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Vegas books set record with NASCAR race

Mar 6, 2001 6:35 AM

The 2001 Las Vegas Winston Cup race set an all-time record for handle on motor sports at most Las Vegas sorts books. "We did twice the volume that we did for this season’s Daytona," said Palace Station’s Rob Terry. "Without a doubt, this is the most action we have ever seen on any auto race."

Jeff Gordon’s win gives him three straight strong performances to start the season, leading some to believe he’s back to the Gordon of old. "It looks like (Gordon’s team) is pretty much back," Jarrett said. "They started showing that last year, I think. They’ve got a good race team. At one point, it looked like his car was pretty tight and he couldn’t go, and they adjusted it his last couple of stops, I guess.

"That’s the sign of a good team, so I’m sure they’ll be right in the battle for the championship."

Immediately following Gordon’s victory and exploits of old, Station Casinos’ dropped Gordon from 6-1 to 3-1 in odds to win the season championship. "With front runner Jeff Burton doing so poorly in all three races thus far and Gordon performing so well, we have Gordon as the odds-on favorite to win it all," said Terry.

Station Casinos will have the Winston Cup championship odds posted all the way until the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July. Terry says they’ll adjust accordingly as the season unfolds.

This week’s Cracker Barrel 500 in Atlanta has a different feel. This will be the first time in 45 races that all-time track money and win leader Dale Earnhardt will not be involved. Earnhardt managed 26 Top 5 finishes including nine wins. In his absence, there’s a long list of candidates to win at Atlanta.

The top performer in Atlanta other than Earnhardt has been Bobby Labonte (4-1). Labonte has won four times in Atlanta in 16 starts. The fast nature of the track has always been a staple in the maturation process of Bobby Labonte. The one constant during his career has been his success at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which some have dubbed Bobby Labonte Speedway.

There have been only seven starts during his career that Labonte hasn’t finished in the Top 5. He has been a Top 5 finisher in his last four starts. Though Labonte had a strong run at Rockingham two weeks ago, his poor Vegas performance raises several questions about the defending Champion. Labonte should overcome a slow start and compete extremely well for this race. The championship transformed Labonte into a cruise control driver, which means he’ll be finishing well without regard to wins. There is little doubt he’ll be looking for a win, but to win a second championship in a row, he must play the points game.

Jeff Gordon’s (9-2) win last week should give him and his team a boost of confidence coming into Atlanta. This is the track where Gordon made his Winston Cup debut at in 1992, the same race Richard Petty made his final start. He has three wins in Atlanta, the last in 1999.

The good news for Hendrick Motorsports is that they have a tremendous amount of resources. Gordon and teammate Jerry Nadeau (12-1) sat on the front row of last year’s season finale. Gordon had a strong fourth place finish, but Nadeau shook the NASCAR and betting world with his first career win.

Nadeau was a 50-1 shot to win the race and dominated every practice session and eventually the race. Little changes have been made for the Chevy teams, so expect both of those drivers to perform at an extremely high level this Sunday.

Sterling Marlin (18-1) is fast. His new Dodge Intrepid program has made him a contender again. He is the Winston Cup points leader and could have easily had two wins already.

Throughout practice at both Daytona and Las Vegas, Marlin was the most consistent. He rolls into a track that will let him unleash everything his Dodge has. With speeds reaching over 190 mph, we’ll get a true glimpse of what his Dodge has to offer. Chances are, he’ll have a good showing again.

Bill Elliott (30-1) has five career wins in Atlanta — but the last one came in 1992, when he swept the season. That was also the last season in which Elliott was any kind of factor in the Winston Cup points race.

After sagging in the standings due to managing every role of his team, he’s now just a driver. He has been competitive in every race and finds himself seventh in the standings. He still knows how to win in Atlanta and may finally have the resources again to do it.

Chevys have won every race thus far in the season. The Fords are all waiting for wind tunnel testing after this week’s race. Something is sure to change then because the Fords are a notch below everyone else. With that in mind, it might be wise to shy away from top Atlanta drivers such as Dale Jarrett (7-1), Mark Martin (8-1), and Jeff Burton (8-1).

The Chevys to look at, other than Hendrick’s, are from Dale Earnhardt Inc. Indications from last season’s performances at Charlotte, nearly identical to Atlanta, and Atlanta show they’ll be very strong this week. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8-1) and Steve Park (14-1) enjoyed a great deal of success on the 1.5-mile, 24-degree banked tracks. The experience of a new season and the obvious advantages the Chevys have make them a tandem to watch.

When Sterling Marlin was told after the race he was the most heavily bet driver, bucking the usual betting trend of fan favorites like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett jumped in and said, "What do you know,? The house wins again.", referring to the fact that Marlin didn’t win — meaning the sports books must have.

TOP 5 FINISH

Here is a prediction for this week’s race in Atlanta:

1. No. 24 Jeff Gordon (9-2)

2. No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8-1)

3. No. 40 Sterling Marlin (18-1)

4. No. 25 Jerry Nadeau (12-1)

5. No. 18 Bobby Labonte (4-1)