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NASCAR Las Vegas Preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, February 26, 2010

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Last year's winner Kyle Busch
The elite of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are making their annual trek to Las Vegas for the running of Sunday's Shelby American named in honor the iconic custom car builder Carroll Shelby. Over the past few weeks we heard a lot about the physical and financial hardships regarding NASCAR's annual western swing, Fontana-California last week and Las Vegas seven days later.

But you really don't seem to hear the drivers complaining that much about having to spend a few days in Sin City: the entertainment capital of the world. Let's face it: Las Vegas and NASCAR racing absolutely belongs in the same sentence.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

There is a rather unusual storyline that will bear watching during the Las Vegas race. Believe it not it involves Hendrick Motorsports and the rear axles used in their four Chevrolet teams. There seems to be an epidemic of what has been described as "extreme axle wear" among these teams and it has the famed racing organization extremely concerned.

This alarming process began during the Daytona 500 when reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson had to replace a broken axle during the race. At that juncture the situation was just deemed bad luck, one of those racing deals that surfaces from time to time.

But a completely different theory began to surface last Saturday following a practice session at the Auto Club Speedway in California. That where extensive wear was discovered on the rear axle of Mark Martin. That discovery also planted the seed of thought that said Hendrick Motorsports may have obtained a quality control issue with their rear axle manufacturer. Erring of the side of caution, the rear axles were changed on all four of the Hendrick cars prior to the Auto Club Speedway race.

Unfortunately that didn't resolve the problem. During last Sunday's Auto Club 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr wound up taking his Hendrick Chevrolet to the garage area to replace a broken axle. Then last Tuesday it was revealed that a post race inspection indicated severe wear on Johnson's axle and it was estimated that the Fontana race winner was within six laps from breaking another axle.

Lance McGrew, crew chief for Earnhardt Jr, noted that the events of the Auto Club 500 had him plenty worried especially with the Atlanta race coming up. "The high speeds at Atlanta are particularly hard on axles," he pointed out. McGrew also said pinpointing the cause for these axle failures has been frustrating adding "there's no smoking gun, which is aggravating for us, but you can believe we'll get to the bottom of it."

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Kurt Busch has a lot of reasons to smile this week. The driver of the #2 Miller Lite/Roger Penske Racing Dodge, has been able to enjoy some time between races with family and friends in his home town of Las Vegas. He'll be the first to tell you he's completely pumped up over the prospects of winning Sunday's race in front of the home town fans. He'll also be the first to tell you how confident he is with new crew chief Steve Addington and his ability to lead the Miller Lite team not only to victory lane this Sunday but to a starting berth in the 2010 Chase For The Championship as well.

He'll also be happy to tell you about a new passion that he has for professional drag racing. Last month, during some pre season time off at his Mooresville-North Carolina home away from home, Busch enrolled in a drag racing school, at the Z Max Dragway, and obtained his license to compete in the NHRA's, National Hot Rod Association, Super Gas Division. He plans to make his professional drag racing debut next month competing in the Gator Nationals in Gainesville-Florida. It appears that his new racing venture was inspired by NHRA Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson and drag racing legend Don Prudhomme whose racing operations are also sponsored by Miller Brewing Company.

Busch will be competing in the Sportsman class in Gainesville where the top end speeds average to about 165 MPH. His weapon of choice will be a 1970 Dodge Challenger powered by a fuel injected 426 cubic inch hemi engine.

Now here's a note of caution for the residents of Mooresville-North Carolina. While Busch's drag car was constructed and prepped for the race track, it's also listed as being street legal. However, this particular car should be pretty easy to spot while coming down your local highways.

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When the Friday Sprint Cup practice and qualifying sessions are over at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, David Ragan may climb out of his UPS/Roush Fenway Racing Ford thinking it was considerably slow. That feeling may stem for the jet ride he had the day before with the United States Air Force. Ragan visited nearby Nellis Air Force Base on Thursday to take a ride in the famed USAF Thunderbirds, a ride that's been known to hit 600 MPH in a nano second while going upside down.

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THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN

It's a safe bet that Las Vegas book makers are looking forward to doing some business with the contingent of NASCAR fans who will be visiting their city this weekend. Once we again we call on the experts from the World Sports Exchange-WSE to give us some guidance regarding who's Las Vegas hot and who's not. Here's the rundown for Sunday's Shelby American 400:

To no real surprise the WSE has Jimmie Johnson sitting at the top of their list as a 9 to 2 favorite. That's because the reigning, and four time, NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is a three time winner at this speedway. Combine that with Kevin Harvick's recent claim that said "Johnson and his team has a golden horseshoe up their butts", and you've got the makings of an easy money bet.

In keeping with the Hendrick Motorsports theme, the WSE has Mark Martin second on their list at 7 to 1 odds. This is also a very good choice. Martin won the first ever Las Vegas Sprint Cup race back in 1998. He also has logged five top five finishes over the years and has a series leading nine top ten finishes.

Third in line is home town hero Kyle Busch who is always a threat to win a Sprint Cup race at any track. Busch is logged in at 8 to 1 this week based on the fact that he's defending race champion and won the 2009 event from the pole position.

Four time series champion Jeff Gordon won the Las Vegas race back in 2001 and has logged five top five finishes there. The WSE has him ranked at a healthy 9 to 1 odds for Sunday's race.

At 10 to 1 odds is Denny Hamlin whom many pre season observers think is going to be a huge contender for the championship. Right now he needs some improvement in the racing luck category and that could come at Las Vegas. Tony Stewart is ranked at 12 to 1 to win Las Vegas but fans shouldn't worry about Smoke at this point in time. It's still the winter months and everyone knows that this driver gets hot during the summer time.

The WSE has listed a group of six drivers at 15 to 1 this week and some of these drivers has to be considered to be a low risk wager with the potential of high gain. All three of the Richard Childress Racing teams are in this group and drivers Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer are running strong at the moment. Burton is a two time winner at Las Vegas and also has five top five finishes there. The 15 to 1 group also includes Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya and home town favorite Kurt Busch.

Next on the WSE list are Roush Fenway Racing drivers Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth both of whom would make an interesting risk wager. Edwards, at 18 to 1, won the 2008 Las Vegas race. He's also free and clear of the baby watch mode he dealt with last week in California. Edwards and wife Kate welcomed their daughter Annie on Wednesday. Meanwhile Kenseth, at 20 to 1, is a two time Las Vegas winner. The other strong factor here is the fact that Ford has a series leading six wins at Las Vegas and Roush Fenway Racing owns all six of them.

Concluding the WSE list this week are a trio of drivers at 25 to 1 featuring Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt.

To the weekly disclaimer now. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers are for entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their races. Your gambling money would probably be better spent by investing in high quality racing axles. I hear there's a prominent NASCAR team who would be interested in buying them.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Shelby American 400 is 267 laps, 400.5 miles, around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway's 1.5 mile oval. The speedway has progressive banking topping off at 20 degrees of banking. The front and back stretch are banked at nine degrees. The pit road speed is 45 MPH. The track's grandstands can seat 142,000.

The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting spots. Ten of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth because they are outside the top 35 of NASCAR's owner's points. These ten teams will have to race their way into the field based on qualifying speed.

Fox Sports will air Sunday's race live beginning with the pre race show at 2 pm eastern followed by the race broadcast beginning at 3 pm et. The SPEED Channel will re air the race on Wednesday, March 3d, beginning at 12 pm et.

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