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Record Daytona handle sets up Las Vegas hype

Feb 18, 2003 8:04 AM

Last Sunday’s Daytona 500 will most likely be the second largest handle of the year for an individual race. The largest figures to be the Las Vegas NASCAR race weekend at the beginning of March.

Most books are reporting a winning day since one of the favorites, Michael Waltrip, won the Great American Race.

"It was the most we’ve ever handled for the Daytona 500," says Boulder Station’s Kelly Airgood. "I think much of that can be attributed to the tremendous buzz surrounding the race because of the Speed Weeks success of Dale Earnhardt Jr."

Junior was the most heavily wagered driver to win the race at odds ranging from 5-1 to 9-5. Little E has always had a great following, but was on the verge of pulling off an unprecedented feat at Daytona by winning the Bud Shootout, Twin 125 qualifier, Busch race, and then the 500.

"Even when it was apparent that he wasn’t going to win, he still made a most decisive impact of the race by helping Waltrip to the front," Airgood said. "What a phenomenal team they are on super speedways."

The tandem of Junior and Waltrip have now won seven of the last nine super speedway races.

This weekend the series moves on to Rockingham, N.C. "The Rock" has been a difficult track to figure out. Its surface is one the most abrasive on the circuit. Tires get wear and tear on them quicker than most, which gets the bettor highly irritated after dissecting all the information to determine the fastest car.

There are other difficulties in figuring out Rockingham. Recent history shows no developed patterns. At most tracks, such as recent Daytona races, patterns develop that can give the bettor more of an educated guess.

Longshots have won the last four races at Rockingham. Steve Park (30-1) won this race immediately following the death of his friend and car owner, Dale Earnhardt in 2001. Joe Nemechek (35-1) captured the fall 2001 race.

Matt Kenseth (20-1) started his assault on the Winston Cup circuit by winning this race last February, the first of a series-leading five wins.

Johnny Benson (40-1) won for the first time in his career in the fall 2002 race.

The one constant throughout recent history has been the success of Roush racing. The stable of Roush’s five drivers have all had excellent success at "The Rock." Kenseth broke into the win category, joining teammates Jeff Burton (14-1) and Mark Martin (15-1) as past winners. Kenseth has three straight Top-10 finishes there.

Burton has come across some unexplainable tough times over the last few years but is still one of the most consistent drivers. In 18 career starts, Burton has eight top 5 finishes, including a sixth and fourth last season. Martin, a two-time winner at Rockingham, has 11 Top 5 finishes in 33 career starts.

Despite all of the achievements Burton, Martin, and Kenseth have accomplished, the ace in the hole may be Kurt Busch (10-1). The Las Vegas driver was third in his last Rockingham start. Busch’s other performances don’t appear great on paper, but the way his practice runs and solid laps when not in trouble should be encouraging his supporters.

The fifth installment of the Roush Cup gang is Greg Biffle who, at 35-1 was strong at the "The Rock" during his stint in the Busch Series. Biffle finished second in both races last season.

Tony Stewart (5-1) has never won at Rockingham, but since the start of his career in 1999, no one has been better. The defending Winston Cup points champ has averaged eighth during that time. Stewart’s teammate, Bobby Labonte (15-1), captured a win in 2000 and last season had his best combined run of all the tracks that run two races.

Look for Labonte to have good run a get over a dissapointing Daytona.

The two active all-time win leaders at the track are Rusty Wallace (12-1) with five and Jeff Gordon (6-1) with four. Gordon has not won there since 1998, while Wallace hasn’t done it since 1994.