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Movie stars, casinos and racing, NASCAR's "real" season set to begin

   After the frustration of the rain shortened Daytona 500, the series headed west to Southern California and the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. The logistics of the long haul from Daytona to southern California no doubt played a part in NASCAR’s decision to call the Daytona 500 so quickly after the rains began.
   Asked last weekend in California about not waiting out the rain and running the Daytona 500 to completion, NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said, “That’s fine if we didn’t have other obligations further down the road. Teams had to start traveling out here Monday evening or Tuesday at some time. It’s a great race. There’s a lot of prestige that goes along with it, but it is just one of our many, many races that we conduct during the season and all of our races basically have the same guidelines whether it’s rain shortened and we try to do for the fans and out of respect for the people who are sitting in the stands. For instance you can look at what we went through at Michigan a couple years ago. What if we had gotten 100 laps at Michigan and then actually sat there for three more days to get the race in?  Where do you draw the line?  I think everybody knows going in what we’re faced with and understands.”
   So last weekend the traveling circus that is NASCAR racing was off to lotus land with Matt Kenseth riding the crest of his first career Daytona 500.  Roush Fenway Racing rules at Auto Club Speedway, especially of late. The team has a collective six wins at the 2 mile track near Los Angeles, including the last four February events there, and Kenseth owns two of them.  Back to back triumphs in the February race in 2006 and '07.  
   Teammate Carl Edwards is the defending Auto Club 500 champion. Another teammate Greg Biffle won the race in 2005.   Speaking before last Sunday’s race Kenseth said, “We know the equipment is there, I really feel like I’ve got the team to win.”
   Three-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson finished a disappointing 31st in the season opening Daytona 500.  Since winning the 2006 Daytona 500, Johnson has finishes of 39th in 2007, and 27th in 2008 to pair with this seasons 31st place finish.  “We knew we weren’t up to speed then,” Johnson said of last season’s poor start.  “We were trying to work on it and correct it  when we knew we were off.   This year we don’t have a clue.  We haven’t tested.  My fingers are crossed,  but I have to have the mindset that we’re going to be off and just have to learn going forward from Fontana.”
   After a weekend of fun in the sun in Southern California, the NASCAR contingent moves on to Las Vegas for a weeklong celebration of automobile racing, culminating in Sunday’s  Shelby 427.  NASCAR week in Las Vegas begins  today, featuring USAC Sprint Cars and Midgets  on Las Vegas Motor Speedways half-mile dirt track. 
   Thursday is the Parade of the NASCAR haulers on the Las Vegas Strip. In 2008, tens of thousands of people lined the Strip to watch the NASCAR team haulers parade down one of the country’s most famous streets.  The 2009 edition of the parade begins at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday. Feb 26. The colorful NASCAR team haulers, transporting the Sprint Cup race cars that will compete in Sunday's Shelby 427, will parade north on the Strip among the world's most well-known hotels and casinos.
   “During the week of the NASCAR events in Las Vegas this entire town becomes NASCAR crazy,” said Chris Powell, Las Vegas Motor Speedway General Manager.  The Speedway expects 48 to 50 haulers to take part in the parade. Thursday night the World of Outlaw Sprint Cars take to the LVMS dirt track.  Friday is pole qualifying for the NASCAR Cup cars in the 1.5 mile Las Vegas Super Speedway. 
   Carl Edwards is the defending race winner of last year's Las Vegas cup race.  It also was the scene of last year's first big cheating dust up, when Edwards was allowed to keep the win but his team was docked  100 points and his crew chief was fined and suspended  when NASCAR inspectors found the oil cooler cover loose in a post race inspection.
 

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