This season’s Las Vegas NASCAR Winston Cup race has all the makings of a great homecoming story. Las Vegan Kurt Busch (7-1) comes in as the favorite to win this Sunday’s UAW-GM Daimler-Chrysler 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and based on Busch’s brief Winston Cup racing history, he just may win on his home track.
Most drivers hail from North Carolina or Virginia, where they have several opportunities to win on one of the many tracks in their home states. But in the relatively new racing environment on the West Coast, it’s rare that a local driver has a legitimate opportunity to win at places like Fontana, Sonoma, Phoenix, or Las Vegas.
Last season, Jimmie Johnson (10-1), who raced at El Cajon Speedway in Southern California, won at Fontana for his first career victory. Jeff Gordon (8-1), who grew up in Vallejo, has won three times at nearby Sonoma.
Phoenix and Las Vegas haven’t had anyone call their tracks home, until Kurt Busch came onto the scene three years ago.
Busch has become the type of new breed driver that car owners across the circuit search for. He’s aggressive, passionate about racing, and best of all, willing to learn.
Having Jack Roush in his corner has given Busch the tools to go along with his natural skills that have made him the hottest driver in NASCAR over the last seven races dating back to last year.
Roush is doing everything possible to turn Busch into the best driver he can be. Before the season started, Roush sent Busch to a management training seminar to help improve his image and public perception in hopes of making him the perfect well rounded champion on and off the track.
Busch’s opportunity to succeed at Las Vegas goes beyond what Busch himself has ever done at his home track. The pedigree of Roush excellence on the relatively flat 1.5 mile track is unmatched. Roush drivers have won three of the five races held in Las Vegas. The Roush set-up has made Busch’s teammates Jeff Burton (14-1) and Mark Martin (12-1) the top two most successful drivers in Las Vegas’ brief history.
All the wealth of information gained from Burton and Martin over the years has helped make Busch one of the top drivers on tour. The last flat 1.5 mile track that Busch competed on was the season finale in Miami last season where he won the pole and race in dominating fashion en route to finishing second in points on the season.
Currently, Busch finds himself the leader in points after two races and could be on his way to a championship in only his third full year which would put him in select company with likes of NASCAR legends Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. It would also give Jack Roush his first illusive championship as an owner.
Roush has finished second in points at the end of a season four times, including last year, with Mark Martin piloting one of his Fords. Martin won the inaugural Vegas race in 1998 and is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in all five Vegas races.
In Martin’s resurgent 2002 season, he finished third in Las Vegas, a sign of good things to come for the remainder Martin’s season. Look for the Vegas consistency to continue again for Martin.
Jeff Burton is a two-time winner at Las Vegas and is the track’s all-time money winner. His past history has been outstanding, but it’s apparent over the last two seasons that Burton’s crew isn’t working with same tools that made them finish in the top 5 in points during a four-year stretch. For whatever reason, Busch, Martin, and their other teammate Matt Kenseth (20-1) have been given the top of the line Roush technology.
Not coincidentally, over that same two year period Mr. Las Vegas, Jeff Burton, has been less than spectacular at the track that he virtually owned.
Two other prominent
teams should make their presence felt this weekend in Vegas as well.
The Hendrick program, particularly Jeff Gordon (8-1) and Jimmie Johnson (10-1), tested very well during an early February Las Vegas session. After three consecutive poor outings for Gordon in Vegas, he broke through with a win in 2001. Last year, however, was a different story. Gordon was never a factor and finished 17th.
Johnson opened the eyes of everyone last season after finishing 6th and even led a few laps late in the race. His performance was a prelude of sorts of what was in store for the rookie. Look for each of these drivers to have solid performances.
The Penske team of Ryan Newman (7-1) and Rusty Wallace (18-1) are extremely happy with their new Dodges. Newman comes in as the co-favorite because of his performances on all the cookie cutter tracks. As with Johnson, Las Vegas was a coming out party for Newman. He started 2nd and finished 4th. He would later post several similar stats in California, Michigan, Chicago, and Kansas, which are all wide open tracks that give the drivers plenty of room and let the horsepower take care of the driver.
Look for the "Young Guns" to perform well this week.
TOP 5 Las Vegas Finish Prediction:
1) #97 Kurt Busch (7-1)
2) #12 Ryan Newman (7-1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (10-1)
4) #6 Mark Martin (12-1)
5) #17 Matt Kenseth (20-1)
With the race in Las Vegas, most of the sports books around the city will treat the event somewhat like the Super Bowl meaning you will see several betting propositions that aren’t available on a weekly basis.
"The volume for this particular race is greater than any auto racing event all season by far," says Green Valley Ranch Station Casino’s Kelly Downey. "So we want to treat it as a special event and create several more propositions like we would for any major sporting event that warrants and creates public interest."
Station Casinos’ sports books carry a wide array of weekly props and match-ups on a weekly basis, but they are adding a few more this week.
"We always carry the match-ups, cautions, and lap leaders props, but for Vegas we definitely took it up a little bit," says Downey. "Some of the fresher ones we have are a qualifying prop asking where Ryan Newman will qualify and also a provisional prop asking whether Terry Labonte will have to use one to race on Sunday."
The Palms is another local book that offers an assortment of weekly NASCAR props. "We put together a few things like a manufacturer exacta proposition, " explains Palms Supervisor Jeff Sherman, "You can pick the exact 1-2 finish of manufacturers like Ford-Ford or Dodge-Ford and so on."
"Some of the other things we did was an over-under on drivers finishes. We put Dale Earnhardt Jr at 9Â½, meaning if you like him to finish 1st through 9th, you’d bet the under."