03/07/2007 12:00AM

Nextel Cup race a hot ticket

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Prior to the NBA All-Star Game here last month, there was talk that maybe the game should be played here every year.

Since then, NBA commissioner David Stern said the Thomas & Mack Center was inadequate and the exhibition wouldn't return here until the city had a new arena. Then there was the little matter of more than 400 arrests on the weekend and a shooting incident at a gentlemen's club. Even though the weekend was considered an overall success, the bitter aftertaste has even Mayor Oscar Goodman, the city's biggest booster, dropping any ideas about having it return anytime soon.

But one major sporting event has come here and returned here every year for the past 10 years. It's the Nextel Cup circuit's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, or, for those who eschew corporate names, the Las Vegas 400, and tickets for Sunday's 1 p.m. Pacific race are sold out. The race will be shown live on Fox.

The Las Vegas Motor Speedway has undergone many changes since last year's running, with the track's banking raised from 12 to 20 degrees and pit road moved 275 feet closer to the grandstands. In addition, there is a catwalk for those with upgraded tickets to get closer to watch the pit crews in action, and a Neon Garage exhibit.

Roush Racing has won five of the last seven Nextel Cup races in Las Vegas and its drivers hold all the local records in the Cup, Busch, and Truck series, but that was on the old track configuration. With the new setup more closely resembling Atlanta and Texas, Station Casinos' auto racing oddsmaker Micah Roberts made Tony Stewart the 6-1 favorite. Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne are the co-second choices at 7-1; with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth at 8-1; Kevin Harvick and Las Vegas native Kyle Busch at 10-1; Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, and Carl Edwards at 12-1; and Greg Biffle at 13-1.

Leroy's, with more than 60 outlets in the state, including at the Nascar-friendly Sahara on the north end of the Strip and the aptly-named Speedway Casino just off of I-15 at the Cheyenne exit on the way to the actual speedway, has a unique twist on auto race wagering that horse players will find interesting. In addition to taking the regular bets to win the race, Leroy's also offers place and show. For instance, if you're not quite sure Stewart will win the race, you could bet him to place at 2-1 or to show at even-money. Leroy's lists 29 individual drivers with the rest of the expected 43 starting drivers put in the field (that opened at 15-1 to win, 6-1 to place, 3-1 to show). The odds are not parimutuel, so they are fixed once you place your bet.

The Station Casinos has the most different ways to bet the race. There are nine head-to-head matchups available, as well as six four-driver groups in which you pick the one to have the best finish, plus proposition wagers such as what will be the winning manufacturer (Chevrolet -140 vs. Ford, Dodge, Toyota at +110), whether the winning car will be odd or even (odd is -125 with even at -105), whether the winning car is number 0-23 or 24-99 (0-23 is -120 with 24-99 at -110), over/under 7 1/2 Chevrolets to finish in the top 15 (over is -140 with the under at +110), and with the new track configuration intended to promote more exciting and closer racing, it's not surprising that the over/under on the winning margin of victory is set at 1.122 seconds with the under favored at -140.

There are tons of festivities leading up to the actual main event. Drivers are making appearances all week, with the best one Friday in the NASCAR Cafe at the Sahara from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. with Mark Martin.

For those who can't get into Sunday's race, there are still tickets available for Saturday's Sam's Town 300 in the Busch Series. Nextel Cup drivers have taken to moonlighting in the "minor-league" circuit and Station Casinos has Kahne as the 4-1 favorite, with Harvick and Burton at 5-1, Busch at 6-1, and his brother Kurt Busch and Edwards at 8-1. The Sam's Town 300 will be shown live at noon Pacific on Saturday on ABC.

Stations has March Madness contest

Station Casinos is holding a Last Man Standing contest for this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament in which contestants pick a game against the spread each day starting with Thursday's first-round games. Once a person picks a loser, they are eliminated. The last man (or woman) standing will receive the entire prize pool, which Stations is guaranteeing at $25,000.

Stations is a wide-ranging group, but for purposes of this contest include Palace Station, Boulder Station, Texas Station, Sunset Station, Santa Fe Station, Red Rock Resort, Green Valley Ranch, Fiesta Rancho, and Fiesta Henderson.

There is a $25 entry fee. All entrants will receive a T-shirt and those who buy three entries will receive a fourth free.

Complete rules are available at any of the above sports books.

More March Madness minutia

There will be countless radio and sports shows discussing the first-round games early next week, but for the first word on the games from a point-spread perspective on Sunday night after the opening numbers are posted, gamblers are advised to tune into LVSC's Just for Openers on KBAD AM-920 from 7-9 p.m. Pacific. The show, featuring Las Vegas Sports Consultant's COO Ken White, will be broadcast live from the Red Rock sports book and can be heard online at vegasinsider.com/radio. Another early look at the games will be on the Leroy's Line Show from 10 p.m. to midnight on KDWN AM-720, which can be heard throughout the West, or at americanwagering.com/ radio/sunday_night.html.

* The Plaza downtown will be dealing a 10-cent line on NCAA tournament games, -105 on each side as opposed to the standard -110.