Las Vegas Preview
March 7, 2007
The greatest continuous running show in Las Vegas visits town once again this weekend. Vegas has had some great performances over the years that have forever helped shape the city’s great legacy. The “Rat Pack” playing at the Sands, The Beatles playing the Convention Center, and Elvis starring at the International are all legends in the great history of Vegas. The annual NASCAR weekend would seem blasphemous to some to be put in the same category as great entertainers in Vegas history, but those in who count the cash for businesses across the Valley know just how important the race is to the city.
In 2006 the NASCAR weekend generated more than $197 million in both gaming and non-gaming revenue. There was over 94,000 people that to town for that weekend and it contributed to the most visited month in Las Vegas’ 101-year history. The economic impact rose over 18 percent from the previous Vegas NASCAR in 2005.
Las Vegas businesses such as the Casinos and Hotels, it may be their cheapest marketing ploy all year. They don’t have to woo anyone in. They don’t have to advertise. They don’t have to play the Hotel rate war game. They don’t have to have big jackpot tournaments…….All they have to do is open the doors and staff accordingly, especially the count team, because there is going to be lots to count.
The Las Vegas Motor Speedway does most of the marketing themselves, with a little help from the weekly Network broadcast that shows some of the most entertaining, compelling, dramatic, most watched events of the year, the weekly NASCAR race. With the growing popularity of NASCAR coinciding with the continuous growth of the city’s popularity, the two together have created one monster of an event.
As if everything wasn’t good enough, the Speedway has completely re-done their entire facility. The concept was created by Speedway Motor Sports Inc. CEO Bruton Smith and followed through by Speedway General Manger VP Chris Powell. The goal was to make the races more exciting and competitive while also bringing the fans closer to the action from the stands. Mission accomplished on all accounts. The fans will now be able to see the pit stops from a much closer vantage point. They will also be able to purchase special garage passes that will allow fans to view inside the teams garages from a cat walk above. Its an absolute masterpiece that will do for race tracks what Disney World did for amusement parks; it is the standard that all will be compared from this day on.
Now, NASCAR, How about that second race date?
CHANGES ON THE TRACK FORCE CHANGES ON THE CARS
The changes on the actual track itself make it much faster than the previous nine Cup races run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The banking has changed in the turns from 12 degrees to 20 degrees which allows for much higher speeds. A key component in the higher speeds was going from a relative flat three degrees on the front stretch to nine degrees. The speeds from the pre-season testing in late January were as high as 188 mph on the new configuration. The track record for qualifying is 174 mph, a record that will be broke by just about every driver attempting to qualify this year.
Due to the changes on the track and a bit of the unknown, NASCAR has decided to use a 13-gallon fuel cell instead of the traditional 22 gallon cell. They have also decided to slow the cars up just a little bit by using a harder compound on the left side tires.
NASCAR vice president for competition Robin Pemberton said that wear and heat that was observed in open test sessions for Cup and Busch Series cars and tire performance led to the change.
"After discussing it with Goodyear, we feel like we have the potential for some of the same issues that we had at the Charlotte race last year," Pemberton said of the many of crashes at Charlotte following another repaving job.
So we've decided for those reasons to go with the 13-gallon fuel cell. And the tire will be different, as they've decided to change the left-side compound and maybe some construction."
WHAT THE CHANGES MEAN TO BETTING LINE
The changes on the track make a huge difference from past years. In a usual Vegas race, the first thing you looked for was what Roush Racing car was going to be the favorite to win. A Roush car had won five of the first seven Vegas Cup races with three different drivers. Jack Roush owns every win record in the Cup, Busch, and Truck series races at Vegas. Roush will still have a few drivers that should be considered good possibilities at winning, but the banking has taken Las Vegas into another realm that a few teams are better at than Roush.
The steeper banking all the way around the track makes Las Vegas similar in ways to Miami, but the configuration makes it more similar to it’s sister tracks of Atlanta, Charlotte, and Texas. Despite the similarities on paper, most of the drivers say it isn’t like any track. However, the Crew Chiefs of most teams are bringing their cars that had success, if any, at Vegas’ three sister tracks last season.
WHO ARE THE FAVORITES
Tony Stewart (6/1)
is the easy favorite because of his recent success on tracks that figure to be similar to the new Vegas configuration. The major factor giving him the odds on edge is that he is bringing the exact same chassis (No. 120) that won three times in the final eight races last season. Stewart won in back-to-back races in Atlanta and Texas during that stretch. This charmed chassis has a lifetime record of three wins in seven starts with a finish no worse than 15th. The Home Depot used this same car two weeks ago in California and finished eighth along with leading 28 laps. Because past history at Vegas means nothing we won’t go into much other than his best Vegas Cup finish is second. A win at Las Vegas would be a nice addition to the trophy case for Stewart.
Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
has won the last two Las Vegas races for Hendrick Motorsports, but we can throw out those figures. What can’t be ignored is Johnson’s amazing run during the last two seasons on the three sister tracks of Vegas. His 12-race average finish in Atlanta and Charlotte is 4.4, a number that is obscene. The closest driver to Johnson over that span is Mark Martin with a 13.7 average finish. In those 12 races for Johnson, he has two wins, five second-place finishes, a third, a fifth and sixth with the worst finish being 16th in the Atlanta fall race of 2005. It’s a safe assumption that changes on the track won’t affect Johnson much.
Kasey Kahne (7/1)
has two top-five finishes in three Vegas starts, but more importantly, Kahne took four of the six wins on the three sister tracks of Vegas. Kahne swept Charlotte and won the spring races in Atlanta and Texas. Kahne is likely to come with the chassis (No. 131) that raced two weeks ago in California. Kahne had engine problems in that race and finished 38th, but we know the chassis good because of last season. It won in the fall Charlotte race and finished fourth at Miami. If it were chassis No. 128, the car that Kahne won five of six races while driving in 2006, Kahne might be considered the favorite.
Dale Earnhardt Jr (8/1)
and the Bud team went through a tumultuous time in 2005 where the DEI organization did some crazy things that basically lost them an entire season. After six wins in 2004, the team decided to change shops, cars, and crew chiefs with his then teammate, Michael Waltrip. The thing that suffered the most was their performance on the intermediate tracks. Junior had always been competeitive at Charlotte, Atlanta and Texas. For 2006, the teams changed back, they dumped Michael Waltrip, and started anew, but it was a slow climb back to the top or at least competing for the top.
They still only had one win last year but they showed they could do well on tracks like Atlanta where they ran third in both the races there. Crew Chief Tony Eury found a great set up and balance on a nice little chassis (No. 039) that has taken them back to level they once were. The chassis hasn’t won yet, but it had eight straight top-10 finishes in 2006 that included six top five’s. Junior took his favorite car to California two weeks ago with high expectations, but had engine problems. Engine problems have been a theme with Junior over the last two months. During the Vegas test session, Junior blew two engines in one day. Then at California, both he and teammate Martin Truex Jr had engine problems. For Junior, it was his second straight DNF. Can they fix it?
If anyone can, it’s the duo of Dale Earnhardt Jr and Tony Eury. There have been three other times where the team has had two straight DNF’s and in each case, they came back stronger than ever in that next race. In 2000, Junior won at Texas after two straight DNF’s. He did the same thing in 2004 at Phoenix, and then last year he finished sixth at Indy. This week at Vegas is the perfect setting for a team down on luck. When the chips are down, Junior always seems to come up with the biggest hand.
Matt Kenseth (8/1)
has two Cup wins in Las Vegas and probably should have won last year’s race as well. He had a large lead with only a few laps to go, but phantom debris allowed Johnson to restart in a green-white-checker situation. Kenseth is in the same situation he was in last season where he comes in fresh from a weekend off after a California Cup win. On tracks like Atlanta, Charlotte and Texas, Kenseth has two wins combined, but its been a few years since then. His average finish on those tracks in the last two seasons is 14.2 with a best of second in last year’s spring Texas race. One thing you know you’re going to get from Kenseth is consistency. It’s very rare that he ever is the root of the team not doing well.
Kevin Harvick (10/1)
was on his way to a win two weeks ago in California with what looked like the best car on the track when his tire went flat. It’s hard to imagine, but this years Daytona 500 winner was in a much different situation coming into the Vegas race last season. He was almost racing for his job, and then somehow, someway, everything turned for Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress Racing. They got just about every facet of their organization on the right track. They were competitive on road courses, short tracks, intermediate tracks, and plate races. In all, Childress cars won 18 races last season between the Busch and Cup Series. The way it looks dating all the way back to week 18 of last season, Harvick is going to be a contender to win every week on any track.
WHERE IS THE EDGE AT THE BETTING WINDOW
Because of all the changes, both to the track and the cars, there are going to several things we can expect. With the smaller fuel cells, there are going to be about nearly twice as many pit stops. Because of all the pit stops there is going to be twice as many lap leaders and lead changes as usual. A few books around Las Vegas have offered wagers over the years during Las Vegas NASCAR weekend asking “how many” on just about everything you can find in the final NASCAR box score. The lap leader figure in the past has averaged around 12.
Another aspect we should expect much more of this season is cautions. Because of the speeds, new surface, and not many drivers feeling very comfortable on the track yet, we can expect to see mistakes on their behalf which will result in plenty of cautions. Over the years, the average caution figure has been six to seven. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to assume there will be 10 or more cautions in this race with several laps run under caution.
Driver match-ups pit one driver against another and it’s up to the bettor to figure out who will have the best finish and put some money down on that opinion. Most books will offer match-up wagers this week for the Cup race. Because of the changes on the track, the best strategy in match-ups may be to take the most patient driver against someone, not so patient, or known for being reserved. We can identify the patient drivers and those that aren’t simply by their personalities, because for both it translates in their driving. For the top patient drivers, it’s a short list that begins with Johnson and Kenseth, then goes to the Mark Martin’s, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin’s.
Drivers that have been labeled for several things other than being patient are Kyle and Kurt Busch, Harvick, Stewart, Greg Biffle, and Clint Bowyer. Two years ago at Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600, Charlotte had a newly paved surface that no one could get comfortable with. There ended up being 22 cautions with 37 lead changes among 21 drivers. It was nearly impossible for a driver to drive as accustomed to at Charlotte. For a select few, they hung back in hopes of staying out of harms way. Jimmie Johnson had won three of four Charlotte races up to that point, but was in the back for most of the race. “What’s wrong with Jimmie?” Well, nothing was wrong with Jimmie. He led early on for a couple of laps, hung back, and then led the last lap for another Charlotte win. He played it smart and let everything unfold around him, and then lat in the race went for it. Who will be that driver this week?
WHO’S GOING TO WIN
The last time I chose Dale Earnhardt Jr to win in Las Vegas it was 2001, two weeks after his father had passed away. I saw some weird things happen that year beginning with Michael Waltrip, driving a DEI car, winning his first race ever. The week after Daytona, another DEI car driven by Steve Park won at Rockingham. I thought for sure the magic would carry over for the following week at Vegas, without really thinking about how out of it Junior really was. Jeff Gordon ended up winning that race, and then the following week the weird stuff started happening again with the rookie, Kevin Harvick, winning in Atlanta by a nose in Dale Sr.’s GM Goodwrench Chevy.
It all came to fruition a few months later in one of the most memorable, emotional moments I’ve ever experienced in sports when Junior took the checkers for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, the first race back there since the passing of Dale Sr.
What this has to do with anything involving this weeks Vegas race on the new track, I really don’t know. What I do know is that keeps popping up in my mind as the driver to win, much as it did back in 2001. Hopefully the results will be different in 2007.
The 2007 selection of Junior in Vegas isn’t just a blind reach. The Bud team has supporting data that shows they should be very competitive this week. Odds have been placed on Junior as high as 20 to 1 in Las Vegas, likely because of his poor start and engines failures, both of which are good points. However, this is Vegas where everyone knows that betting the underdogs is how you stay ahead.
TOP 5 Vegas Finish Prediction:
1) #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr (20/1)
2)#29 Kevin Harvick (15/1)
3)#20 Tony Stewart (10/1)
4) #5 Kyle Busch (18/1)
5)#31 Jeff Burton (18/1)