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Championship road pointing to Johnson, for now

Oct 8, 2002 5:27 AM

Six races are remaining in the NASCAR season and nothing is settled.

The chase for the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup took another twist last week at Talladega where three of the top four contenders slid dramatically in the standings.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson tangled up with second place Mark Martin before the green flag even dropped as Martin attempted to warm up his tires. Both front-runners were set back a lap.

Fourth place contender Jeff Gordon was ultra fast for the first half of the race, but retired late and finished 42nd. Gordon lost three positions in the standings and fell to seventh, 201 points behind new leader Tony Stewart.

Prior to the Talladega race, Stewart was a co-favorite for the championship at 2-1 with Johnson. Stewart dipped to a prohibitive -180 favorite following last Sunday’s events.

"I’ve thought all along that it was Gordon’s title to be taken," says Mandalay Bay’s Hugh Citron. "Now I guess you could say with Stewart’s favorable tracks coming up and him having the lead, that it has been taken away and he’ll be tough to catch."

Stewart has been tremendous down the stretch in his three seasons on the NASCAR circuit. However, there are several drivers well within reach.

Mark Martin (5-1) is second in points, 72 behind. Martin traditionally has been a top performer in upcoming races at Rockingham and Charlotte. The only thing he has going against him is his past failures.

Johnson (5-2) is 82 points behind in third and will be the driver to beat at both Atlanta and Charlotte. He dominated all time trials at both tracks in the spring and probably should have won the Coca-Cola if it weren’t for a few rookie mistakes made.

Ryan Newman (8-1) is fourth, trailing by 137. Newman is perhaps the best value on the board, according to the Palms’ Fred Crespi.

"Going strictly on trends with the championship, the last six titles have been given to the driver with the most top five finishes on the season," Crespi said.

Newman currently has 14 top fives to lead everyone, one more than Stewart. He’s going into tracks that he’s seen before and done very well at.

Rusty Wallace (8-1) is fifth, 147 back. Wallace is the only driver among the top 13 that doesn’t have a win. He also has least amount of top five finishes. However, Wallace has stayed consistent.

Jeff Gordon (12-1) is seventh in points, 201 behind. The Talladega finish may have sealed Gordon’s fate. He crumbled again in a gap-closing situation. The variable that still makes Gordon attractive is that everyone knows he has the ability to win every race remaining. At 12-1, he’s a good risk to take.

Atlanta, traditionally the site of the season finale, switched dates with Miami. This week’s race at Charlotte will be pivotal. Look for the Jack Roush clan to do well along with the rookies of Johnson and Newman.

Stewart will be one to watch, but having the lead for the first time of his career may cause him to become conservative.

Gaughan back at LVMS

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series hits the Las Vegas Motor Speedway this Sunday at 2 p.m. Local favorite Brendan Gaughan (9-2) is the odds-on favorite to win this race.

Gaughan’s steady progression and success throughout all forms of racing has made him one of the most sought-after drivers in NASCAR. The son of Coast Resorts president, Michael Gaughan, and former Georgetown basketball player will have everyone in attendance rooting for him.

Don’t be surprised to see him move up the ranks after only one full season in the trucks. Station Casinos are the only books to have odds and matchups posted for this event.

Crespi has offered a full menu of wagering options for NASCAR. Crespi, formerly the boss at Sunset Station, has brought his auto racing knowledge to his new residence.

He has been posting 20 matchups a week and offering a larger odds to win chart similar to Stations.

"There are basically only three different lines out there, Stations, Sports Consultants, and ours and we want to make our house a stop for NASCAR enthusiasts in their search of getting the best odds on the driver they like."