by Micah Roberts
All Las Vegas does is add the glitter and lights to already fantastic event. It dresses up the event like the perfect present wrapped by a department store. Mix in the Neon Garage of Las Vegas Motor Speedway which has become like a Disneyworld of the Auto Racing world and there aren’t many better places for the fans to watch a race, all 150,000.
It’s a mystery how Vegas still only has one race a season while Fontana has two, not just from the capacity aspect, but obviously by what the fans have shown. Aren’t we in the new age of NASCAR where they are listening to what the fans say and react accordingly? Not sure there is a better example of fans saying what’s on their mind than 55,000 showing up for a race that seats 80,000 outisde of the biggest Metropolis' in America.
"I love this city. It's probably my favorite place we go, says Mark Martin who won the inaugural event in 1998, “I don't know what it is, because I'm not a real 'go-out' kind of guy. But the atmosphere is so great here. You can do anything at any time of day. It's open 24 hours. There are shows and great food. It's just an exciting place to be."
For Kevin and DeLana Harvick, they will be celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary on Sunday. The couple got married in Las Vegas in 2001, two days prior to Harvick scoring his first career NASCAR Cup Series top-10 finish, an 8th-place finish in Vegas. The couple will celebrate by having dinner at the same local restaurant they visit each year, a tradition that began on their first anniversary.
Beyond all the spas, nightlife, and great dining, the racing has also been pretty good, especially since the track reconfigured the banking to make the track run more like the SMI sister-tracks of Charlotte, Atlanta, and Texas giving it a faster edge compared to the relatively flat banking it used to have that had no real drama at the end of races, just lots of long green flag runs.
“Vegas is a fast track, much more like Charlotte since they made the changes to the track a few years ago. It’s unique in that the transitions are different than other intermediates but you get really close racing,” Denny Hamlin said.
“The track changes over the course of the race so the driver can usually find a place where the car works. It’s a fun track and I think the fans get a good show.”
Last weeks race at California was good from the stand point that it showed us all who was going to be real good at the horsepower required down force tracks. We knew Martin and Jimmie Johnson would be good coming in to that race, but the real surprise was the trio of Richard Childress cars who flexed their muscles under the hood all day.
It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see any one of the Childress cars win last week after seeing them in practice consistently putting up good times in both average speeds and single lap times.
All of that power from last week should carry over into Las Vegas this week. Harvick and Jeff Burton will be bringing in brand chassis’ this week while Clint Bowyer will be using his car that raced at Indianapolis and Kansas.
It’s a little bit of a gamble to make a wager on a driver using a first time car without seeing it practice, but hey, this is Vegas! Burton is listed at 15 to 1 at the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book. Based on the complete change his entire team has made along with his past success, nearly tasting victory last week, Burton looks pretty live this week.
Harvick has two top-5 finishes on the track over his career along with four other top-13 finishes. His new chassis shouldn’t be too much of a concern either because everything Childress has put into the No. 29 car since the Chase started last season has been pretty good.
Harvick is a free-agent next year and despite rumors of the Childress-Harvick relationship being strained, winning cures a lot of that. By giving Harvick the goods as Childress has done, and not letting him languish in a jalopy like some owners do with lame-duck drivers, it shows that Childress wants him to do well and keep him.
Look for Harvick and Burton to both have great runs Sunday with Bowyer a little behind but still in the top-10.
This season they came out swinging early with the win last week. Whether it was luck or not, the reality is that Johnson had one of the best cars in practice that was well deserving of the win. He also had used a proven winning car from the 2009 season. This week Johnson will be using a brand new chassis which could give reason to pick against him, at least until we some practice times.
Denny Hamlin has quietly put together a pretty good Vegas resume in his four races that has him averaging an 11th-place finish with a best run of third in 2007. Hamlin, looking to build on some kind of success early on after having two poor runs to start the year, has brought in his best handling chassis from his garage.
The choice is a little curious because they don’t seem to correlate, but the bottom line is wins. He’ll be using his winning rides from Pocono and Martinsville this week. The wins alone are something to take serious notice of and make him a solid candidate to win.
Mark Martin has nine top-10 finishes in Las Vegas. His 40th-place finish last season was more a matter of him getting familiar with his new team and we see how that eventually turned out. Martin will contend for the win again this week. He’ll be using his chassis that finished fourth at Texas last season.
Joey Logano may have officially turned the corner as a top flight Cup series driver. He’s got a year under his belt, a nice feud going with Greg Biffle, and a great support system that will give him good rides on a weekly basis. It looks like he’s going to be in contention for wins and we’ll talking much more about him weekly. This week he’s bringing his car that finished 14th at Richmond and 12th at Martinsville.
Montoya has brought his car from Miami last season that ran well but was involved in a mid-race incident. McMurray will be using his chassis from last years runs at Atlanta, Texas, and Miami where he had a best finish of 9th-place at Miami among the three.
The power Montoya showed last year throughout the season is still fresh on my mind and until I see otherwise for a duration of time, I will continue to believe that he is a contender on these type of tracks. For McMurray, his only non-restrictor plate win of his career came on a track like this in Charlotte while subbing as a driver for Chip Ganassi.
Dale Earnhardt Jr had a tough week in California. We found out that his stuff wasn’t as a good as Martin’s, who they share a garage with at Hendrick Motorsports. He looked almost exactly like the Junior we saw being led by Tony Eury Jr before eventually making the change to Lance McGrew.
This week he’ll be bringing in the first chassis McGrew completely built himself, with no Eury Jr fingerprints on it, and it‘s a pretty good one. He ran this car last year at Texas and was running sixth but a late race desperation fuel gamble didn’t payoff making the finish look worse than it should be with a 25th-place finish. He needs a good race here!
We don’t have any mentions of Fenway-Roush Racing’s drivers yet despite having six of the 12 wins on the track. We indirectly talked about older Roush drivers like Martin and Burton who combined to win three of those, but no Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth who are all within the top-8 of all-time performers in Vegas.
Kyle Busch will be looking for his third straight Vegas pole and second straight Vegas win. The folks at the Hard Rock Hotel are still talking about the party he threw his teams last season after winning. Last week he got better as the race went on and showed a lot of patience by taking what the car would give, a sign that he may be ready to unseat Johnson this year as the champ. It’s a long season, and he loves to win as many as he can, but I think he learned a valuable lesson of how to miss the chase last season.
TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #31 Jeff Burton (15/1)
2) #5 Mark Martin (7/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (8/1)
4) #29 Kevin Harvick (15/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (9/2)
Odds courtesy of the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book
LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2010
JIMMIE JOHNSON 9-2
MARK MARTIN 7
JEFF GORDON 10
KYLE BUSCH 8
DENNY HAMLIN 12
JUAN MONTOYA 15
TONY STEWART 12
CARL EDWARDS 18
GREG BIFFLE 15
KURT BUSCH 18
KEVIN HARVICK 15
JEFF BURTON 15
BRIAN VICKERS 25
MATT KENSETH 20
DALE EARNHARDT JR 30
JOEY LOGANO 40
RYAN NEWMAN 30
MARTIN TRUEX JR 60
DAVID REUTIMANN 60
JAMIE McMURRAY 60
DAVID RAGAN 75
BRAD KESELOWSKI 100
MARCOS AMBROSE 100
SAM HORNISH JR 100
AJ ALLMENDINGER 200
ELLIOTT SADLER 300
PAUL MENARD 500
BOBBY LABONTE 500
REGAN SMITH 500
SCOTT SPEED 300
TRAVIS KVAPIL 500