inspection found the lid missing on the oil tank of his No. 99 Ford, which NASCAR said could affect how air moved in and out of the car at high speed. NASCAR allowed Edwards to keep the victory but stripped him of 100 championship points and suspended his crew chief, Bob Osborne, for six races.

Edwards went on to win a series-high nine races last year.

Earnhardt, meanwhile, is among the drivers who need a strong finish in Sin City to climb out of early-season slumps. Engine failure on his No. 88 Chevrolet left Earnhardt with a 39th-place finish at Fontana, a week after he finished a disappointing 27th at Daytona.

"We've had some great cars, but the results haven't reflected that," he said.

Not entirely great cars, however. His teammate Mark Martin also had engine problems at Fontana, and Hendrick said Tuesday that both cars had valve-train failures that were related to a batch of parts from the same vendor.

"It's always extremely disappointing when something like that happens, but fortunately it's a problem we can quickly address and fix," said Doug Duchardt, Hendrick's vice president of development.

Vegas notes

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon will reach the 20,000-lap milestone in his Cup career when he completes 11 laps Sunday. . . . Gordon said he had no qualms about returning to Las Vegas after his Chevy slammed hard into the infield wall a year ago, saying, "I feel completely safe in the car." . . . Jeff Burton will record his 450th consecutive Cup start. . . . The race had been 267 laps or 400.5 miles but will be lengthened this year to 285 laps, or 427.5 miles, in conjunction with the race being renamed for car designer Carroll Shelby and his 427 racing package.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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