NASCAR still Vegas’ biggest show

Mar 2, 2010 5:08 PM
Finish Line by Micah Roberts |

Race draws 150,000 of my best friends

What an awesome spectacle it was in Las Vegas for the 13th annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Race. Everything from the pre-race ceremonies which included several bands that play on the Strip to the USAF Thunderbirds flying over multiple times made the day live up to the Vegas standard.

That Vegas standard is one that elevates the race over many others on tour just because of the vibe it creates. The race itself was somewhat slow and uneventful, but is that really why we go to the races?

Isn’t the NASCAR scene more about being with friends and having some drinks on a beautiful afternoon? On Sunday, I was with 150,000 of my closest friends and enjoyed every moment of it!

The day was absolutely glorious at a nice 60 degrees with the sun shining and a slight cool breeze.

NASCAR President Brian France was walking around the Neon Garage an hour before the race and had to be amazed by what he saw with all the fans being so close to the action, and presented in a way that no where else on tour does.

There aren’t too many tracks around where you’ll find Michael Jackson and Hannah Montana impersonators walking through the garages.

Jimmie Johnson won for the fourth time in Vegas, but he and his team deserved it. Jeff Gordon led for just about the entire race, but couldn’t hold on down the stretch thanks to some brilliant pit work by the No. 48 team who got Johnson out on their last pit stop with four tires and restarted fourth.

Jeff Gordon took only two tires and was a sitting duck while leading with 17 laps to go. The two teammates battled for many laps until Gordon finally gave way to the inevitable.

Many of the Las Vegas books did very well for the race just because the favorite won. Johnson closed at most books around 4 to 1. While he was still bet a lot by the public just because he is Superman, the action was much more brisk on several other drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Vegas Busch Brothers, all whom qualified very well.

The Kim Kardashian pink car touting her new perfume was driven by Mike Bliss and lasted only about 10 laps before needing a lift to the garage. Despite the early finish, that car got more publicity for the small fee they paid for the one race than any kind of print or television ad could have produced.

It’s too bad the weekend has come and gone so quickly and that fans all over the country, myself included, have to wait another year for the ultimate NASCAR experience again.

Casino Crowds Impressive

I walked around both the Strip and downtown Friday night to get a feel for the Vegas NASCAR vibe in both areas, picking up odds sheets at each place, and found downtown to be the most electric.

NASCAR fans were everywhere at both places, jamming the table games and bars everywhere, but the difference between the two is that downtown had been turned into a great outdoor party while the Strip was big enough to absorb the onslaught of people.

The Fremont Street experience had a Johnny Cash cover band playing much to the delight of everyone and drink specials lined the streets. It was like a mini-Bourbon or Beale street lined with 25,000 folks who were all there to do the same thing.

Best Vegas NASCAR odds

After accumulating all the sheets from most sports books around town the un-official "best of Vegas" goes to both the Las Vegas Hilton and the Golden Nugget.

The Hilton Super Book always has the fairest odds to win index in the city holding around 30% in theoretic hold compared to others who are around 40%. They also pumped out 30 driver match ups using a .20 cent line and offered 4-way group props that they allowed the public to parlay.

The Golden Nugget had the best array of proposition dealing with the race asking the public to bet things like the over-under on margin of victory, winning car number, team to have a better finish, will a Hendrick car win the race and many others.

The Speedway Cause

Las Vegas wants a second race and for the casinos around town to benefit, they should be the ones getting on board with the Speedway to assist in any way possible because it benefits them the most.

Casinos spend millions just trying to figure out a solid game plan within their marketing to get people in their doors and occupy seats on the slots and table games. For the last 13 years of NASCAR Cup events, there has been little support by the casinos to assist with the track.

The Boyd Group and South Point have done their share, but the industry leaders have been non-existent from a sponsorship basis throughout, yet have gained all the additional revenues that the race brings in each year to their properties while not having to market anything.

It would seem like a good marketing plan to get another full weekend of play in the fall with having another race. In non-gaming revenue alone, the race brings $150 million to the city for each weekend which makes you wonder what kind of revenue the casinos takes in on gaming.

Support from the hotels would not be the final say in Vegas getting an additional race, but should the track and it’s parent company, Speedway Motorsports, know that they had the Vegas industry on board, they would be able to maneuver more and better hatch a plan to get the ball rolling and bring another one to Vegas.

It’s likely that SMI would have to take one of their existing races to move it here, rather than the easy move of taking one of the far the less-attended California races and moving it here.

Hot-lanta This Week

After two weeks of west coast action, the Cup series rolls back to a more traditional setting in Atlanta this week. The last two weeks of races give us a great barometer to read who should do well this week.

The banking is a little steeper than Vegas and much greater than California, but the horsepower required to run well at for each those tracks is the same needed for this week. Jimmie Johnson has captured the last two races as the favorite, but we have seen a few teams exhibit the needed strength to slay the Mighty Johnson.

The main contender chasing Johnson for wins is the Childress group led by series points leader Kevin Harvick who finished second last week. Not far behind are Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton, who are all in the top-10 in points after three races. Pretty good stuff thus far from the trio who all didn’t make the Chase for the Championship last season after all made it in 2008.

The Fenway-Roush trio of Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards showed some life in Sunday’s race making it two straight good races on tracks they used to dominate on. All three are in the top-10 in points and could be knocking on the door real soon on these type of tracks. Of the three, only Edwards has actually won in Atlanta, sweeping the 2005 season. Look for good runs again this week and finally being able to trust these guys in betting driver match ups.

Jeff Gordon is a four-time winner on the track with his last coming in 2003. Should he bring his same car from Vegas, which is possible, he could be looking at win number five this week.

Mark Martin is a two-time winner on the track with his last coming in 1994. He currently sits third in points and is a candidate to win on these type of tracks every time out.

We are going to have to start paying attention to Joey Logano after his great finishes the last two weeks. The kid is driving smart, staying out of trouble and maximizing the quality goods that Joe Gibbs Racing gives. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him win a race on this type of track real soon.

Las Vegas Kurt Busch had a great week going last week in Vegas by sitting on the pole and was a solid candidate to win based on the chassis he brought, which was the same car that dominated this Atlanta race last season. Busch got stuck in nowhere land early in the race when he got involved in the Juan Montoya wreck and finished 35th. Look for Busch to rebound this week, especially if he brings the same car which wasn’t damaged too much.

Kyle Busch looks like he’s ready to step out this week and get his first win. It will be tough with all those great cars ahead from the Hendrick and Childress stables, but there was enough indication through the Vegas practices to suggest he’s close.

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