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At NASCAR’s Las Vegas stop, new cars are big deal

LAS VEGAS — Maybe Denny Hamlin can channel his fury over his $25,000 fine from NAS­CAR into a fast finish in the Kobalt Tools 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Hamlin got docked for his pessimistic comments about the new Gen-6 car, yet most drivers think Sunday’s race is their first real chance to test their new vehicles on the intermediate tracks they’re built to race.

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‘‘I think as we learn more and more about these cars and what makes them work and drive better, things can only get better as far as the product we put out there every week,’’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday.

After coming in third in Phoenix, Hamlin clearly knows what he’s doing in the new car — but so does Jimmie Johnson, who followed up his Daytona 500 victory with a second-place finish last week.

‘‘We’re still learning a lot, even by ourselves, in trying to understand the racetracks and how the car wants to be set up,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘Then at these higher speeds, downforce-wise, this will be our first exposure to it [in Las Vegas].’’

While Hamlin correctly pointed out how many adjustments still must be made to the car, many more drivers seem intrigued by the possibilities in their eye-catching new vehicles.

What’s more, NASCAR and its three manufacturers built the new car largely to improve racing on 1.5-mile intermediate tracks like the tri-oval in Vegas, where Brad Keselowski will start from the pole Sunday. He was awarded the honor after rain scrubbed Friday’s qualifying, giving the pole to last season’s Sprint Cup series champion.

Hometown favorites Kyle and Kurt Busch also will be looking for improved performances, while Danica Patrick will start 37th.

Kyle Busch fell short in his bid to win consecutive Nationwide Series races, as Sam Hornish Jr. survived two restarts in the final 15 laps to win the Sam’s Town 300 Saturday.

Hornish and Busch both went aggressively after the final restart with seven laps to go, with Busch briefly nudging ahead before Hornish reclaimed the lead with five laps left. Hornish got clear of Busch and finished comfortably in a caution-filled race.

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