02/14/2007 12:00AM

Mears live Daytona longshot

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The big auto racing news this week leading up to Sunday's Daytona 500 was the suspensions of five crew chiefs on the Nextel Cup circuit.

Would that impact the betting odds on the Great American Race?

"Not at all," said Micah Roberts, who sets the auto racing odds for Station Casinos. "These teams have been planning for this race for weeks and everyone knows what the game plan is and what they plan to do. Once the race begins, there are not many decisions for the crew chief. In fact, last year Jimmie Johnson won the Daytona 500 after his crew chief was suspended."

Besides, the five drivers who lost their crew chiefs - Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Scott Riggs, and Michael Waltrip - are not among the favorites in the race anyway.

Station Casinos has Tony Stewart, who won last Saturday's Bud Shootout exhibition race at Daytona, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the co-favorites at 6-1, followed by Johnson and Jeff Gordon at 7-1, Kevin Harvick at 13-1, Kyle Busch at 15-1, Casey Mears at 16-1, and Jeff Burton and Kenny Hamlin at 20-1. Kahne is then 22-1 and Kenseth is 25-1.

Mears is Roberts' longshot pick. He bet him at 30-1 at another Vegas sports book and as of Wednesday was still as high as 25-1. Roberts points out that in the two races last year at Daytona, Mears finished second and seventh, and this year picks up the crew that won with Johnson last year.

Just as in other major sporting events, more auto racing proposition bets get offered all the time. At Station Casinos, you can bet on if the winning car number will be odd or even (even is a -330 favorite), numbered 1-23 or 24-99 (the latter is a -170 favorite), and whether the winning car will come from starting positions 1-8 or 9-43 (the latter is a -155 favorite).

Chevrolets have dominated at the super speedways, winning 19 of the last 22 races in which restrictor plates are required, and Roberts made Chevy a -330 favorite in a prop vs. all other manufacturers (Ford, Dodge, and Toyota).

Roberts also doesn't see much of a change with Toyota entering the Nextel Cup circuit.

"They have the money and they'll get it done, but I don't expect Toyota to make a real impact for two years," he said.

A driver from the Hendrick team - which includes Mears, Johnson, Gordon, and Busch - has won 3 of the last 4 restrictor-plate races and 5 of the last 8 - but Stations still has the "yes" on whether a Hendrick driver will win at +180.

Stations also has nine head-to-head matchups as well as "group" betting in which four drivers are listed and you have pick the one with the best finish.

The Daytona 500 is called the Super Bowl of Nascar, but it's also the first race of a long season for the Nextel Cup points championship. Stewart and Johnson are the 5-1 co-favorites to take the crown, with Gordon at 7-1, and Kenseth and Kahne at 8-1.

Baseball starting up

Depending on what part of the country you're in, it might not seem like baseball season is here, but major league pitchers and catchers are reporting over the weekend for spring training.

Odds for this year's World Series have been up around town since last October, and most of the value has already been bet out of them, but a more telling barometer of how teams are expected to perform this year can be seen in the over/under season win totals posted this past week at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Not surprisingly, the Yankees (who are the future-book favorite at around 4-1 at sports books around town) have the highest total at 96 1/2, followed by the Red Sox (90 1/2), Angels (89 1/2), Dodgers (88 1/2), Phillies (88), Mets (87 1/2), Tigers (86 1/2), White Sox (86 1/2), Blue Jays (86 1/2), and Cubs (85 1/2).

The defending champion Cardinals opened at 84 1/2; of course, they won the NL Central last year with a record of only 83-78 before their unlikely World Series run. But, usually a team that makes the playoffs is a good bet to go over.

My best bet would be the Braves to go over 80 1/2, as this proud franchise ended its long playoff run last year but hasn't slipped that much overall and should bounce back.

The Nationals have the lowest total at 66 1/2. The Royals and Devil Rays are next at 67 apiece, though I'd be much more likely to bet the Royals to go over.

Long holiday weekend

Las Vegas is gearing up for a huge weekend with the NBA All-Star Game in town. Sunday is also Chinese New Year: the Year of the Boar. A lot of Asians come here every year to party, and the casinos roll out the red carpet (literally) for their high-roller guests. With the All-Star game festivities, the Chinese celebrations are a lot harder to find, but an annual favorite is the conservatory at the Bellagio, which includes an 18-foot-tall Chinese God of Wealth and Fortune atop a pile of golden coins, a 45-foot-tall, six-level pagoda, six Chinese children with their colorful jackets made of carnations, mums and roses, and a seven-foot pig that snorts and wiggles.

Just about the time Chinese New Year celebrations wear off (though the official holiday extends for 15 days), along comes Mardi Gras. Popular hangouts will be the Orleans casino on West Tropicana Avenue, the Carvinal Court outside Harrah's, and the Masquerade Village at the Rio.