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Stewart, Biffle roll dice in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- Nobody should be surprised if Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle turn today's UAW-DaimlerChrylser 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway into a rerun of the race two weeks ago at California Speedway.

The NASCAR Nextel Cup stars who finished first and second, respectively, in last season's standings were the class of the field at California, only to wind up in the back of the pack after late-race engine failures.

That left Biffle 38th and Stewart 22d in points after the first two races of 2006. But neither driver seems worried.

''You know what, our whole team feels really, really good about [the last race] -- like we won almost," Biffle said. ''Spirits are high because the fact is that we have good race cars and we're running very well. And that's the key.

''We had great pit stops, we had a great pit strategy, we had the fastest car for most of the day. Tony Stewart was a little faster at times, but that is the confidence we need to keep going . . ."

Instead of worrying about the last race, Stewart is thinking about the big picture -- the Chase for the Cup championship, a 10-race playoff at the end of the season that will include the top 10 drivers in the standings and any other driver within 400 points of the lead after the first 26 events.

''With the way the point format is, we've got 24 weeks to get it done," he said. ''We don't have to worry if we're 600 points out, as long as we're in the top 10. So, you can have a disappointing day, as far as your finishing position."

Stewart, the two-time and reigning Cup champion, seems to get off to a slow start just about every year. In 2005, bad luck and frustration were his nearly constant companions in the early going and Stewart was buried deep in the standings before closing out the year with 19 top-10 finishes in the last 22 races.

After opening this season with a fifth-place finish at Daytona and running so well at California, Stewart remains confident that his Joe Gibbs Racing team is on the right track.

''To me, it was five times more important than the loss of the points just knowing that we had a car that was competitive and that could run up front all day," Stewart said. ''That and this place are going to be a good judge of where your program is at early in the season. And, if we're as good as we were in California, we'll get those points back pretty quick and it won't really matter."

Biffle is part of the powerful Roush Racing juggernaut that put all five drivers into the Chase last season. Roush cars also have won five of the eight Cup races on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas oval.

A year ago, Kurt Busch -- who has since switched from Roush to Penske Racing South -- finished third behind the Hendrick Motorsports cars of winner Jimmie Johnson and runner-up Kyle Busch. Roush cars took three of the top eight spots in that race, with Biffle sixth and two-time Las Vegas winner Matt Kenseth -- who won last month at California -- eighth.

All the current Roush drivers, including former Las Vegas winner Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, and team newcomer Jamie McMurray, are considered threats in today's race. But Biffle, who will start from the pole, is the favorite.

Kasey Kahne held off Kenseth, then survived a two-lap shootout yesterday to win the Sam's Town 300 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his fourth NASCAR Busch Series victory.

''It was just a great race. Matt and Kevin [Harvick] were both very good all day," Kahne said.

Kenseth was gradually closing in on Kahne in the closing laps when David Gilliland's car went up in smoke with two laps to go, bringing out the caution and setting up the green-white-checker finale.

Kahne got a good jump on the restart and held on to edge Kenseth by 0.316 seconds, about 3 car-lengths. Harvick finished 1.333 seconds behind the winner.

''I got a little bit of a run on Kasey. He was just so good off [Turn 2], I couldn't get enough of a run on him," Kenseth said.

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