NASCAR fans will find a completely remodeled Las Vegas Motor Speedway when the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 is contested this weekend.
"It's a whole different situation (than in past races), " said Wynn Las Vegas bet shop supervisor and auto racing specialist Chris Chavez.
The Las Vegas track was completely rebuilt in the offseason, adding increased 20-degree banking to a new surface and moving pit road 275 feet closer to the grandstands.
"It (raised banking) will make the race much more interesting and the cars will go a lot faster, " Chavez said.
Also new is a diamond-shaped, four-building structure called the Neon Garage that will serve multiple purposes, including hosting entertainment acts throughout Race Weekend and permitting attendees who purchase passes to look directly into garage bays as crewmen tune their vehicles for competition.
In addition to Sunday's 1:40 p. m. (PDT) Nextel Cup event, the Busch Series Sam's Town 300 is scheduled for noon (PST) Saturday.
Qualifiers for both are scheduled on Friday.
"I've had the (Nextel Cup race) odds up since the Super Bowl and I'll put up odds on the Sam's Town race later in the week, " Chavez said.
"I have 49 drivers listed (though only 43 will start).
"Some big names will be here on Sunday.
"(Indy Racing League driver) Sam Hornish will be giving Las Vegas his first try in seven years.
"I like to wait on the Sam's Town race until I know who's entered.
"So many of the Nextel Cup drivers also go in the 300 and I hold back on that because I got burned one year.
"Jeff Gordon decided at the last minute to race his Busch car, almost won and I didn't have him listed. "
Wynn Las Vegas has defending champion Jimmie Johnson as a 5/1 UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 favorite, followed by Tony Stewart and Auto Club 500 winner Matt Kenseth at 6/1, Gordon at 7/1, Kasey Kahne at 8/1 and Daytona 500 champion Kevin Harvick at 10/1.
"Action hasn't been heavy, but that will come later in the week, " Chavez said.
"Early money has been on Kahne. "
Dale Earnhardt Jr. , son of the deceased racing legend who was killed on the final lap at Daytona several years ago, is 12/1.
"Junior normally doesn't do well at mid-sized tracks and racing without restrictor plates, though it could be different this year, " Chavez said.
"Another interesting thing is Mark Martin is coming out of the box at 10/1 and he's supposed to be semi-retired. "
Martin currently leads the Nextel Cup points competition with a pair of Top 10 finishes in the two events that already have been run; Harvick is the leading money winner with $1.7 million-plus.
Chavez’ personal choice is Tony Stewart, who is 0-8 in his Sin City attempts, but finished second in 2000.
Las Vegas is one of just four tracks where Stewart never has won.
"That's a toughie (predicting a winner), but I think Tony's going to come back from disappointments here, " Chavez said.
Drivers will make 267 laps around the 1 1/2-mile track.
Another change they'll encounter this weekend is the use of 13 rather than 17-gallon fuel cells.
Last year, the race drew more than 130,000 fans and generated $197 million, making it the largest sporting event in Nevada during 2006.
"Daytona used to be our biggest annual (auto racing) write, but Las Vegas passed it some years ago, " Chavez said.
Brian Gabrielle is a documented member of the Professional Handicappers League. Read all of his articles at http://www.procappers.com/Brian_Gabrielle.htm