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NASCAR And Vegas: A Fast-Track Happening

by Cathy Elliott
Friday, February 20, 2009

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Last year's Vegas Sprint Cup race winner Carl Edwards
Now that the Daytona 500's pre- and post-hullabaloo is in the rearview mirror, we can all finally start focusing our attention on what some people like to refer to as "the real start of the racing season."

This is not to say that the Daytona 500 is not a "real" race; when you get right down to it, it is the event that put NASCAR on the map of national attention. Still, there is a surreal quality about the Daytona experience as a whole. All that intensity can kind of burn its way into your retinas, leaving you mostly dazzled but a bit blinded by the light.

Despite all the attention and activity surrounding Daytona and the career-validating prestige that comes with winning the 500, the weeks that follow are really where drivers and teams settle down and buckle up in preparation for the long season to come.

So over many rivers and through the woods to the West Coast tracks they go, for the Auto Club 500 in Fontana, California on Sunday. Then the show goes on to a top contender for my own personal favorite event name of the year, the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 1. (On a side note, I think I might have a Facebook friend named Shelby 427, but in the manner of so many of my Facebook friends, I have no earthly idea who he, or she, is.)

My trips to Las Vegas have been few, but memorable. I imagine it's something like what a strawberry might feel like when it's been dipped in chocolate. You're still the same ordinary piece of fruit underneath, but you're completely surrounded by something richer and more decadent than what you probably ever experience back home in Dellwood, Ore., Decatur, Kan. or Darlington, S.C.. Your spirits, your step – and most likely your wallet – are a whole lot lighter. It's as if Scotty has temporarily beamed you down to another planet. It can be disorienting.

It truly is a city like no other. In fact, I think I have figured out the reason why you seldom see birds in Las Vegas. There are so many bright and shiny objects to attract their attention that they have literally all gone cuckoo.

You would think that in a city where round-the-clock action and excitement constitute just another day at the office, NASCAR's thunder might run the risk of being just another blip on the radar screen. Quite the opposite. When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series comes to town, Las Vegas ups the ante.

On Thursday of race week, for example, the term "high rollers" will take on a new definition as the car haulers parade down the Las Vegas Strip, past some of the most famous hotels and casinos in the world. Forget Caesar's Palace and its heavyweight championship boxing matches; NASCAR is delivering a true knockout punch to the city with this event.

The "Earnhardt and Elvis" die-cast car will make its debut at Las Vegas during race week. This cool new collectible features the King of Rock and Roll on the hood of Dale Earnhardt's legendary No. 3 Chevrolet. The car is part of Motorsports Authentics' "Enduring Legends" series; last season's cars featured Johnny Cash, the original "Man in Black" and John Wayne.

For the sake of all concerned, let's hope that's not "later in life" Elvis we're talking about here. There are weight restrictions to consider in NASCAR, after all. No word yet on whether fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches will be available at the track concession stands.

Last but most definitely not least, fans attending the event should be happy to learn that beverage prices have been lowered by $1. Yes, that includes beer.

The race itself will probably be the most competitive event we have seen so far in the fledgling NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Perennial favorite Jeff Burton – fresh from filming a guest appearance, as himself, on another perennial favorite, the long-running soap opera "General Hospital" – will look to reprise his role in Victory Lane as the Shelby 427 champion.

Then it will be on to the next episode in an even longer-running series that has captivated viewers for 60 years.

So next time you hear that line about how what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, take it with a grain of salt. In NASCAR, it's more a case of what goes around, comes around.

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