Vegas, Texas in hot pursuit for second race

Mar 25, 2003 2:51 AM

There is definitely one additional date, and possibly two, up for grabs to a speedway next year.

The likely victims of having a date pulled are Rockingham, Darlington, or Atlanta. Due to the weather, poor attendance, and the demand for racing West of the Mississippi, it is likely that both dates will be in the West.

Reliable sources say California Speedway, owned by NASCAR’s International Speedway Corporation, is almost guaranteed an additional date which leaves Las Vegas and Texas to battle for the expected second date. On paper, Texas appears to have the advantage because of 40,000 more sold out seats and nearly identical television ratings.

The advantage Las Vegas has is that the fans like visiting Vegas more. The only way that can have some pull with NASCAR is if the benefactors of the visitors, the Hotel and Casino Industry of Las Vegas, step up to the plate. The race brings in millions of dollars in revenue to the city beyond the actual race itself. Fans take their vacations and kill two birds with one stone when they come to Vegas. They can do a little gambling, get some spa treatment, eat at the best restaurants, and then go to the track. Where else on the circuit can that happen?

Nothing against Fort Worth, but when the city’s most famous incident is a Billy Martin brawl, it shouldn’t be able to compete with an International destination such Las Vegas for any type of event contingent upon consistent bodies flowing to that event.

The deciding factor likely will be money. If the casinos and city of Las Vegas can get together for the good of the local economy and gather enough funds, the second race weekend will be here. For the most part, the majority of the casinos buy only tickets and do little else on the sponsorship level, yet reap the rewards of what the track brings to the city.

Time is running out for Las Vegas. If a guaranteed soldout weekend sounds good and the rooms are filled with gamblers who like to party, call the track’s Executive Vice President Chris Powell and tell him how much Las Vegas wants the additional date and ask what can be done to help.

Coming into Sunday’s Texas race, Matt Kenseth has a commanding 138 point lead in the standings and is also the 8-1 favorite in the race. Kenseth won this race last year and continued Roush Racing’s trend on newer 1½ mile tracks. Roush drivers have won 3-of-6 Texas races. Jeff Burton (22-1) and Mark Martin (20-1) took the first two events at Texas. Throw in another new 1½ mile track like Las Vegas for measure and Roush has combined to win 7-of-12 races.

Vegas and Texas are only similar in size and width, but vastly different in the turns. The comparison not very applicable to anything except establishing Roush as tough to beat on these two tracks. Texas is more comparable to Atlanta or Charlotte due to the 24 degrees of banking in the turns.

Discussing anything relative to Atlanta has to start with Bobby Labonte (10-1) who won there for the sixth time four weeks ago. Over his career at Texas, the Corpus Christi native has finished third three times in six starts with four top-10 showings. The only driver with more top 10 finishes at Texas is older brother Terry (35-1), who has five times.

"Texas Terry" has claimed a victory as well at TMS, but that was in 1999. Last season’s 10th place Texas finish was his fourth best outing in what looks like a team on a serious decline. But, all of Terry’s top performances were at tracks where he typically does well.

For whatever reason, he seems to be able to turn on the motivation switch at certain places. Last week at Bristol, where Terry always runs well, was no different. The poor finish position was more a product of the racing environment, but the actual performance before he got whacked was very impressive.

Perhaps Terry will get together with his so-called teammates Jeff Gordon (9-1), Jimmie Johnson (11-1), and Joe Nemechek (28-1) and figure something out for his hometown race. If judging by Atlanta standards and past results, his teammates should do well.

Kurt Busch (9-1) is absolutely amazing. The Las Vegas resident has three second place finishes and a win last week at Bristol. On this high performance track, all will have their eyes on the engine program of Roush Racing. Other than Kenseth, every driver on the team has blown an engine.

Texas is the only track in existence since 2000 that Gordon hasn’t posted a victory. Gordon is 0-for-6 at Texas.

A driver to watch is Michael Waltrip (18-1), who performed surprisingly well at Vegas and has three top-5 finishes on the season.

NEXT WEEK: A preview of NHRA weekend at LVMS, focusing on the demise of John Force and how Bud King’s son Brandon Bernstein hasn’t missed a beat since taking over his father’s racing team.