For the past decade or so, NASCAR has been trying to solidify a presence in the west coast. They race in Fontana, but even though that track is in one of the most densely populated parts of the country, the stands are rarely full. When NASCAR scheduled a second race in Fontana, the stands were even less full.
Then the NASCAR circus travels a three-hour drive to the northwest to Las Vegas, a mile and a half that has now had nine consecutive sellouts.
After 28 years in New York City, NASCAR moved their Champion’s Week to Vegas. The New Yorkers were like “yay, nascar.” After the city barred NASCAR from doing its signature victory lap in Times Square, they moved to Vegas, to a fan base that was more like “YAY, NASCAR!” The Champion’s Week in Vegas was a bigger event than NASCAR had been able to envision in years.
Las Vegas has some crazy NASCAR fans, and this is very good.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway also has one of the best fan experiences in the country. Racing action in Vegas started on Thursday with the World of Outlaws at the bullring behind the track, the same bullring that Kurt and Kyle Busch grew up racing at.
Fans also have access to the Neon Garage. Most garages in NASCAR are closed to fans, but Vegas built a garage that has a fan skywalk, so fans can go have a birds-eye view of what the teams are doing below them, and live entertainment throughout the day. No other facility has this. None.
Vegas is a tourist destination anyway! How many people actually live in Las Vegas? It’s just a revolving door of people and tourists. NASCAR is just another excuse for people to come to southern Nevada, stay in the plentitude of hotels, drain some money into the casinos, maybe get married, and watch the race (or perhaps get married after the race to the person you spilled your beer on. Who knows).
As an added plus, the additional banking given to Las Vegas Motor Speedway a few years ago has made the racing great! This track has some of the fastest speeds of any mile and a half, and the banking allows the cars to hold to the track in the corners, making for some fast and furious side-by-side action.
The culture of Las Vegas is closer to that of the Confederate south than any other part in the west. In the middle of the desert has arisen a city of people work hard and play hard. The sport and culture of NASCAR is ideally suited to a populace like Las Vegas.
NASCAR has tried so far to make their sport work in Fontana, but those efforts have been to no avail. Sometimes, it seems, they can't fill those stands even of they gave tickets away for free. No, NASCAR, Las Vegas is your second home.
Other NASCAR Notes
Danica Watch: It finally seemed this weekend like Danica Patrick knew what she was doing. Though still not running with the leaders, she felt confident and had her car under her the whole time.
Now, don't make a big deal out of it that she was able to go and actually race people - look, this is what racecar drivers are supposed to do! She's shown me she can drive a stock car, but is she above average? That remains to be seen. My guess is, probably not.
But, I still think her story line is fun to follow. Welcome to NASCAR, Danica.
Jeff Gordon: Last season, I made the prediction that he is close to retirement, especially if his back problems persist. Turns out, I was wrong. It was announced this week that Jeff Gordon plans on racing for at least another 5-6 years.
This story is yet more ammunition to show that racecar drivers are, in fact, athletes. At the very least, they have to be in good shape to drive at the elite levels. Gordon has been plagued the past few years by persistent back pain. Last season, he began a stretching routine that helped alleviate it. This season, however, he's undergone an intense workout regimen that owner Rick Hendrick says will have him in better shape and more competitive than ever.
Do you have to be in shape to drive a car? No. Do you have to be in shape to be competitive at the end of the NASCAR marathons? Yes. These cars are hard to drive, and drivers work best when they can focus on the car and the track, not on how tired they are or how much their back hurts.
Jeff Gordon wants his fifth championship with a fire I've never seen before in a competitor. He's realized that little, if any, of what helped him be so dominant in the late 1990's is going to work today. Since he won his last championship in 2001, the whole ballgame has changed. Jeff Gordon is remaking himself as a new driver.
He's said himself: not having won a championship under the Sprint Cup Chase format is like not having won a championship at all. He would give up all four of his old-format Winston Cups to win just one Sprint Cup.
Add that to the fact that Jimmie Johnson, the driver he hired and mentored, has turned out to be the only one who can beat him on many an occasion... the Gordon-Johnson battles are sometimes the best ones to watch.
Finally, congrats to the USA Bobsled Team, using Bo-Dyn sleds designed in part by NASCAR Driver Geoff Bodine. More on this later this week.
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