01/21/2004 12:00AM

Redskins or car racing?

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This time of year is popular for cross-sports proposition wagering, such as Jake Delhomme's completion percentage vs. Shaquille O'Neal's free-throw percentage, or total points scored by the Patriots vs. total points scored by LeBron James.

When Joe Gibbs, who has been a NASCAR team owner since his first stint as an NFL head coach, returned to lead the Washington Redskins, Station Casinos auto racing oddsmaker Micah Roberts put up a prop on whether Gibbs would win more games in 2004 as coach of the Skins or as the owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. The Redskins are favored by 2, with bettors laying -115 on each side.

"With Gibbs taking over, the Redskins are projected to win between seven and nine games next year," Roberts said. Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte, the stars of Joe Gibbs Racing, "should win between five and seven NASCAR races," according to Roberts.

If you think Gibbs will immediately improve the Redskins a la Bill Parcells, or if you think Stewart and Labonte might not fare as well with absentee ownership, then the Skins -2 would be the play. If you think Gibbs won't be able to turn around the Skins that quickly, or if you think Stewart and Labonte will combine for more than seven wins, you might want to take the racing team +2.

Station Casinos also has its odds up on the Feb. 15 Daytona 500 and the season-long points title for the Nextel Cup Series, formerly the Winston Cup. Teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip are the 4-1 co-favorites at Daytona, followed by Jimmie Johnson at 8-1; Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Kevin Harvick all at 9-1; Kurt Busch at 10-1; and Labonte, Rusty Wallace, and Ryan Newman at 15-1.

Tuesday, NASCAR announced a new scoring system that will give more weight to victories instead of consistency. The top 10 leaders after the first 26 races will be eligible for the title and will have their scores adjusted to give more drivers a shot at the $5 million first-place prize.

"For the season-long title, I shaded the odds a little lower on the top drivers because they have the best chance to be in the running at the end," Roberts said. "I'm glad they did this because the points race was never really something that people talked about. I can't remember the last time a guy who led halfway didn't win it."

Newman, who won eight races last year and would have finished third instead of sixth if the new scoring format had been in effect, is the 5-2 favorite. Johnson and Gordon are the co-second choices at 3-1, followed by Earnhardt at 5-1, Stewart at 6-1, defending champion Matt Kenseth - who won only one race last year and would have finished sixth under the revised system - at 8-1, and Busch, Harvick, and Labonte at 10-1.

Mandalay group continues contests

New Nevada gaming regulations went into effect this Wednesday, effectively killing all of the weekly handicapping contests in Las Vegas that cost a nominal $10 to enter, but the Mandalay Resort Group has decided to continue its popular contests with no entry fee, and giving out $1,000 in prizes per day.

Free contests are exempt from the new regulations. With entry fees no longer helping to subsidize the contest, however, prizes have been reduced to $500 for first, $150 for second, $75 for third, $50 for fourth, and $25 for fifth.

A total of $200 will be given away to leaders every few races in an attempt to keep players in the race book. The leader after the second race will receive $50, the leader at the halfway point (usually either race 4 or 5) will receive $100, and the leader after the three-quarter point (either the sixth or seventh race) will receive $50.

If someone leads wire to wire, he would pocket $700.

The contests are run Wednesdays at the Excalibur and the Edgewater in Laughlin, Thursdays at the Monte Carlo, Fridays at the Circus Circus properties in Las Vegas and Reno, and Saturdays at the Luxor.

Entrants try to pick the winner and quinella in each race. Points are awarded based on the mutuel payouts at the track, with a limit of $42 to win and $102 for the quinella.