King Kenny roars in town

October 23, 2001 7:50 AM
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Two things are certain whenever the NHRA Winston drag racing circuit rolls through Las Vegas. It’s the only stop on tour that offers legal wagering on the events and The Bud King, Kenny Bernstein, owns Las Vegas.

This weekend’s AC Delco Las Vegas Nationals on the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be the second time they have visited this season and it comes at a crucial point; only two races left before the season finale at Pomona. That means there are several Championships at stake.

This is the third NHRA event held on the “Strip” and each of the two prior occasions, the wagering has been a hit with both the fans and teams. In April, Funny Car driver Jerry Toliver was so dissatisfied with not being able to put $10,000 on himself to win at 40-1 odds at Palace Station because the risk was too high, he mentioned his displeasure on ESPN and told the story.

Though he was only able to get a fraction of his attempted wager, it saved him money because he didn’t even qualify. In any other sport, a lifetime ban might be on the horizon with such talk. Heck, even Pete Rose only admitted to betting on his team. Most of the teams really get a kick out of the odds placed on the drivers.

Fans of the NHRA also enjoy it because it adds a new realm to spectatorship that has never existed. Station Casino’s properties are the only Sports Books in Las Vegas to offer the odds. 

In the Top Fuel division, Bernstein (5-2) has tasted nothing but success in Las Vegas. He has won the last two events on “The Strip” and in the process has put himself back on top. He is the current points leader on the season by the slimmest of margins over rival sponsor and driver, Larry Dixon (7-2), who drives for Miller Lite.

Both look to meet in the finals as they did last week in Texas where Dixon won, but looking on the outside is the season’s late charger, back to back defending top fuel champion Gary Scelzi (9-2). After a poor start on the season, Scelzi has climbed all the way to third in the standings.

Las Vegas has been waiting for 11 time Funny Car Champion John Force (5-2) to win on “The Strip”. After all, this is his kind of town with all the fast pace of glitz, nightlife, and girls. He clinched his 11th championship last week despite losing to his own teammate Gary Densham (15-1) in the finals. Overall, Force has 98 career wins and nothing would be sweeter for him than to close out the season with back to back wins giving him win number 100.

The toughest division to handicap is Pro Stock. The “Professor” Warren Johnson (9-5) is the strong favorite, but like Force, has yet to win at Vegas. 13 different drivers have won this season including Las Vegan George Marnell (22-1). The “Professor” leads all with 6 wins, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess as to who can win. Jeg Coughlin Jr (7-2) won in the spring.

On Thursday from 5 to 7pm, Santa Fe Station will welcome two- time champion Scelzi and Funny Car driver Bruce Sarver (6-1). Photos and free autographs for all ages will be allowed. All 3 major NASCAR series are in action this week at Phoenix International Raceway. Nestled in the heart of the Sonoran desert, this is one of the most unique and picturesque stops on tour.

This week has three co-favorites led by Ricky Rudd (5-1) who was well in control to win last year’s race before he got hit by lapped traffic with 10 laps to go.

Tony Stewart (5-1) comes fresh off his 2nd place battle at Talladega to something more suitable to his liking, a flat track that he has plenty of time and experience on.

Winston Cup points leader Jeff Gordon (5-1) is the other co-favorite. Others who have performed well  include Rusty Wallace (10-1), Bobby Hamilton (40-1), and last year’s winner Jeff Burton (14-1).

TOP 5 finish Prediction:

1) #28 Ricky Rudd (5/1)
2) #20 Tony Stewart (5/1)
3) #24 Jeff Gordon (5/1)
4) #99 Jeff Burton (14/1)
5) #2 Rusty Wallace (10/1)

AC Delco Las Vegas Nationals
Santa Fe Station Race and Sports
Sunday, October 21, 12:54 PM

ODDS TO WIN TOP FUEL: Kenny Bernstein 5/2; Larry Dixon 7/2; Gary Scelzi 9/2; Doug Kalitta 6/1; Tony Schumacher 7/1; Mike Dunn 8/1; Darrell Russell 12/1; Doug Herbert 15/1; David Grubnic 35/1; Rhonda Hartman-Smith 50/1; Field: (All Others) 35/1

ODDS TO WIN FUNNY CAR: John Force 5/2; Whit Bazemore 3/1; Ron Capps 5/1; Bruce Sarver 6/1; Tony Pedregon 8/1; Del Worsham 12/1; Tommy Johnson Jr 12/1; Gary Densham 15/1; Frank Pedregon 20/1; Jerry Toliver 20/1; Field: (All Others) 15/1

ODDS TO WIN PRO STOCK: Warren Johnson 9/5; Jeg Coughlin Jr 7/2; Jim Yates 5/1; Bruce Allen 6/1; Mark Osborne 6/1; Bruce Allen 8/1; Mike Edwards 10/1; Kurt Johnson 12/1; Ron Krisher 20/1; George Marnell 22/1; Field: (All Others) 6/1.