Get ready for 330 mph
of NHRA muscle

Apr 4, 2006 6:31 AM

If you happen to hear the earth rumble and shake this weekend in Las Vegas, do not misinterpret the sounds and movement as an earthquake.

One of the greatest touring shows in the States hits the Las Vegas Strip. No, not that Strip, this showroom is at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway where the NHRA visits for the seventh straight year at speeds over 330 mph.

The three major divisions of Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock put on a real Vegas worthy show with entertainment that is second to none. All involved with the teams and the NHRA have become amazed with Vegas and its capability to draw so many fans for each of the events. The Sunday finals are the most populated, but the Friday and Saturday qualifying sessions are close in attendance.

The amenities that Las Vegas offers is extremely different from any other drag racing strip on the circuit. There is just so much to do for all the drivers and teams. One driver in particular, Top Fuel contender and Las Vegan, Rod Fuller, feels he has an advantage because of all things available on this stop.

"I know the track and the area," said Fuller. "I really feel that a lot of the competitors are going to enjoy the Las Vegas nightlife and lifestyle while I’ll be able to focus. They’ll be spending their fine money in town and I’ll be in bed by 10."

Fuller says familiarity with the city and LVMS are advantages he hopes will bring him his second win of the season.

"Familiarity is so big in this sport," said Fuller. "I’ll be sleeping in my own bed at my own house instead of a hotel room, eating hotel food. Best of all, my crew chief (Lee Beard) won the spring race at LVMS last year, so that’s also a huge advantage."

One of the other aspects of Vegas beyond the sheer excitement that no other city offers is gambling on the sport. A few of the Las Vegas books have offered odds to win on the divisions since the inaugural event seven years ago. Station Casinos odds have been a staple for each of the events with visits to the Palace Station off of I-15 becoming part of a regular routine when driving to and from the track. The drivers, crew members, series officials, and of course the fans, all are fascinated with the odds.

"It legitimizes the sport," one NHRA official said. "We don’t get to see odds on our sport in the local papers like we do with all the major sports. Then we walk into the Palace Station and see all the names with odds on the board right next to Major League Baseball and NBA odds. It’s just neat to see and it’s always something we look forward to when coming to Vegas."

The biggest story coming into this year’s Las Vegas event is Melanie Troxel, the hottest driver in any of the three major divisions. The fact that she is dominating a male dominated sport makes it even bigger. Coming into this weekend’s event, Troxel has made the Top Fuel final in five straight events dating back to last season. After four NHRA events this season, Troxel is the point leader by a wide margin.

Though Troxel has been to the Finals in five straight events, she has just one win. Putting it into perspective, Troxel is very happy just compiling points and looking at the bigger picture.

"It’s kind of funny," she says. "Regardless of how things are going, when you don’t win in a final round, you have that natural instinct to be disappointed for a while. But you really have to take a reality check and let that disappointment wear off and appreciate the fact that we are leading the points. We’re running very consistently, and we’re going a lot of rounds."

While all the perennial heavyweights like Larry Dixon, Tony Schumacher, and Brandon Bernstein attempt to figure out the right set up, Troxel is in a groove to justify her favorite role at 3-1 to win this weekend.

The most competitive division is the Pro Stock Series, a division that Greg Anderson used to dominate. He still is the -120 favorite to win, but there is much more value with Mike Edwards, Jason Line, and Erica Enders. Anderson smoked everyone in the opener at Pomona, then lost in the final in Arizona. In a gambling equation similar to the black-red roulette game because of the odds, Anderson fits the same pattern. If you lose betting on him one week, double up the next time, and so on until he finally wins. This week, Anderson wins.

Ron Capps (3-1) has had a resurgent season with two wins in the last two Funny Car events. John Force is second choice. He made the finals twice and the semifinals once in his last three events, including last week in Houston.

It would be a nice Las Vegas "Love Story" to see Tommy Johnson Jr., from the Funny Car division, win for the second time this season. Troxel is his wife. They have to be fastest married couple on the planet.

NASCAR HITS Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas, including the pool of candidates who can win this week’s NASCAR stop. We’ve got the entire stable from Hendrick Motor Sports, Roush Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, DEI, and now the new old school sentimental favorite, Petty Enterprises.

Yes, that’s right, I did say Petty. They have elevated their talent inside the car and outside in the pits beginning with the famed No. 43 Carolina Blue Dodge driven by Bobby Labonte. When looking for odds to win, there should be a bunch of top flight drivers within 10 to 14-1 range.

Bobby Labonte will be closer to 40-1, but must be considered a candidate because of the way he ran at Atlanta. We bring up Atlanta because the tracks are very similar in size, distance, banking, and width. Kasey Kahne won there and chances are he’ll be one of the drivers to beat this week.

Mark Martin finished second both in Atlanta and the last Texas race. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to say Martin can finish fifth or higher. Martin also comes from that stable of drivers in the Roush organization that has lapped every other team in Texas. In 10 Texas Cup race, Roush has five wins. Martin was the victor in 1998.

Dale Earnhardt Jr finished third in Atlanta, but the DEI entry that may have surprised everyone that day wasn’t "officially" one. Robby Gordon was set to challenge for the top two spots late in the race using a DEI engine at odds of 125-1 or higher. You can forget about odds like that again, but 75-1 shouldn’t be hard to find.

Jeff Gordon is still looking for that first elusive Texas victory. It is one of the few tracks Gordon hasn’t won on in his great career. Teammate, Jimmie Johnson, hasn’t won there either, which is shocking given his success at Charlotte and Atlanta. Johnson has finished third and never worse than ninth at Texas in five career starts.