Force could be with John at Vegas

Apr 2, 2002 10:52 AM

High octane Motorsports hits the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend as the NHRA Drag racing series has its fourth meet of the 2002 campaign.

The success that the series has achieved in Las Vegas was so successful in it’s inaugural appearance at the Strip, that the NHRA immediately added two dates. Each of the three events thus far has been a tremendous success, not only for the Finals on Sunday, but every day of qualifying.

The first day of qualifying may be the most exciting because it’s at night. The magical blue and yellow colors of the Âí­Nitro Flames produced when the drivers drop the hammer can be appreciated much more when the sun goes down. That first day also tells bettors which driver is the one to beat.

The first season, only Station Casinos properties and MGM carried the odds to win and match-ups for the top three classes. Now nearly every book in the city carries the odds. The lines have become the talk of all the touring media and teams when they arrive in the city.

Beyond the glitter and lights of Las Vegas that makes this stop so unique, the wagering aspect adds a little fuel to the competition.

The best Drag Racing wagering story in its brief two-year Las Vegas stint occurred last season when Funny Car driver Jerry Toliver found out about his odds during a press conference. It is said that he was steaming about his odds and that the 40-1 posting was somewhat of an insult to him.

The previous year, Toliver had nearly beat John Force for the Funny Car division title, but during the off-season lost his previous sponsorship along with all the high-priced privy perks such as a competitive engine.

Toliver had done poorly in the first two races of the season, but still felt 40-1 was too much to pass up. According to an ESPN report, he walked into Palace Station and wanted $10,000 on himself to win. They only gave him a portion of that amount, moved the odds and he bet it again.

The book was apparently right with those odds because Toliver failed to make the top 16 qualifiers and missed Sunday’s final round. Nevertheless, a classic tale that only Drag Racing and maybe the World Series of Poker can provide when a patron says give me 10 dimes on myself.

There are two underlying themes surrounding this year’s event. John Force (5-2) will be attempting to gain his NHRA record 100th career win this weekend. In three previous Vegas events, Force has failed to win. Look for Force and rival Whit Bazemore (6-1) to hook up again and play the staging game to each other's dismay.

The Bud King, Kenny Bernstein (3-1), had his career rejuvenated the first time he came to Las Vegas. Prior to his Vegas Top Fuel victory in 2000, Bernstein hadn’t won an event in almost two seasons. Lady Luck became a Bud King fan and Bernstein went on to win at Vegas again last season and capture his sixth season points championship of his career.

In three Las Vegas races, Bernstein has two wins, and a runner-up finish. Odds are he’ll be right there again.

“We’ll make a beeline to the windows,” Bernstein said. “We always do. I wouldn’t miss that chance again. The first time we came here for the inaugural race we passed up betting anything because it seemed silly. Then we turned around and won the race. I won’t let that happen again.”    

After a week off, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series gets back on track at the newly paved Texas Motor Speedway. All the drivers are talking about how fast it is and how much it resembles Charlotte and Atlanta.  If that’s the case, we’ll mix in a bit of current and past history while attempting to find the most qualified contenders to win this week.

Bobby Labonte (7-1) becomes a top choice only because of his past exploits at Texas, Charlotte, and Atlanta, not what he’s achieved this season. Until last season’s 42nd place finish, Labonte had finished third (three times) and eighth in his previous Texas starts. If we suggest that Texas is much faster now and those consistent stats don’t apply now, consider Labonte’s six combined wins at Charlotte and Atlanta.

It’s hard to conceive that Labonte would be struggling so much considering his teammate Tony Stewart has been capable of winning every race he’s entered. Look for things to turn for the Corpus Christi, Texas native this week.

During his short career, Kurt Busch (12-1) has been at his best on the 1½-mile tracks. This season, he’s been in every race with a chance to win. Two weeks ago at Bristol, of all places, he got his first career victory. Bristol, because of its tough nature, would be the last place most would think the Las Vegas native would get his first victory.

An educated guess based on Roush Racing and Busch’s trends would have him winning for the first time at a place like Texas. Last year, he amazed the entire circuit with a third place finish in his first race there as a Cup driver. This year, he won’t be sneaking up on anyone. He’s fifth in points and has the respect of everyone, except maybe Jimmy Spencer (25-1).

Is it possible a Chevy can win this season? Through the first six races, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo has been held out of the winners circle in record-setting fashion. The streak may be over Sunday.

Jeff Gordon’s (7-1) terrible career at Texas doesn’t lend to the likelihood that he’ll be the manufacturer slump buster Âí­either. This week’s favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (6-1), is the top candidate.

Junior sat on the pole last season and finished 8th. In his rookie season, he won his first career race at Texas in what he says is one of his most fondest memories of his career. NASCAR may have its own version of the Bud King this Sunday.


    Top Fuel finish prediction:
1.  Kenny Bernstein 3-1
2.   Larry Dixon   7-2
3.   Doug Kalitta   6-1
   Funny Car finish prediction: 
1. John Force 5-2
2.   Whit Bazemore   6-1
3.   Ron Capps   6-1

   Pro Stock finish prediction:

1. Tom Hammonds 8-1
2. George Marnell   7-2
3. Warren Johnson   4-1


1)   #8   Dale Earnhardt Jr.   6-1
2)   #18   Bobby Labonte   7-1
3)   #97   Kurt Busch   12-1
4)   #88   Dale Jarrett   7-1
5)   #40   Sterling Marlin   7-1