NASCAR hits Vegas for the first of two races in 2018

NASCAR hits Vegas for the first of two races in 2018

February 27, 2018 3:03 AM

The greatest touring show in the U.S. roars through Las Vegas this weekend, the third stop on the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule. It’s the 21st straight season the Cup Series has put on a show at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but it’s the first time the city can say Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 is the first of two Cup races on the season.

It’s about time. Last year’s Vegas Cup weekend had $191 million worth of economic impact to the city, and it’s been as high as $240 million in the past, so getting two races is going to be a huge boost for the entire town. The second race, The South Point 400, will kick off the Playoffs on Sept. 16.

The typical NASCAR fan has a larger worth to the casino than the average visitor. They’ve come to Las Vegas to see NASCAR as an excuse to let loose, party and gamble a little – and they come flush with cash, too. It reflects in the ledgers every time they leave. They also tip well, which the bartenders, waiters, bellmen and dealers very much appreciate.

It’s a new era for NASCAR in Vegas and in general with so many new drivers starting, while also saying goodbye to some of the biggest names in the sport the past two seasons. Matt Kenseth won at Las Vegas three times and retired after last season. Two-time Vegas winner Carl Edwards left the sport after the 2016 season, and so did 2012 Vegas winner Tony Stewart and 2001 winner Jeff Gordon.

Sunday’s race will also be the largest wagered of the season for Las Vegas sportsbooks, and the second-most bet – The Daytona 500 isn’t even close. It’s about four-times more action for the Vegas race, which has only been open for wagering the week of the race compared to the long shelf life of Daytona odds that were first posted in December.

There are a lot more people in town specifically to bet the race coupled with the sportsbooks also increasing the wagering menu by offering props they don’t offer in other races. They stick their necks out for the business, and sometimes a bit too far because sharp NASCAR bettors find plenty of errors with the props.

You want to bet a few drivers to win and a few match-ups, but do some homework first. Don’t simply bet your favorite driver. There are only 22 that have a legitimate chance of winning so don’t be that guy who bets Cole Whitt at 500-to-1 because “anything can happen.” This isn’t Daytona where maybe 35 drivers could win and all cars were equal. The 1.5-mile Las Vegas layout is conquered by the elite teams every year.

Check out the results from last week at Atlanta, the 1.5-mile sister track of LVMS. For the second straight year Kevin Harvick dominated. He led more laps last season, but Sunday’s run was an epic performance. He was using chassis that won at Texas in November and was unmatched. On one fuel run he had to start from the rear of the lead lap cars, about 18 ahead of him, and within 40 laps had retaken the lead.

Harvick won at Las Vegas in 2015, but that was Chevy. Last season, his first driving a Ford, he was involved in an accident and finished 38th at Las Vegas, a week after leading 292 of 325 laps at Atlanta. Who knows how good Harvick would have been in that race. In 17 career LVMS starts he has a 14.8 average finish and has led 224 laps.

What’s more important with Harvick for this race is how he finished the playoffs on 1.5-mile tracks. He had top-fives in four of the five races on 1.5s. Not much changed on the cars from last season and then he goes and does what he did Sunday at Atlanta.

It wasn’t only Harvick that was good, the entire Stewart Haas Racing team with Clint Bowyer (3rd), Kurt Busch (8th) and Aric Almiorla (13th) all showed speed over the weekend. Then there was everyone else. Two-time Vegas winner Brad Keselowski had his Penske Ford dialed in and finished second and his teammates fared well too. Joey Logano was sixth and Ryan Blaney was 12th.

The Joe Gibbs Toyota was strong as well with Denny Hamlin (4th), Kyle Busch (7th), Eric Jones (11th) and Daniel Suarez (15th) looking just as good as they did in the playoffs on these tracks. Gibbs affiliate driver Martin Truex won at Las Vegas last season. He won on seven of the eleven 1.5-mile tracks last on his way to the season championship. He was fifth Sunday at Atlanta.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention a single Chevy driver. They were all junk at Atlanta. The new Camaro body design looks sweet, but it’s certainly a downgrade on these tracks compared to the SS Chevy used last season. Kyle Larson was the best Chevy finisher at Atlanta with ninth-place followed by Chase Elliott.

The positive for the Chevy drivers this week is four weeks ago they were fastest in all four sessions during two days of testing at LVMS. Larson was fastest in three of them and rookie William Byron was fastest in the other.

I’m sticking with Harvick. He’s one of the eldest drivers in the circuit now at 42, which I like. He’s also from Bakersfield, California, just like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, which I like. It seems like yesterday I saw him win the Winston West Series Championship in 1998. Two weeks after making his Cup debut in 2001, he got married in Las Vegas during race week. Wednesday is Kevin and Delana Harvick’s 18th anniversary.