165,000 reasons Vegas loves NASCAR money

Feb 24, 2009 5:09 PM
Finish Line by Micah Roberts |

Amid all the sharp declines in business at the casinos, the city gets a shot of adrenaline with the annual NASCAR weekend beginning with Friday’s qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Vegas usually has several monster conventions a year along with the PBR and NFR rodeo events, but none has quite the impact for a single weekend as NASCAR weekend which generated an estimated $200 million in non-gaming revenue.

NASCAR fans come from all over the country to fill each and every one of the 165,000 available seats for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. The entire stock car racing community is feeling the crunch of the economic climate. While other tracks may feel tightening of fans’ wallets, Vegas should still thrive.

If you’ve cut down on family expenses, much of the trimming begins with travel. Many NASCAR fans go to several races a year, some not even using vacation time because several of the events in the South are close to each other.

However, it still costs money for the ticket, fuel, food, soft drinks and maybe even a few beers. Then you need money to buy all the new driver’s gear on Merchandise Row, which is lined with several trailers for each racer.

So the head of the family reviews expenses, the 2009 NASCAR schedule, the personal calendar and decides to attend one race. So it has to be a good one.

Bristol or Daytona comes to mind, but gets crossed off because if it’s only one race you better make that vacation money count. Getting the full feel of resort pampering with a party atmosphere along with a NASCAR race, Las Vegas will beat out any other track.

Vegas has the amenities no other track has. Bristol is a great race every time out, but having nearby Dollywood as the main entertainment source doesn’t quite match the array of Vegas entertainment.

Last week’s race at Fontana, California is a perfect example of what families are doing regarding travel plans and the races. The Auto Club 500 again had quite a few empty seats, and they only have 80,000 to fill. That’s very small compared to most other facilities.

Fontana has the distinction of being the race just before Vegas and the decision for most isn’t tough when weighing out the pros and cons of each. It makes me wonder how Fontana gets two races a year and Vegas only one?

The topic of interest for most of the teams this week will be how the new Speedway banking and surface treats them. Even with last year’s preseason testing, drivers were still a bit apprehensive going around the track.

There was uneasiness among drivers and several wicked crashes, most notably Jeff Gordon’s car disintegrating at full speed into an infield wall with no safety barriers. The barriers are in place this season, but there still was no preseason testing so less time to get comfortable with the track.

One driver with no trouble adjusting to the new surface last season was Roush Racing’s Carl Edwards. He came right off a win the week before in California and dominated the Vegas race.

Edwards became the fourth different Roush driver to win a Cup race at Vegas and was the Cat in the Hat’s sixth Vegas Cup win overall. If Vegas races were played at a blackjack table, the pit boss would kindly tell Jack Roush he’s too good and can no longer play table games at this casino. He’s that good in Vegas!

This year’s race will likely mirror what we saw last week in Fontana with all the usual suspects the top candidates to win. The stable of Roush drivers lead the pack, beginning with Matt Kenseth who will be attempting to win his third straight race to start the season.

Kenseth didn’t even win one race last season and now he is just pigging on everything in 2009. Greg Biffle likely had the best car in Fontana, but operator error on pit road cost him nine spots on the final pit stop. Edwards wasn’t as good as last year in Fontana, but was sneaky fast in the late going.

The duo of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon will be the top candidates to derail the Roush train. Gordon made a defining statement last week in California that he is ready to go in 2009 with a much more improved program on these type of tracks.

Like Kenseth, Gordon didn’t win a race in 2008. The two raced hard for the Cal win, with Gordon ultimately taking second. Gordon also is runnerup in points heading into Vegas. Johnson loves Vegas, having won here three straight times prior to last year.

The hometown Busch brothers haven’t done well here. Right now Kurt is having the most fun and worth a solid look at 20-1 or higher this week. Kurt is third in the points chase after a great run in California with the new Dodge Penske engine that performs faster on these tracks.

Kyle finished third in Fontana last week and battled all night with his car as he attempted to sweep all three Cal races (Truck Series, Nationwide, Sprint Cup) that weekend.

My sentimental choice to win is Kurt because I’m thrilled with his team’s discovery and improvements. A win in Vegas from the "Blue Deuce" would set off party bells at PT’s Pubs all over town. However, right now there are several better cars.

I think Gordon has to be the sentimental choice of the collective NASCAR Nation. He hasn’t won since Charlotte in 2007 and the fans have grown to appreciate him more because of those struggles. On the other hand, it would be pretty cool to see Kenseth start the year off with a trifecta.

Props and Futures

Because Las Vegas is the largest wagered race of the year, several sports books offer a wide array of propositions. These props make it easier to win than trying to pick one driver out of 43.

They are basically YES-NO props with only two options to wager on. Things like over-under lap leaders, drivers to finish on lead lap, cautions, winning car number, manufacturer to win, and head-to-head driver matchups can all be found at NASCAR friendly Sports Books like the Palms, Hilton and Station Casinos.

Because of all the out of state traffic and NASCAR specific fans, a large portion of the overall odds to win the 2009 Sprint Cup Championship will be wagered this weekend.

Fans have learned over time that they can mail their winning tickets in at the end of the season so they can have some action and rooting interest through all the races.

The Sprint Cup favorite at Station Casinos is 3-time current champion Jimmie Johnson at 4-1. It’s hard to bet the favorite because most like to bet in small portions with the possibility of big returns. Johnson, Edwards and Kyle Busch all have low odds as the favorites to win.

A nice long shot right now is Kurt Busch at 40-1. If his new engine runs like it did in California at similar tracks (Las Vegas, Atlanta, Texas, Charlotte) he’ll make the Chase for the Championship. Once that starts, he can points race and win like he did in the first ever Chase.