Bet on a Vegas race

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

After a rare early season week off, the Nextel cup competitors return to the track this week at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. While some of the drivers took advantage of the idle weekend to test other tracks, perform sponsor-related promotional work, or just rest, several of the Nextel regulars traveled south to compete in the Busch race in Mexico City.

This race was a big deal to NASCAR and I think it passed the test with flying colors. I really enjoyed watching the race and I enjoyed the outcome, Martin Truex, Jr won the race, even more. Kevin Harvick earned his third straight second place finish and the so-called &uot;Busch Whackers&uot; finished in three of the top six spots. Word is that NASCAR is already negotiating with the track and the city to return next year and the invariable talk of the Nextel cup competing at this track has already begun.

I don’t know if it will be next year, but I would be willing to bet that we see Mexico City on the Nextel cup schedule in 2007.

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Speaking of betting, the teams travel to Las Vegas this week to compete in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. I wrote in this space last week about the dominance of Jack Roush-owned cars so far this season. If history is any indication, that trend will not end this weekend. Roush teams have won five of the seven races at this track since it deputed in 1998. In fact, the only multiple winners of this race, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton, were both driving Roush Fords. Burton has since moved on to Richard Childress Racing, but both Kenseth and Mark Martin, who won the inaugural race in 1998, will be tough to beat on Sunday.

Those guys have won the race before, but this week, I am picking the newest member of the Roush stable to take the checkered in Las Vegas. Carl Edwards is my pick to win his first Nextel cup race and very possibly find himself at the top of the championship points standings. Edwards currently sits in the fourth position, 53 points behind teammate Kurt Busch. This is a guy that didn’t get much attention last year when he was picked to finish out the season in the #99 car after Burton bolted to RCR.

Without sponsorship at the time, the future of that car was up in the air. Now with several sponsors on that car on a rotating basis, Edwards is comfortably competing, and competing strongly.

Is it me, or do you get the feeling that this may be a long season for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? I make no secret that Junior is my driver of choice, but something just doesn’t seem right with his team.

I don’t know if it is the crew swap and new crew chief that Junior is working with now or that I am just raising a red-flag prematurely, but I just have a feeling that Junior is not at full speed yet. But hey, we have 34 races to go.

The television coverage begins this Sunday at 2 p.m. and the green flag drops an hour later, all on the Fox network. Enjoy the race and we’ll talk next week about what has become the fastest track on the circuit, Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Jeff Findley is publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Ahoskie, N.C. His NASCAR column appears in several newspapers.

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