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Vegas Vacation Fitting For NASCAR

by Cathy Elliott
Thursday, December 03, 2009

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Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson welcomes you to Las Vegas Wednesday as Champion's Week arrives on the Strip
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR
Las Vegas doesn't beckon visitors like an oasis in the desert; Las Vegas literally IS an oasis in the desert. And this one is no mirage.

According to the Chamber of Commerce’s Web Site, about 40 million tourists visit Las Vegas annually. On Monday, November 30, a large number of them will arrive, shall we say, much more speedily than usual, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion's Week blows into town for the first time in history.

After three decades in New York City, and with the very active cooperation and support of the state of Nevada, NASCAR decided the time had come for a change of pace (pun definitely intended).

The season-ending 2009 Cup Series awards dinner will be held at the Wynn Las Vegas, a luxury resort located on the famed Strip.

Other events and appearances during the week, including things like the Aflac Pit Stop Tour, the NASCAR Street Tour, the Chasers for Charity Fanfest and Tony Stewart’s annual Stewie Awards, will be taking place in venues all over town, from world-famous hotels and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign; you gotta love that one.

Frank Caliendo will host the premier event of the week, the awards dinner on Friday night. However, there is no word yet on whether Caliendo, a well-known celebrity impersonator, will be appearing as himself.

When you attempt to describe one of the most outrageously exciting things in America, phrases like “heart-pounding,” “pulse-racing” and “adrenaline rush” come to mind. The trick is trying to figure out what you’re talking about: NASCAR or Las Vegas.

The idea of this marriage between the two is really kind of dazzling.

The visionary builders of the city seemed to know this day would come; they named some of their most famous landmarks in its honor.

King Arthur of England was known for his honesty, chivalry and valiance. With the help of his teacher and mentor Merlin, he ruled his kingdom for many years with fairness and honor.

In NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have accomplished much the same thing. So one couldn’t fault them if they experienced a flash of deja vu while passing by the hotel-slash-castle  “Excalibur” on their way down the Strip.

No official plans have been announced to change the hotel’s name to the “Lowe’s Chevrolet” anytime soon, but hey, it’s Vegas. More outrageous things have happened.

There is a spectacle that combines split-second timing, showmanship and the most difficult and delicate of balancing acts into a package sometimes referred to as the greatest show on earth. Sometimes, its headliners even resemble human cannonballs hurtling through space.

What a great way to describe the hotel Circus Circus ... or a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Take your pick.

Some of us may still believe we will miss Manhattan, but canny Las Vegas was several steps ahead of us.

Architecture on the Strip includes familiar towers such as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. The Statue of Liberty is there, along with the Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis Island, Grand Central Terminal and, for the more culturally minded, the Whitney Museum of American Art. It is the hotel “New York, New York,” but this apple will offer a taste of something its bigger, East Coast counterpart did not.

A favorite event of Champion’s Week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Victory Lap was black-flagged by NYC officials last year due to various logistical issues.

Las Vegas’ answer to scaling logistical obstacles, rather than canceling them, is to simply drive around them. The Victory Lap, including all 12 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, will return this year. The stock cars will roar down Las Vegas Boulevard on December 3, complete with pit stops and a burnout by the champion. Start spreadin’ the news ...

High roller that I am, I am so ready for Las Vegas. My $25-a-day blackjack budget is all saved up and loaded for bear. You know that quote that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? That’s my money they’re talking about ... except it isn’t too terribly happening, if you know what I mean.

So while I don’t expect to come back home much more financially solvent than when I leave, like everyone else fortunate enough to be involved in this sport, still I feel like a winner; or, in this case, a Wynn-er.

Because I have a feeling that by moving the 2009 Champion’s Week to the bright lights of Las Vegas, NASCAR has hit the jackpot.

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