Sunday has to be the best NASCAR motor sports day of the year

May 24, 2011 3:00 AM

This Sunday has to be the best motor sports day of the year, a day where fans all over the world are sure to tune in to one of the three outstanding races on television.

If you’re an insane speed freak – the good kind – like me, you’ll be watching all three beginning at the early hours of the morning with Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix. A few hours later, we get to watch the 100th anniversary race of the Indianapolis 500. And then, after some lunch, it’s NASCAR time with the longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

All three races are considered one of the series most prestigious. For the Indy 500, it may be the most prestigious race in the world. Even as the Indy car series has declined in races per year with most of the television coverage hidden away on the hunting channel, the Indy 500 is an American institution that has appeal for every auto racing fan across the world.

The race also crosses over into mainstream America just because it has so much tradition. It’s been the back drop to so many family barbeques on Memorial Day weekend that it has sort of become part of the family.

Here in Las Vegas we get the added excitement of betting on each of the races. Just about every sports book in town has odds up for the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600, but only the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book offers odds weekly on F-1 races.

When handicapping the Indy 500 the last 11 years, it’s been rather simple because all you have to do is look at the drivers from the top teams, about seven of the 33 drivers, and then throw out the rest. The main beneficiaries over the years have been the Ganassi and Penske teams with Andretti and Rahal drivers snatching three wins themselves.

This season we have a new major player in the game joining the Penske and Ganassi super-teams as contenders. Las Vegas resident Sam Schmidt has a team that should challenge for the win this season led by pole sitter Alex Tagliani, another Las Vegas resident. The other strong challenger will be Townsend Bell who starts fourth.

Both of the Schmidt drivers weren’t expected to do well and had future odds placed very high on them prior to some of the practices and Saturday’s qualifying. The Hilton had juicy numbers of 60-1 on Tagliani with 75-1 on Bell. The current odds have them 7-1 and 30-1 respectively.

The favorites to win the race still remain Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon at 7-2 with Will Power (6-1), Helio CastroNeves (10-1) and Ryan Briscoe (12-1) close behind, but their edge over the rest of the field no longer makes them as attractive. Bettors now have a legitimate opportunity to cash in at some pretty good odds.

We gained a lot of knowledge in last week’s All-Star race at Charlotte that should help gain an edge in betting this week’s race on the same track. Most of us knew the Roush drivers would do well in the race, but no one saw a complete sweep of every event and segment.

Carl Edwards won the race, Greg Biffle led a segment and David Ragan won the qualifying race. The only Roush driver to not win anything was Matt Kenseth, who had the best car on the track after 10 laps.

 Even though the NASCAR teams won’t bring the same exact car they raced with last week, it’s pretty clear who the drivers to key on this week are. Kenseth becomes an even bigger player this week because of his success on the long runs in that race.

Just as Kenseth started to get going better than everyone else, the segment would end. On Sunday night, it’s almost like things never end as they go 600 miles.

The combination of Kenseth being able to save tires for long runs, his team balancing his car perfect for the race and his past success on the 1.5-mile tracks this season make him the driver to beat this week.

Jimmie Johnson is a six-time winner at Charlotte and once won this race three times in a row. He should perform well, but winning the race seems a bit unlikely at this point based on the way he’s run on similar tracks this season. He was very ordinary at both Las Vegas and Texas.

Kyle Busch should be the one to be the biggest thorns in the side of the Roush drivers. Not only did he have a career best runner-up finish in the All-Star race, but he’s finished eighth of better in his last seven Charlotte starts which include two third-place finishes in the 600.

Edwards has a little bit of history on his side by winning the All-Star race because we’ve seen a few drivers do the double recently winning back-to-back weeks in Charlotte. Kurt Busch did it last season, Kasey Kahne in 2008 and Jimmie Johnson as well in 2003.

As for the race in Monaco, I’ll go out on a limb and take Sebastian Vettel laying the -120 to win. He’s already won four of the five races this season.