Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Viva Las Vegas! Kobalt Tools 400 Preview

By Micah Roberts

Las Vegas embraces NASCAR weekend
Of all the group of visitors that come to Las Vegas annually, you’d be hard pressed to find one that can actually transform the city and make it be known that a big event is going on. There are usually so many different people in town who all have different agenda’s that a major event that brings people to town kind is absorbed and goes somewhat unnoticed unlike any other city.

A major concert, boxing or UFC match registers a blip on the scale other than the one propery where the event is held. When the PBR and NFR rodeos come to town, you see the Cowboy hats and Wranglers, but for most of the other guests visiting, they wouldn’t even know there was a rodeo in town because they blend in so well just like everyone else. Big conventions like Comdex and the Magic shows are only identified by casino employees just because the tokes are always down.

The thing that really makes NASCAR stand out is the colors and fun good natured time all their fans have. When over 100,000 people come in for a weekend, all decked out in their gear along the Las Vegas strip, it’s a pretty impressive sight. They take over Fremont street and the strip like a Mardi Gras event in New Orleans. There’s a vibe and energy to the city that is definitively their creation like no other time of the year.

Most of these fans have circled Las Vegas on their calendars as their destination spot for a vacation because they can kill two birds with one stone. Not only do they get to go to a race, but they also get to satisfy their family vacation needs like no other race can. “It’s Las Vegas! And they have NASCAR too!”

And the wife and kids don’t argue the choice as being selfish by Dad, either. It’s an all around win-win for everyone.

When the first Cup race came to town 14 years ago, it also signaled the birth of NASCAR wagering as we know it today with every sports book carrying the odds and some offering a multitude of driver propositions, almost like a Super Bowl. Prior to that, only a handful of books even took odds on the weekly races.

Over the years, the 100,000 visitors have all become well educated on how to bet and it adds another angle to making the race fun. You can’t bet the race in Daytona, legally anyway.

Sports Books offer a wide array of props for Vegas race  
The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book, MGM Resort properties and Lucky’s sports books all figure to have the most extensive list of propositions this week. Beyond odds to win, they’ll have driver matchups and all types of other things found in a box-score like over-under cautions, winning car car number, lap leaders and allow you to pick more points combined in the race between teams like Hendrick Motorsports drivers against Roush Racing drivers.

The main staple with all the visitors, however, is odds to win. So let’s get down to business and see if we can find a winner out of the 43 drivers for the Kobalt 400.

The favorite is Jimmie Johnson at 9-to-2 and it’s easy to see why. He is a four time winner in Las Vegas, including last years race, and also is the most consistent in the series on similar tracks. In the ten races last season held on 1.5-mile tracks, Johnson finished third or better in six of them. The reigning five-time Cup Champion will be tough to beat this week in all propositions, but for many, it’s no fun taking the favorite at low odds.

The next choice is Carl Edwards at 5-to-1. After winning the final two races of the 2010 season, Edwards finished second at Daytona and then had some bad luck early in the Phoenix race. But the positive for Edwards is that his car for Phoenix was once again fast -- during practice and before the wreck -- and likely would have competed for the win. We saw a massive turnaround with the all the Roush drivers in the second half of last year and if they are the same team from then, then Las Vegas could be theirs once again.

Of the 13 races held in Las Vegas, a Roush driver has won six of them. Five were won under the old flatter configuration of the track with only Edwards winning on the new higher banked format in 2008.

Greg Biffle saw the same type of resurgence after Indianapolis last season and became a weekly force in the series, especially on these type of tracks. He won at Kansas in October, then had top-5 finishes at Charlotte and Texas. Biffle can be found at 12-to-1 or higher this week.

Kyle Busch (6/1) won the 2009 Vegas race in front of his hometown crowd, but didn’t win on any of the 1.5-mile tracks last season. However, he didn’t compete well in them with four top-5 finishes. He comes in this week as the points leader with brother Kurt Busch just behind him in the standings. The city is pretty excited about having their Vegas boys come home 1-2 in points. Last week at Phoenix, we saw two surprises. The first was Kyle being bullied on the last few laps and passed and the other was Jeff Gordon being the bully.

Led most laps in 2010 Vegas race
Gordon (10/1) has a new chief and sponsor and it paid off immediately in the second race of the year ending a 66 race winless streak. His first win since the 2009 Texas spring race gave him 83 wins for his career tying him with Cale Yarborough on the all-time list. Next up is 84 wins which would tie him with darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

Although Gordon hadn’t won in a while, he still had been competitive and finished third in Vegas last year, not to mention winning in 2001. In his last six Vegas races -- since NASCAR implemented the loop system -- Gordon tops the charts among all drivers with a 117.0 rating, an amazing figure when considering Johnson (116.4) has won four Vegas race over the same span.

The most consistent driver on the 1.5-mile tracks last season was Kevin Harvick (12/1) who finished within the top-11 in eight of the 10 races. He finished runner-up last year in Vegas and will be looking to be the first non-Hendrick Chevy to win in Las Vegas.

Denny Hamlin (8/1) won both races at Texas last season and should be well equipped to make a run this week on the same type of track. His teammate, Joey Logano (20/1) might also warrant some attention this week after finished 13th his rookie year and following that up with a sixth-place finish last season.

A nice wild card to look at is Jamie McMurray at 25-to-1 who won at Charlotte in the fall last year and finished runner-up in the Coca-Cola. He’s got the horsepower to compete and the odds are kind of juicy to take a shot.

Good luck this week and enjoy the city. This is your town for the weekend, take it over, let loose, have some fun, and most of all, thanks for visiting and be sure to mark that calendar again for 2012.

Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #29 Kevin Harvick (12/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (9/2)
4) #99 Carl Edwards (5/1)
5) #24 Jeff Gordon (10/1)

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