A win-Wynn proposition in Vegas
LAS VEGAS -- It's showtime on the Strip. Well, yes, it's always showtime on the Strip, but this is about showing NASCAR it did the right thing.
Can Sin City deliver where the Big Apple didn't? Can Vegas bring back the love for NASCAR that Manhattan lost long ago?
After 27 years of celebrating the Champion's Week in New York, the thrill was gone. NASCAR officials wanted and needed a little more TLC from the host city.
When Las Vegas came courting, to the tune of a reported $1 million a year, NASCAR gladly accepted.
The Waldorf is out. The Wynn is in. Instead of the endless honking of cab horns on Fifth Avenue, it's the endless ding-ding-ding of slot machines in the casinos.
"Las Vegas will be a nice, refreshing thing," NASCAR chairman Brian France said at the season finale in Homestead, Fla. "It's a shot in the arm for us and for the industry."
The week has just begun, but by all indications, this was a smart move.
Las Vegas cares. It has to. The city made an investment at a time when bringing new events to town is essential.
The lifeblood of Vegas is people willing to spend their discretionary income to party, gamble and let it all hang out. It's Vegas, baby. Go for it.
But the number of visitors is down compared with past years. Hard times arrived, and the high rollers departed. The going rate for hotels on the Strip is about half of what it was two years ago.
So the timing was right for NASCAR to leave the Broadway lights for the neon jungle. New York didn't need NASCAR's end-of-the-year shindig. Las Vegas did.
"I don't know all the details, but I'd say Vegas is a great move," Carl Edwards said at Homestead. "New York is neat. It's fun to go there for a number of reasons, but Vegas is a lot simpler for people that want to come -- fans, teams and all the sponsors."
Unfortunately for Edwards, he fell one spot shy of making the show. Edwards finished 11th in the 12-man Chase, 10 points behind Kasey Kahne. Only the top 10 drivers are honored at the Sprint Cup awards ceremony Friday night at the Wynn, although the top 12 will be involved in the festivities leading up to the banquet.
And, for the first time, a few regular Joes get to see it live and in person. About 300 fans have a seat at the awards show.
"There is a fan component now because we had the room to do that in Las Vegas," France said. "We're obviously happy about that. We're going to be looking to expand that over time, but we want to walk before we run here."
Moving the celebration week to Vegas makes sense in so many ways that it's hard to list them all. For one thing, Las Vegas has a track. New York didn't.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway will play host to an event Wednesday. At the free Chasers for Charity Fanfest, fans can see Chase drivers up close.
The atmosphere in Vegas is to let your hair down and have fun. Whether it's the gambling tables, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, everything there to me says fun.” -- Kurt Busch
And the Victory Lap of cars is back. NASCAR had a street parade of the top 10 drivers in their cars coasting around Times Square, which drew quite a crowd of onlookers. But New York officials canceled the parade last year, saying it became too expensive.
No problem for Vegas. The Victory Lap starts in front of the MGM Grand at 3:15 p.m. PT Thursday when Wayne Newton drops the green flag. The lap includes a pit stop and a burnout, which was a real no-no in Manhattan.
No one is happier about the event's being in Las Vegas than Kurt Busch, a Vegas native who honed his racing skills on the bullring short track at LVMS. He hosted a charity golf tournament Tuesday.
"The atmosphere in Vegas is to let your hair down and have fun," Busch said. "Whether it's the gambling tables, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, everything there to me says fun. New York was a lot of fun as well, but we were bundled up in coats."
Some years it was snowing during Champion's Week in New York, but that was part of its charm. Manhattan at Christmastime is a special place, including the lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
There is no place like New York. It served NASCAR well for almost three decades. The national media outlets and the corporate appeal of Madison Avenue helped fuel NASCAR's enormous sponsorship growth into the mainstream.
It was the right thing to do when Bill France Jr. decided NASCAR needed the big city to expand the sport's reach. Manhattan embraced NASCAR.
But somewhere along the way, the relationship soured. New York got bored with NASCAR. The city no longer cared. It was time to move on.
NASCAR had a tough year in 2009. In the struggling economy, attendance fell and sponsorships declined. So NASCAR needed some love. It needed to go where it felt wanted.
Las Vegas made its pitch and won. Now it has to deliver and show NASCAR it did the right thing.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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