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Nascar Fever hits Vegas

Toni Edwards is one lady who knows her cars, as in NASCAR. The Sam's Town Sports Book supervisor will have one eye peeled on veteran Ryan Newman and the other on rookie Denny Hamlin as she watches the rest of the field with both when NASCAR christens a new season at the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Unlike other sports, the auto racing loop annually launches a new campaign with its biggest race of the season. The 43 anointed drivers will make 200 trips around the 2 1/2-mile high-banked oval as they attempt to get a new year off on the right foot. Daytona, like Talladega, is a restrictor plate track, meaning cars are equipped with plates that keep speeds under 200 mph.

"It's so exciting," Edwards enthused. "There are new drivers, different crew chiefs, different sponsors. There's so much going on." Daytona used to be NASCAR's big attraction as far as Nevada bet shops were concerned, but that was before Las Vegas became a regular stop on the auto racing circuit.

Now the Daimler-Chrysler 400 commands about twice as much action. "It's in that neighborhood," Edwards said. While there weren't snaking lines like books expect when NASCAR hits Vegas three weeks down the road (March 12), Daytona still was drawing a fair share of weekend wagering action. According to Jake Kolleth, a supervisor at the Stardust, flagship property of the Boyd Group, including Sam's Town, the Friday night favorites were defending champion and three-time Daytona winner Jeff Gordon at 4/1; Dale Earnhardt Jr.

, the 2004 champ whose legendary father was killed on the final lap of the race five years ago, at 6/1; and Tony Stewart, the reigning Nextel Cup champion who has never won the Daytona, at 7/1. All three were 9/2 at the Stratosphere Tower, with Jimmie Johnson at 8/1. Jeff Burton is the polesitter, with Gordon and Elliott Sadler completing the front row; Earnhardt will come out of the No. 7 spot and Stewart from the No. 15. Edwards long has adored Newman (20/1), who has just one Top 10 Daytona finish on his lengthy resume.

"I just love him and have since he grabbed eight poles in 11 races," she said. Hamlin (35/1), who raced for the Joe Gibbs team at the tail end of the 2005 season, registering a trio of Top 10 finishes before landing a regular spot, won last weekend's exhibition Budweiser Shootout, also at Daytona. The race was replete with considerable bump drafting (shoving), which has become Daytona's big issue this year. "He's a young kid (25) with a lot of promise who has a very smart crew chief (Mike Ford)," Edwards said. "I'm impressed." Edwards believes one reason Sam's Town doesn't lure more business for the Daytona is that the Boyd Group doesn't post driver matchups on the race.

"That's what the customers want," she said. "They jump all over them when they see them. I'm going to talk to Jake about getting some up for the Las Vegas race." .

By: Brian Gabrielle



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