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Potential first-time Xfinity winners hope it’s their lucky day in Las Vegas

Kelli Stavast, Nate Ryan, and Dale Jarrett discuss NASCAR driver testing at COTA, wonder if Vegas can produce a 4th different winner, and if Kyle Busch and Penske drivers should be worried about early-season struggles.

For the first time since its inaugural 1982 season, the NASCAR Xfinity Series could see a third consecutive first-time winner Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kaulig Racing’s Jeb Burton may be the top pick to make it happen, even though he hasn’t raced at Las Vegas since March 2016, when he was driving for Richard Petty Motorsports’ Xfinity program.

Less than three months later, the program was suspended and Burton’s full-time ride was gone. It took him five years to find another with Kaulig, and so far, he’s running in the lead pack.

He and reigning series champion Austin Cindric are the only drivers to open 2021 with three consecutive top-five finishes.

For Burton himself, he’s earned four consecutive top-five finishes dating back to his final race with JR Motorsports at Martinsville last Halloween.

The run is even more impressive since Burton is still re-acclimating to full-time racing.

“I haven’t been to these places a long time,” he said in a Thursday teleconference. “I haven’t been in the seat as much as all of my competitors have. So, I’m using that first and second stage to figure out my car and figure out where I need to be, and then I put myself in position at the end.

“I think that’s what’s hurting me a little bit. I’m right there, but if I can run better in those first and second stages, it would put me in better track position when it matters.”

Burton was able to do that last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He scored points in both stages, finishing fifth in Stage 1 and ninth in Stage 2 to set up a fifth-place finish at day’s end.

As steady as he’s been, Burton acknowledges “the urgency is there” to get that first win as soon as possible.

“We want to go ahead and knock that (win) out, so we can just keep building momentum,” he said. “But if we keep knocking out the top fives and put ourselves in position, the win will come.”

Another driver hoping to contend for his first win on Saturday is Stewart-Haas Racing’s Riley Herbst, who returns home to Las Vegas.

Chase Briscoe, now a Cup Series rookie, swept both Vegas Xfinity races last year in the No. 98 Ford that Herbst now drives. That has Herbst excited, even though his season has started with back-to-back DNFs at Daytona and having to overcome a run-in with Justin Allgaier last week to finish 11th in Miami.

“I’m really looking forward to heading back to Vegas,” he said in a team release. “I think we’ll be really, really fast and have some good success – at least that’s what we’re planning for. ... I just think we kind of need to work through the first four or five races and see where we are, because it’s a new team for me.

“For the first five races, we’re just kind of judging everything and, hopefully, after that and after the first quarter of the season, we can be in contention for wins and be racing up front.”

Other notables in the hunt for win No. 1?

  • Daniel Hemric, Joe Gibbs Racing: Perennial bridesmaid he may be, Hemric has still rattled off three top-10 finishes to start his tenure at JGR. Additionally, four of his seven career Xfinity runner-up finishes have come on 1.5-mile tracks. He finished third at Las Vegas last September for JR Motorsports, which was his best Xfinity result at the track.
  • Brandon Brown, Brandonbilt Motorsports: Two top-10 finishes in three races have put Brown ninth in points entering Las Vegas, where he’s been okay but not great (average finish of 14.8, best finish of 11th in Feb. 2020).
  • Ryan Sieg, RSS Racing: Sieg finished third and fifth in both Las Vegas Xfinity races last season. But those results were in ECR-powered Chevrolets. Over the off-season, Sieg and RSS made the switch to Ford and Roush Yates Engines. They’re coming off their first top-10 finish with Ford last week in Miami (eighth).
  • Brett Moffitt, Our Motorsports: A runner-up in the season opener at Daytona and contending for the win in Miami have put the past Truck Series champion on the radar. Moffitt finished 15th and 14th for Our Motorsports last year at Las Vegas, but the No. 02 team have now proven they’re capable of much more.