Las Vegas: News of note

* Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson battling again for series points lead * Looking back: 2005 marks 50th anniversary of NASCAR's first Vegas visit * Looking ahead: Recently rare back-to-back short-track races looming NEWS AND NOTES Top-10 ...

* Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson battling again for series points lead

* Looking back: 2005 marks 50th anniversary of NASCAR's first Vegas visit

* Looking ahead: Recently rare back-to-back short-track races looming

NEWS AND NOTES

Top-10 Rundown: Familiar Faces in First Two Spots ... Kurt Busch (No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Ford) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) ended the 2004 season 1-2 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings, after the first-year Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, with Busch only eight points ahead. After two 2005 races, they're 1-2 again, with Busch merely five points (340-335) in front. Said Busch: "It's way too early to even talk points. But we're having fun." Fun, indeed. Busch has 11 top-10 finishes in his last 12 races, dating back to his victory last September at New Hampshire, the first race in the "Chase". ... Johnson has eight consecutive top-10 finishes dating to Lowe's Motor Speedway last October. ... The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 currently features four past champions: Busch, seventh-place Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), eighth-place Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) and 10th-place Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet).

From the Archives: 50-Year Anniversary of NASCAR's First Vegas Visit ... The city of Las Vegas will be celebrating its 100th anniversary later this year. NASCAR, meanwhile, has its own Vegas anniversary. Nearly 50 years ago, on Oct. 16, 1955, a 200-mile event, the 43rd race on the NASCAR schedule, was held at the Las Vegas Park Speedway. The track was originally built as the Las Vegas Jockey Club horse track. Only three motorsports events were held at the mile-long dirt track before it was razed to make way for the Las Vegas Hilton: An IndyCar championship race in 1954, a USAC stock car race in 1959 and the NASCAR event of 1955.

The race featured drivers mainly from the West Coast. It was scheduled for the same day as Martinsville Speedway's event and although the Las Vegas purse was larger, most of NASCAR's top drivers chose not to travel west. There was, though, a field of 27 cars, including many notable drivers of the day.

Johnny Mantz, winner of the 1950 Southern 500, qualified his 1955 Mercury in the sixth starting position. Mantz was known primarily as an open-wheel driver who found occasional success in stock cars. Bill Amick of Portland, Ore., had a 1955 Oldsmobile coming off the line in 13th spot. Californian Eddie Pagan started 11th in his new Chevrolet. Pagan teamed with Dick Hutcherson in 1971 to form Hutcherson-Pagan Enterprises, one of the sport's most successful car building operations over the last 30 years.

Hutcherson-Pagan parts trucks are still a familiar site around the nation's race tracks.

Other West Coast stars such as Danny Letner, Lloyd Dane, Erick Erickson and Johnny Kieper also made the field. One driver who drew attention was a short-track specialist from Wisconsin named Norm Nelson. Nelson was driving a powerful Chrysler 300 for car owner Carl Kiekhaefer. A fellow Wisconsin native, Keikhaefer had made a fortune with his Mercury outboard motors. He was fascinated with all things automotive and competitive, entering a Chrysler in the 1952 Mexican Road Race with national open wheel champion Tony Bettenhausen Sr. as his driver. The Mexico adventure met with moderate success, but "the old man", as Kiekhaefer was known, looked for a new challenge and a way to advertise his outboard motors. He chose to form NASCAR's first "super team" in 1955. The plan paid off as Kiekhaefer-prepared cars won 21 of the season's first 42 races leading up to the Las Vegas event.

Nelson put his Chrysler on the pole with a speed of 74.518 mph. Bill Hyde from Portland, Ore. started on the outside of the front row in a two year old Oldsmobile. Lloyd Dane jumped into the lead from his fourth-place starting spot and led the first five laps. Nelson took over the lead on Lap Six and held it to Lap 74 when the race was red-flagged due an accident. Virgil Martin, running 12 laps behind, lost control of his Ford directly in front of a tight-running group of cars. Twelve competitors were involved in the incident, which completely blocked the track. No injuries resulted although seven cars were taken out of the event.

The race was restarted on Lap 75 after a long delay with Nelson assuming the lead. However, darkness was closing in and the race was called on Lap 111. Nelson was declared the winner for his first and only NASCAR premier series victory with Hyde coming home in second two laps behind. Nelson picked up $1,325 for the win.

Nelson left NASCAR and Kiekhaefer in 1956, choosing to compete with his own equipment on the Midwestern circuits of USAC and IMCA. Nelson won several championships in both organizations, often giving praise to his engine builder, Jerry Kulwicki, father of 1992 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Alan Kulwicki.

Just Ahead: Close-Quarters Racing on Consecutive Weeks ... Tinkerings with the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule, resulting from realignment, have produced an interesting -- and intriguing -- sidelight. This season, for the first time since 1999, there will be back-to-back short-track races. Consecutive events at half-mile ovals are set for April 3 at Bristol Motor Speedway and April 10 at Martinsville Speedway. A heavier slate of close-quarters competition once was commonplace. As recently as 1996, there even was a three-in-row short-track challenge confronting teams: 500-lap showdowns at Bristol, North Wilkesboro Speedway and Martinsville.

On the Right Track

* Foremost, you might want to be in a Ford this weekend. Ford drivers have won five of the seven LVMS events.

* Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) is the only driver other than Matt Kenseth to have two Vegas victories. Burton won in 1999 and 2000. He drove Fords back then.

* Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) has the most top-10 Vegas finishes, with six. Burton is second with five.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), has led four of the five Vegas races he's entered.

On Deck: Atlanta Motor Speedway ... Race No. 4 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule will be Sunday, March 20 -- the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. AMS, a 1.54-mile tri-oval, has been part of the schedule since 1960 when the respective race winners were Fireball Roberts and Bobby Johns. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. is defending champion; Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) was last year's polesitter.

Fast Facts

The race: UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. (Race No. 3 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)

The track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Nev. (1.5-mile oval.)

The date/time: Sunday, March 13, 3:05 p.m. (ET).

TV: FOX, 2 p.m. (ET).
Radio: PRN/XM Satellite.

Posted awards: $6,131,958.

Race length: 400 miles, 267 laps.

2004 winner: Matt Kenseth.
2004 polesitter: Kasey Kahne.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Kurt Busch 340. 2. Jimmie Johnson 335. 3. Mark Martin 301. 4. Carl Edwards 287. 5. Greg Biffle 273. 6. Elliott Sadler 272. 7. Tony Stewart 268. 8. Rusty Wallace 268. 9. Sterling Marlin 260. 10. Jeff Gordon 258.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Greg Biffle , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Carl Edwards , Tony Bettenhausen , Mark Martin