Updated on 09/17/2011 9:55PM

Local event takes the checkered flag at the windows


The Daytona 500 is often called the Super Bowl of stock car racing and it has certainly earned that title in terms of prestige and national fan interest.

For years, the Daytona 500 was the biggest betting race in Nevada sports books, partly because of its reputation but also because it is the first race of the year and the odds are up for the longest time.

But now, Daytona has to take a back seat to our local race, the Las Vegas 400, aka the UAW DaimlerChrysler 400 if the sponsors get their way. This year's race will be next Sunday, but betting has already been fast and furious.

"We'll take 50 percent more in handle on the Las Vegas race than on Daytona," said Micah Roberts, race and sports book director at the Palace Station and the top auto racing oddsmaker in town. "This is the biggest sporting event of the year here, and there's more attention drawn to it with coverage in the daily newspapers and on radio and TV, plus it's a Super Bowl-type event and everyone wants to have a bet on it, even people that don't follow auto racing all year."

The fact that there is a two-week gap before this race - just like a Super Bowl - doesn't hurt either. Roberts said that even though locals certainly step to the windows more, the main increase has come from the fans who travel the Nascar circuit and come back here every year.

"The 150,000 fans coming into town are much more likely to bet now," Roberts said. "As the only Nextel Cup stop with legalized wagering, there's been an education process from that first race eight years ago. People are also much more aware of knowing the types of proposition wagers and parlays that we offer, and that there's more than just betting a driver to win the race."

Roberts said this year he expects to book four to five times as much on matchups and props than on the traditional odds to win the race. In addition to 14 head-to-head driver matchups and six group props (in which bettors try to pick who will have the best finish among four drivers), other props include whether there will be over or under six caution flags; whether the winning margin will be over/under 1.522 seconds; whether the winning car will be numbered odd (-105) or even ( even -125); numbered 0-23 (-120) or 24-99 (-110); have a driver whose last name begins with A-L (-240) or M-Z (+190); whether the winning manufacturer will be Chevrolet (-115) or either Ford or Dodge (-115).

"There's just so many choices when people are looking to bet the race, plus people feel they have a better chance with the props than trying to pick one winner out of a field of 43," Roberts said.

As for the traditional odds to win the race, Roberts has Kasey Kahne as the 7-1 favorite to win the race, with defending Nextel Cup champ Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman at 8-1; Daytona 500 champ Jeff Gordon at 9-1; popular drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Tony Stewart at 10-1; and two-time Vegas winner Matt Kenseth and last week's Auto Club 500 winner Greg Biffle at 12-1.

So how does Kahne, a relative unknown compared to those others, warrant favoritism on the Stations' betting boards? Roberts points to the history of the Vegas race as well as recent testing at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"You certainly can't forget Gordon or Johnson or Earnhardt or those other guys, but their teams haven't fared as well here," Roberts said. "Kahne, who is driving Bill Elliott's old car for the Evernham team, had five seconds last year as a rookie, which is exceptional.

"Roush Racing has won five of the seven races in Vegas, with Kenseth winning the last two, and they tested well here in late January along with the Dodges of the Penske and Evernham teams. Those teams also dominated in California last week on a track that is very similar to Vegas and they'll be able to come here and be ready."

And Vegas will be ready for them, as well as all of the Nextel Cup drivers. In fact, the two-week gap, in contrast to other host cities that have to wait for the drivers and their teams to arrive, allows the raceweek festivities to start extra early with the "Nascar Fan Party at Fremont Street" in downtown Vegas, which starts Thursday and runs through next Wednesday. Busch, a Vegas native, is scheduled to appear on Saturday night, along with his brother Kyle, who is driving on the Nextel Cup circuit for the first time this year.

Another big event is the "Nascar Driver Auction" next Thursday at Sam's Town. Tickets are $35 for the meet-and-greet and attendees can bid on the right to ride around Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a convertible before the race with their favorite driver.

In addition, drivers will be making appearances all over town all next week. Check the speedway's website, www.lvms.com, for an updated schedule.

"That's another great thing about the sport," Roberts said. "The pros are so accessible and friendly. They go out of their way to meet the fans. You can talk to them unlike any other pro athlete."

Let the festivities begin. It's going to be a fun week.