Kobalt 400 Preview
March 4, 2014
My favorite time of the year in Las Vegas is finally here. Yes, it’s March Madness, but for a few gear heads like myself, that means more than college basketball. It means Las Vegas NASCAR weekend is upon us. It means thousands of wonderfully colored jackets and t-shirts walking up and down the street with pockets full of cash that have combined to bring in over a billion dollars into the local economy since NASCAR first started coming to Las Vegas in 1998.
We have different vibes throughout the year in Las Vegas. New Year's Eve is always a rocking event, but it’s one where most of the locals stay home. The National Finals Rodeo take over the city in December, and while there is nothing more entertaining than hearing the hootin’ and hollerin’ at a backjack table with six intoxicated cowboys, it still is more about everyone else other than locals.
During the Las Vegas NASCAR week, this is something we -- as Las Vegans -- can call our own. We don’t have a pro sports franchise, but the week is something everyone in Las Vegas can call our own. And it’s not so much about the race itself, but rather the buzz of the event itself that makes it so invigorating. When I see those haulers carrying all those stock cars come down the strip on Thursday (Wednesday this year), I get a chill.
It’s an event unlike any other we have in Las Vegas because it‘s for the residents in Las Vegas as well as the thousands that fill every room in town. With over 140,000 seats available at the track, there is enough room for the locals to be just as big a presence as our valued guests. And the people that do choose to make Las Vegas their NASCAR destination of choice are some of the favorites of those working in tipping categories.
The moans and groans from bartenders, cocktail waitresses and bellmen can be heard up and down the strip when conventions like CES, Comdex, and the Magic show come to town with their thrift nature. Those guys are here for business -- and strippers -- but the NASCAR crowd is the perfect mix of family, vacationers and best of all, gamblers.
If we could only have two races a year!
The gambling aspect takes on a whole new level at the sportsbooks because this is the only time of the year where fans visiting from outside the state can make a legal wager before going to a race. The Las Vegas race is the highest handled race of the season for every book. They‘ll write more than two times the volume in wagers that they take on the next highest handled event, the Daytona 500, a race that has two months of action built up from the off-season.
Because of so much NASCAR handle and so much demand, the books go all out to give the bettors what they want and offer Super Bowl style propositions. Bettors will be able to bet just about anything that happens on the NASCAR final results sheet from cautions, lap leaders to number of cars on the lead lap when the checkered flag flies.
Despite all the propositions and matchups, the main betting option is still choosing the driver to win, so I’ll offer a couple of drivers to consider with a huge emphasis placed on last season when seven of the 11 1.5-mile races were won by Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. There are a few aero changes that may alter what we saw last year, but fast is still fast, and the JGR cars should all be expected to be very fast, including last years Las Vegas winner Matt Kenseth.
Having built up JGR, I would be remised if I didn’t mention the Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, two drivers that came on strong in the final three 1.5-mile races of 2013. Keselowski won at Charlotte and then was sixth each at Texas and Homestead. He also finished third in last years Vegas race. Both drivers were super strong at Phoenix last week, and while Phoenix and Vegas don’t correlate, they both look like they are on the upswing, and both will offer far better odds than four-time Vegas winner Jimmie Johnson, who will once again be the favorite.
Practice will be a major factor in determining who is going to win, and all your wagers should not be completed until then. On Thursday, the teams will have a test session and then run through the regular drill of practices and qualifying on Friday and Saturday. But the best value lies within the numbers right, so go ahead and take a shot with a few before we know the entire story with how fast some of the drivers really are.
As of now, it's Miller Lite's for everyone in the grandest Vegas party of all!
Enjoy the city everyone, including the locals who help make this the most successful event of the NASCAR season.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #2 Brad Keselowski (10/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
4) #20 Matt Kenseth (15/2)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10/1)