03/08/2012 4:20PM

Tuley: Kobalt Tools 400 draws NASCAR pack to Vegas

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LAS VEGAS – Selection Sunday, when the NCAA announces the field for the men’s basketball tournament, is always a big day in the sports books here. Everyone is excited to see the brackets, and the lines go up for the opening-round games.

The drama usually builds during the course of the day with the last handful of conference tournaments wrapping up and a few NBA and NHL games also on the screens to keep patrons occupied.

But the books will get a jump-start this Sunday as it’s also the day of the Kobalt Tools 400, which is being held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on the north end of town. (Note: We still call it the Las Vegas 400 as it was called the first two years it was held here in 1998 and 1999 as it has since been a hodge-podge of corporate names.)

But a race by any name smells as sweet when it brings in as many people (an estimated 150,000 to take part in this week’s activities, according to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority) and as much money (an estimated $136 million non-gaming economic, again via LVCVA) when the good ol’ boys of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing come to town. So, the casinos are more than happy to set aside their basketball decorations for all the March Madness parties next week until after this weekend is over.

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This has annually been the second-biggest auto race handle-wise for Vegas, with so many racing fans in town. It ranks right behind the Daytona 500, the difference being that the local race has odds up for just the past week while the Great American Race odds are put up for nearly two months at some books.

The usual suspects are listed among the favorite for Sunday’s race as Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Las Vegas native Kyle Busch were made the 7-1 co-favorites at the LVH SuperBook (formerly known as the Hilton). Jeff Gordon opened at 8-1, with Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, and Kasey Kahne at 10-1, and Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth and last week’s Phoenix 500 winner Denny Hamlin at 12-1.

The measure of big sporting events these days comes with how many proposition bets are attached to them, and the Kobalt Tools 400 doesn’t disappoint: the LVH set the over/under on number of caution flags at 7.5, the winning car being odd or even (–110 each way), the winning car being numbered 1-23 (–140) or 24-99 (+120), and the winning manufacturer being Chevy (–175), Ford (3-1), Toyota (4-1), Dodge (12-1). Most books also have head-to-head driver matchups, while the LVH also has over/under finish props for many of the top drivers.

Danica Patrick, whether you think she’s a good driver or is the Anna Kournikova of her sport, is a big draw as evidenced by having the most Daytona 500 tickets written on her (not the most money, just the most number of tickets) at the LVH. She’s not racing in the Sprint Cup race on Sunday, but will compete in the Sam’s Town 300 Nationwide Series race Saturday. Last year, she finished fourth in that race, which was her best finish in 27 Nationwide starts. She’s certain to be a popular bet again at 50-1 at the LVH, where they have Brad Kesolowski as the 3-1 favorite, with Busch, Mark Martin, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at 9-2.

Gentlemen (and lady), start your engines.

March Madness contests on the rise

NCAA bracket pools are enough action for a lot of people, but Vegas sports books are stepping up with more March Madness contests than they’ve had in years’ past. Now, the downside to a lot of these over the years is that if you’re visiting for the opening weekend, you can’t win them if you’re not coming back for the following two weekends (so they’re mostly aimed at locals).

But the Riviera has a new contest this year that runs just the Thursday through Sunday of the opening weekend. It’s called The March $1 Million Tournament Challenge (note: the $1 million purse is based on 10,000 entrants, which seems mighty ambitious, but we’ll see). Anyway, the entry fee is $100 with unlimited entries and the deadline is 8 a.m. Pacific on Thursday, March 15. Contestants pick all 16 games on Thursday and Friday against the spread, with selections due by 9 a.m. for those games, and then eight sides and eight totals each day Saturday and Sunday with those plays due by 10 a.m. Full details are available at rivierahotel.com.

The other Vegas contests, again more aimed at locals:

◗ Lucky’s (which also has books at the Plaza, Fitzgeralds, and Terrible’s in Las Vegas as well as Grand Sierra in Reno and other books throughout the state) is also doing its annual College Basketball Bailout Contest with a $10 entry fee (buy three, get one free) and guaranteed $5,000 prize pool. Contestants have to pick all the tournament games against the spread from Thursday, March 15, through the title game on Monday, April 2.

◗ Station Casinos is doing a Last Man Standing contest where you pick one game each day of the tournament against the spread until only one person remains. There’s a $40,000 minimum guaranteed prize, and it costs $25 per entry (buy four, get one free).

◗ Leroy’s also has a survivor-type contest with a twist at their chain of sports books. The Three N Out contest gives you two mulligans while picking either a side or total each day of the tourney. This contest costs $25 with a maximum of five per person. Full details at leroys.com.

◗ For those who can’t make it to Vegas for these contests, there’s a free online contest being held by William Hill, the British bookmaking firm that is taking over the Lucky’s, Leroys, and Club Cal Neva chains this year. It’s called the $10,000 Bracket Challenge and is open to anyone with a Facebook account. All you have to do is “Like” William Hill and then choose your bracket next week. There is also a free Pick 4 Sweepstakes where you get a guess at the Final Four teams each day and get entries in the drawing for a five-day/four-night trip to London.