We may be on to something big here in Las Vegas. Last Saturday night at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, an expected crowd of 35,000 turned into 70,000 to watch local driver Brendan Gaughan roll to his series leading fifth win of the season.
It was astonishing to see so many people show up for a Truck series race. Most of it can be attributed equally to the folks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the rise of Gaughan, who led the chase for the season title by 42 points. Gaughan was front page in the daily newspaper on the Friday and Saturday before the race. Another local driver, Kurt Busch, never got that type of hype when he drove in the truck series.
Gaughan was already a local celebrity before the season started due to his charisma and fun-loving good nature, not mention being the grandson of local gaming pioneer Jackie Gaughan and son of Coast Resorts President Michael Gaughan. Everybody loves Brendan -- noteworthy for a city that has shown time and again an inability to support a pro or college local team.
LVMS saw this as an opportunity to build on the attendance, so the start time was switched to 7:10 pm, against the wishes of NASCAR. Since the race was on the SPEED Channel and not ESPN the switch went off without problems. The later time slot showed the track that the locals will come in bunches if the lights are on and the sun is gone.
Saturday’s attendance will hold tremendous leverage in future negotiations to bring other events to the Speedway. Other than the big March weekend that features the NASCAR Busch and Winston Cup series, the Speedway hasn’t been too successful in getting fans to the track during the day.
The wagering on the Las Vegas 350 Truck series race was larger than it has ever been according to Boulder Station’s Kelly Airgood.
"The betting action was comparable to what we do for a better than average Winston Cup event," said Airgood. "The ticket count had the majority of the tickets on Gaughan at 3-1, with second choice Ted Musgrave coming in a distant second in counts."
This week’s NASCAR Winston Cup series event runs at Kansas Speedway, a track similar to Las Vegas. When looking for the top candidates to win this week, we must look at all the flat and wide cookie cutter ovals such as California, Michigan and Chicago.
Jeff Gordon (9-1) has won the only two races held at the Kansas facility. Currently sixth in the points standings, Gordon hasn’t been the usual dominant driver. His only win was the half-miler at Martinsville, though he has posted consecutive top 5 finishes at Dover and Talladega.
Ryan Newman (6-1) is the top candidate to win. Newman has seven wins this year and was runnerup to Gordon in both Kansas races.
Busch (8-1) had his first solid run last week in a stretch of five races since winning Bristol. It’s likely the pressures of sponsors, car owner Jack Roush, and his own personal pressure took some bite out of his tenacity due to the uproar between him and Jimmy Spencer (60-1). Thank goodness Dale Earnhardt Jr (10-1) took credit for taking out Elliott Sadler in the horrible end over end crash. Busch has four wins on the season and should be focused here.
Kevin Harvick (10-1) has been one of the hottest drivers since the halfway point of the season, but has one only win. Harvick won twice at Chicago and finished second to Newman in Michigan two months ago.
Traditionally, Roush Racing has been successful on all the new tracks. Jeff Burton (20-1), Mark Martin (20-1), Greg Biffle (30-1), and Matt Kenseth (12-1) will all be drivers to watch. Kenseth has a win this year at Las Vegas. Burton and Martin have multiple Busch and Cup wins at Vegas and California.