Annual NASCAR Weekend,
It's that time of the year again! It's the time when the, "Boys from Thunder," arrive in town, bringing about 140,000 additional close friends with them. Where, you may ask are they all going? Why to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) for the Annual NASCAR Weekend, that kicks off this Friday.
This is the first time, that I can remember, when, this close to Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series (this year honoring Carroll Shelby by naming the race the Shelby 427, after the popular Ford Cobra he helped to design and modify) were not completely sold out. The track, however, is confident that there will be a near capacity crowd for the Sunday race, and there should be nearly 100,000 attending the Nationwide Sam's Town 300 on Saturday.
The economy has struck everyone, even NASCAR: the officiating body eliminated pre-season practice (like the one held every year in January at LVMS), and has cut down on the number of crew members allowed at a track.
There will be 51 drivers, with 16 of those competing for one of eight positions remaining. See, the top 35 drivers in points from last year, are locked into a starting position for the first five races of the new season. That leaves eight spots, with one of those saved for a past series champion, who may not be a locked in, or failed to qualify on speed alone. Last year, we had 54 competing.
Of the 51 drivers competing in the Cup series, Tony Stewart, driving the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet (in partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing), is a 20 to 1 long shot to win the Shelby 427. Las Vegas is the only track where the champion has failed to collect a checkered flag. In 10 starts at the speedway, Stewart has four top five and six top 10 finishes, and has led a total of 179 laps. Not bad for a non-winner. I personally believe this could be the year, and at 20-1, it's worth a $20 bill.
The favorite to win the Shelby 427 is, of course, Jimmie Johnson. Johnson is a three-time champion at the speedway (2005-2007) and also a three-time series champion. Jimmie will be driving the blue/silver No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports and has been picked by Fred Crispi, director of the Palms Race and Sports book as the 9/2 favorite. Kyle Busch, who is always a threat at any track, and is considered a local favorite (although he no longer lives in our little village), is next at 6/1. Matt Kenseth, who won the opening race, The 2009 Daytona 500, and the next race, the Auto Club 500 in Fontana, California, last weekend, is next in line at 8/1. Rookie, and a hot driver, Joey Locano, is the long shot of the field at 50/1.
Friday the pace begins to pick up at the speedway with practice for the Nationwide Sam's Town 300 series beginning at 10:30 a.m. and lasting until 11:50 a.m. The Sprint Cup cars will hit the track at noon for a 1 « hour practice, with the Sam's Town racers getting their final practice at 1:45 to 3:30 p.m. At 3:40 p.m., the Shelby 427 cars begin qualifying on the 1 « mile super speedway with two laps determining their starting position, and who will head home. Saturday at 9:00 a.m., the Sam's Town racers hit the speedway for qualifying. At 10:40 a.m. the Shelby entrees are given another 40 minutes of practice. And, at 1:30 p.m., the Nationwide racers take the green flag for their 200 laps of fender-to-fender racing.
A unique event will mark the start of the Nationwide race, when a 14-year-old Las Vegan will have the opportunity of a lifetime, singing the National Anthem before the live crowd and on national television. Kyra White, an aspiring singer and student at Liberty High School, won the "Speedway Superstar" competition sponsored by Sam's Town and FOX 5 Television (which is where you can watch the race at home). White won over 170 contestants who auditioned during the weeks leading up to race week. Members of the FOX 5 news team surprised her at school to announce that she had won the competition.
The "Biggie" gets underway with pre-race entertainment from the start/finish line. Gordie Brown, who is headlining at the Golden Nugget downtown, will be the special guest star, and will perform for 15 minutes just prior to the introduction of the Sprint Cup drivers. Lon Kruger, UNLV Basketball coach, has been named Grand Marshal for the Shelby 427, which gets the green flag at 1:30, and will cover 285 laps for a total of 427.5 miles.
And please be forewarned-I-15 will be a mess, what with all that construction going on from downtown to past Craig Road. So, if you intend to drive to the speedway, leave early--as first in will be first out following the races both days. Speedway officials are advising that the best way to get to the track and enjoy the trip is to go by bus-there will be special buses leaving the downtown depot and other locations beginning early both days.
The main thing is that you enjoy the races and arrive home safe and sound.