05/29/2005 11:00PM

Wheldon gives Maloofs a winner

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On Sunday, King Palm ran second in Hollywood Park's fourth race, a maiden special event.

That is hardly newsworthy, even though King Palm is owned by Maloof Brothers Enterprises, the owners of the Sacramento Kings and the Palms casino here in Vegas - hence the name King Palm.

Away from the track for a full year, King Palm is now 0 for 5 lifetime with three consecutive runner-up finishes. Coupled with the Kings' unceremonious first-round exit from the NBA playoffs, it hasn't exactly been a banner spring for the Maloofs with their sports ventures.

But don't shed any tears for them, because shortly before King Palm's loss, Dan Wheldon won the Indianapolis 500. As Wheldon celebrated by drinking milk in Victory Lane at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his image was broadcast nationally and internationally with the Palms logo prominently displayed on his driver's suit.

The Palms is a sponsor of the Andretti Green Honda Racing team, and the investment certainly paid off in exposure on Sunday.

Wheldon was the fifth choice at most sports books in Las Vegas, ranging from 8-1 to 10-1.

* In the nightcap of Sunday's auto racing doubleheader, Jimmie Johnson won the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., for the third year in a row. Johnson was the 7-1 favorite at Station Casinos.

The 600-mile race, the longest on the Nextel Cup circuit, is usually a marathon, but it was even longer than usual - at least timewise - as a record 22 caution flags helped cause the race to last for 5 hours, 13 minutes, and 52 seconds.

Race officials put out a red flag with nine laps to go after leader Joe Nemechek ran into a wall after running over debris on the track, stopping the cars so that the race wouldn't be finished at a snail's pace under a yellow flag.

Bobby Labonte, a huge longshot at 45-1, seemed in control after the restart, but Johnson passed him on the final turn to win by less than half a car length.

Sports book notes

The Arena Football League playoffs are down to four teams after the playoffs opened Sunday.

Underdogs won three of the four first-round games - the lone exception being Georgia, which defeated Tampa Bay 62-46 at home. Colorado also won at home. The Crush - a 3-point underdog to defending AFL champion San Jose - won 56-48. The bigger upsets were Orlando going into New York and winning 47-42 and Chicago invading Los Angeles and winning 52-45.

Three of the four games went under the total.

The semifinals will be played on Sunday - point spreads and totals for the AFL usually come out on Wednesday - with the winners to meet on June 12 in ArenaBowl XIX at the Thomas & Mack Center here in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants has Georgia as the 7-5 favorite to win it all, with Colorado at 5-2, Orlando at 3-1, and Chicago at 7-2.

* Justin Leonard nearly squandered an eight-stroke lead in the FedEx St. Jude's Classic in Memphis, Tenn., but held on to defeat David Toms by a stroke. Leonard was the 25-1 co-fifth choice at the Las Vegas Hilton, while Toms was the 7-1 favorite. This week, the PGA Tour moves to Dublin, Ohio, for the Memorial Tournament, with Tiger Woods back on the course as the 9-2 favorite, followed by Vijay Singh at 6-1 and Ernie Els at 8-1.

Coast contests have carryovers

Even though Hollywood Park ran on Monday with a special Memorial Day card, the track will be running Wednesday. And that's good news for horseplayers in Las Vegas, as the regular offerings of contests (Coast Casinos, plus another at the Excalibur) and twin quinellas (Station Casinos, and the Plaza downtown) will be available.

The highlight Wednesday is the weekly $5 buy-in contest at the Coast Casinos (The Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, Suncoast) on the first five races at Hollywood. In addition to the $2,000 in daily prize money, there is also a $2,960 carryover in the progressive jackpot for anyone going 5 for 5.

For those trying to turn short money into long money, it gets even better on Thursday in the $10 buy-in contest at Coast Casinos, as the carryover in that separately run pool stands at $22,040 after six straight carryovers. That contest also involves picking the first five races at Hollywood, and it has $3,000 in daily prize money.