NASCAR rolls into Las Vegas

Feb 23, 2010 5:07 PM
Finish Line by Micah Roberts |

Field could be best ever

What a weekend this is going to be in Las Vegas. We have the boys, and now girls, of NASCAR rolling in for what will be the 13th visit by the top series in what should be the most competitive and interesting races ever held here.

At no juncture since the series has been coming to Vegas has there looked to be so much parity with a legitimate case being able to be made for about 20 different drivers to win.

On top of all the actual racing going on, we get to witness Danica Patrick make her Las Vegas headlining debut. Move over Holly Madison, it’s Danica’s town this week.

After watching all the events last week in California, especially the re-emergence of Richard Childress Racing and Ganassi-Earnhardt Racing, there is reason to believe this could be not only a wide open race this week, but also for the entire year.

We always expect Hendrick Motorsports to do well, and they did last week with Jimmie Johnson winning and Mark Martin in tow, but where did Scott Speed and Sam Hornish Jr. come from? Are they really ready to compete for top-10’s on down-force tracks?

What we saw last week and how those cars handled on the 2-mile moderately banked California track is a great indicator of what we’ll see all season on the 1½-mile high banked tracks like the one in Las Vegas.

In just about every instance of the eventual champion winning the title, these type of tracks, like the sister tracks of Atlanta, Charlotte, Texas, and Vegas, are where they are won from. It’s been a long time since the best feature of a driver’s style was winning restrictor plate races, and short track or road course specialists haven’t won a title lately either.

This is the track that makes it happen. Do good here and you’ll do well at others like it.

Last week, of the top-11 finishers, seven were from different multi-car teams. The team that had won five spring California races in a row, Fenway-Roush racing, barely made the list. It appears with many of the teams under the same umbrella of manufacturers and using the same engines, a broader amount of teams are getting the financing available to get their cars set up well enough to be competitive.

Maybe this is the newer, more improved NASCAR in which everyone can be competitive instead of just Johnson. Last week Johnson had about as good a car as he’s ever had for any race and he needed to get some luck and could barely hold on against two cars that were part of an organization that didn’t even make the chase last season.

Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer all finished in the top-10 last week and all could have won if they didn’t run into some pit road issues with speeding. Their cars actually looked better than Johnson’s at times.

Though Childress has never won in Las Vegas, Burton has. While at Roush racing, Burton won two in a row beginning with the track’s second ever race. Last season, even in a down year, Burton finished third and the year before he came home fifth.

Can he do it again, sure he can, but he definitely won’t be getting the sweet 35 to 1 odds. That cat is out of the bag. He won’t be sneaking up on anyone.

While the odds drop on the Childress drivers this week and beyond, it’s reasonable to expect that the odds on many of the other favorites would increase, right? If we’ve taken a pool where there are 12 drivers within odds of 15 to 1 or less and added three more to that pool, well, then the favorite shouldn’t be lower than 5 to 1, no?

Jimmie Johnson will be that favorite this week, but what exactly his odds will be are sure to vary at each book as they do a theoretic hold analysis on the odds to win index.

Johnson won three straight times in Vegas from 2005-07 but was very mediocre the last two years where he went with a trend of starting slow. That trend is done as he won his fifth California race, but the first there since his rookie year in 2002.

Expect to see the Childress drivers duke it out with Johnson and Martin again this week with Kyle and Kurt Busch trying to join the party.

Hang In There Danica

I noticed at the race last Saturday in Fontana that Danica Patrick was a little upset following her 31st place finish. She stormed out of her car, refused interviews, refused autographs and left the track without virtually a word to anyone including her team.

She has a ton of pressure on her, mostly from herself, and the fans want to love her, but she could be going in the wrong direction fast with a regular occurrence of shunning the fans. Fans will wear shirts of just about any driver regardless if they win or not, they just want someone to call their own and root for.

The success will come. Face it, it’s hard for all the open wheel drivers to do well in their first years. Look at Sam Hornish Jr. still struggling in the Cup series. Juan Pablo Montoya is just getting into his groove and he won at Monaco … that’s Monaco, and he’s still searching.

The fans are what make NASCAR great, Danica. Let them take care of you and show you that they have your back.

Fontana should be Axed

There seemed to be only 50,000 in the stands for last Sunday’s Cup race, held in a place that holds 80,000. How does this track keep two dates when Vegas only has one?

Nobody in Los Angeles cares about auto racing and those that do don’t want to go to Fontana. It’s like trying to get a buddy in Vegas and say, "Let’s go to Baker for a few hours and hang out."

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Micah Roberts