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Race Day: Guess Which City Is The Driver Favorite?

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 28 2010
Fans really look down on the drivers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Fans really look down on the drivers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Professional race car drivers are generally young, sometimes single and all have pockets full of folding money. The fact that they enjoy going 200 mph in cars that want to lift off the ground at 100 mph testifies to their love of excitement.

So to ask NASCAR drivers if they enjoy their yearly on-the-company’s-dime weekend in Las Vegas is to ask a question the answer to which you already know.

Still, here is what a select group of drivers said when asked that very question in advance of today’s Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Tony Stewart (single, rich, owns own company): We love it here.  There isn’t anybody that doesn’t love coming here and racing.  There’s so much stuff to do.  It’s not everywhere that we go that we have so many options at the end of the day when our work day is done and we can go and have fun in the evening too.  It’s a great stop for us.”

Mark Martin (married, rich, has steady job):  Fans like coming out here and so do the competitors.  It’s better than going to a race track that’s out in the sticks, it’s the opposite of that.  This place is very, very strong on service.  They’re here to serve you and that is a pleasure.  When you come to Las Vegas, it is a whole different feeling than when you go a lot of other places where you feel like you’re a burden on folks.  When we come here, the people are here and they want to know what they can do.  That’s what it’s all about.  That’s what it does – that’s what Vegas does.  I enjoy it here.”

Robby Gordon (single, owns own business, loves solitude of deserts):   “The excitement of The Strip easily transitions to the track on Sunday afternoon leaving everyone hyped for a great race.  We had a strong finish here last season, and we’ve put a lot of work into the Monster Energy Camry to prepare for the 2010 event.  Hopefully the Monster Energy team can finally turn our luck around to bring home another great finish in Sin City.”

But as wonderful as the weekend is, some think one yearly visit to Vegas is enough.

Jimmie Johnson (rich, new father, makes TV commercials): “I think its really tough to have two Sprint Cup races at any venue. I think you lose a little something when you go to two dates. I think it’s impossible to do this, but I think it would be great if we had 36 races at 36 different tracks and we hit as many towns and areas throughout North America as we possibly could.  That’s not the situation we have. Tracks just aren’t in certain areas.  I do understand it takes a lot to build these facilities and all that.  It’s a tough road to hoe to have two events and you have to have a sold out track once a year with a long waiting list to consider a second date, I believe.”

The facts

What: Shelby American

Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET

TV: Fox, 2 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 1.5-mile oval

Grandstand seating: 142,000

Banking in corners: 20 degrees at top (progressive)

Race distance: 267 laps/400.5 miles

Estimated pit window: 50-55 laps

Qualifying: Friday, 6:40 p.m. ET

2009 winner: Kyle Busch

2009 polesitter: Kyle Busch

Today’s polesitter: Kurt Busch

Fear factor

Jamie McMurray picked up sponsorship from McDonald’s this week. Good thing, too, because it was not a lock that this year’s Daytona 500 season would have full-year funding.

“Yes, I was worried,” the the driver for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. We didn’t have a full-time sponsor or the full year sold. But after winning the 500, (Tony) Glover leaned over to me in victory lane and said he thought we were pretty safe and we would be able to run the whole season. I felt pretty good about it at that point.

“But, yes, I won’t lie to you, we didn’t have all the races sold and it takes a lot of money to run a race team so yes, I was definitely concerned about exactly what was going to happen. Although, I will say, I think they felt comfortable with getting, if the McDonald’s sponsorship wasn’t here, I think they had enough maybe one or two race things to continue to run the whole season. I don’t know a tremendous amount about that but I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t worried, I worry a lot.”

Trivia time

Only once since the Cup series came to Las Vegas has a Dodge won the race there. When was that victory and who was driving that Dodge?


Several Cup drivers will achieve career milestones today:

* Marcos Ambrose will be making his 50th start in the series.

* Jeff Burton will be making his 550th start.

* Kevin Harvick will be making his 325th start.

* Sam Hornish Jr. will be making his 75th start.

Surprising numbers

Here is a group of four drivers who were heavy favorites to make the Chase this year but who, if the Chase started today, would not:

* Four-time champion Jeff Gordon is 22nd in points.

* Juan Pablo Montoya, a Chaser last year, is 23rd in points.

* Kasey Kahne, a top pick for the Chase, is 33rd in points.

* Ryan Newman is 36th in points and unless he improves, will have to qualify for the race in Martinsville on time.

Surprising numbers II

These two guys were on very few lists of Chase contenders but with a little bit of luck, might have a shot this fall:

* Scott Speed, who has to qualify on speed these days, is 15th in points.

* Paul Menard, never a Chase contender, is 22nd.

Trivia answer

Dodge won the Las Vegas race in 2002. Sterling Marlin was driving for Chip Ganassi’s team.

Up next

The Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Kurt Busch, today’s polesitter, won the race a year ago. Dale Earnhardt Sr. won nine times at AMS, most of any driver. Ryan Newman has seven poles at AMS and is tied with Buddy Baker for most ever.

Starting time is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Fox.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 28 2010
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