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NHRA returns to Las Vegas in Force

Mar 30, 2004 6:19 AM

The NHRA Powerade series roars into town again this week on "The Strip" at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The pure power and adrenaline rush you feel when these cars rip down the quarter-mile strip makes it the greatest spectator sport out there. Television, much like with hockey coverage, doesn’t do the sport justice. The rumble of the nitro Funny Cars and Top fuel dragsters are something you have to physically see to understand how great it is.

This weekend’s event will be the fifth season that the NHRA has come to Vegas. Without a doubt, it is one of the most successful stops on the tour for the NHRA. Since the race is in Las Vegas, the odds aspect also makes the Vegas NHRA stop unique. The track PA announcer and ESPN SportsWorld analysts all comment on the odds.

They use it as a fun barometer as to where a certain driver is expected finish. Everyone in the garages get a kick out of it. But for some fans, they’re ultra-serious about taking some of the sports books money.

The drivers we think are worth watching in Vegas include: Doug Kalitta (3-1 in Top Fuel),
Gary Scelzi (6-1, Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (7-5, Pro Stock).

Here are some top matchups as we posted at Stations Casinos.

Top Fuel:

Doug Kalitta (+130) vs Tony Schumacher (-160); Larry Dixon (+120) vs Brandon Bernstein (-150).

Funny Car:

Del Worsham (+110) vs John Force (-140); Jerry Toliver (even) vs Gary Scelzi (-130).

Pro Stock:

Kurt Johnson (+150) vs Greg Anderson (-180); Warren Johnson (even) vs Jeg Coughlin Jr (-130).

"Young Guns"

Six races into the Nextel Cup season, it’s apparent that NASCAR’s top division has been taken over by the "Young Guns." Madison Avenue has even picked up on the theme with Gillette razor blades running an entire campaign revolving around the "Young Guns" as their spokesmen.

All six races have been won by the new breed of drivers and it doesn’t appear to be anytime soon that an old guard driver will threaten. This week’s race at Texas is also another sign of the NASCAR future. This will be the eighth race run on the Speedway Motorsports track and is also partly responsible for the overall popularity of modern NASCAR.

Things really started to click for NASCAR on national level after the tracks of Texas, California, and Las Vegas opened. The track itself is similar to Atlanta and Charlotte. Since Atlanta has already run this year, there are a lot of good notes to go off of when dissecting the candidates to win.

The correlation between the sister tracks of Texas and Atlanta is the size, width, and banking. Atlanta is a bit faster, but only by 3 to 4 mph. Two years ago, five of the top 10 finishers at the spring Atlanta race finished in the top 10 at Texas that followed three weeks later. The fresh data and set-up notes along with the timing between the two races make it easy for teams to make necessary changes.

For Roush racing, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth were two of the five drivers that maintained their success over the three-week span. Kenseth was able to take his fourth place showing in Atlanta and turn it into a win at Texas.

Last year, four drivers finished in the top 10 in both the spring Atlanta race and later in Texas. Three were "Young Guns" with the other being Jeff Gordon. One of those drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr, won the Atlanta race this year and is a past Texas winner.

As a rookie in 2000, Junior won his first Cup race ever at Texas. It was one of the great moments in NASCAR history when his proud father ran out to congratulate him, showing more emotion than we all used to seeing from cool man in black. Junior still regards that race with his father there as one of his greatest moments.

We have seen Roush consistently win on similar tracks year after year. When Kenseth won at Las Vegas four weeks ago, it marked the fifth Roush win there in seven races. Overall at Texas, a Roush driver has won three of the seven Cup races held there. Look for Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Greg Biffle to be solid again this week.

Other drivers to take a look at this week include last year’s Texas winner, Ryan Newman, who finished fifth in Atlanta three weeks ago. Newman is a good candidate this week. Also doing very well in the Atlanta race was the duo of Kasey Kahne and Jeremy Mayfield, who finished second and third respectively.