Las Vegas: News of note

Earnhardt Jr.-Kenseth 1-2 in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 West Coast previews of IMAX movie building momentum for March 12 opening Kyle Busch making NASCAR NEXTEL Cup debut Bill Elliott set to start limited-race schedule NEWS & NOTES * ...

Earnhardt Jr.-Kenseth 1-2 in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10
West Coast previews of IMAX movie building momentum for March 12 opening
Kyle Busch making NASCAR NEXTEL Cup debut
Bill Elliott set to start limited-race schedule


* Charting the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: Kenseth closes in on old rival ... Shades of the NASCAR Busch Series in 1998 and '99. Back then, in America's No. 2 motorsports series, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth battled for championships. Earnhardt won the title both years. Kenseth finished second in the 1998 points, and third in '99. After two races of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season, Earnhardt (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) and Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford) are 1-2 in points, Earnhardt holding a 340-333 lead. Earnhardt won the season-opening Daytona 500, while Kenseth closed in on the points lead by winning at Rockingham in Week 2. ... Dropping out the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 this week: Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford). Johnson's exit ends a run of 70 consecutive weeks in the top 10, the ninth-best run in the modern era. New to the elite group this week: seventh-place Kurt Busch (No. 97 Sharpie IRWIN Ford) and ninth-place Ward Burton (No. 0 NetZero Hi-Speed Chevrolet). ... The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 is taking on added importance this year, as after 26 races the top 10 -- plus anyone else within 400 points of the points leader -- qualify for the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" that will determine the series champion.

* Momentum builds of "NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience" ... Sunday's Arena Football League coverage on NBC will feature an exclusive preview from "NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience." Opening nationwide on March 12, the latest IMAX movie delves into the NASCAR phenomenon and showcases the thrill and speed of the sport up-close and personal on eight story-high IMAX screens. NBC will debut a two-minute excerpt from "NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience" film during the four regional Arena Football League broadcasts which begin at noon ET. The AFL will also show the excerpt to their in-arena fans. ... NBC's national preview will follow up on some special premieres set for this week: Wednesday night in Los Angeles, a private showing targeting the entertainment industry at Universal City Walk; and Thursday night at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, with showings set for both media (5:30 p.m. PT) and the motorsports industry (7 and 8:30 p.m. PT).

* Kyle Busch making premier series debut at Vegas ... Kyle Busch (No. 84 CARQUEST Auto Parts Chevrolet) will attempt to make his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut this weekend at Las Vegas, driving for car owner Rick Hendrick. Busch, younger brother of Kurt Busch, is from Las Vegas, adding to the personal importance of the weekend which also includes his third NASCAR Busch Series race of the season, in Hendrick's No. 5 Lowe's Chevrolet. "It's definitely a big deal to make my Nextel Cup debut in my hometown, especially with an organization like Hendrick Motorsports, but you have to treat this weekend like any other race," Busch said. "I can't let what I'm trying to do with the Cup car negatively affect what we're trying to accomplish in the Lowe's Chevrolet on the Busch Series side. We want to win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award, and we're trying to get into the top 10 in points. Saturday is just as important a day for me as Sunday will be."

* Kenseth returns to Vegas as "double-defender" ... Matt Kenseth won only one race last season, en route to the series championship. That came at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Kenseth has an average finish of 11.5 in four races at LVMS, in NASCAR's premier series.

* Elliott makes first appearance of limited-schedule season ... Former series champion Bill Elliott is campaigning a "limited schedule" this season, starting with this weekend's race. He comes out of "semi-retirement" to drive Evernham Motorsports' No. 91 UAW-National Training Center Dodge at LVMS. (Elliott raced last month at Daytona International Speedway, in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, a non-points event.) It is uncertain how many races Elliott will enter this year.

* NASCAR types switch gears for SPEED Channel program ... Former series champions Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), team owner Ray Evernham and NASCAR Managing Director of Research and Development Gary Nelson will join host Ralph Sheheen on Wednesday night at 9, on SPEED Channel's new show, High-Banked Heroes, Two-Wheel Warriors. The topic of discussion: motorcycles. "It's interesting to see how each person's personality comes out in different ways through their motorcycles," Sheheen said. "Some guys set their bikes up for distance riding, some guys are looking for horsepower and still others just want it to look really cool. The fun part about this show is that we don't talk at all about racing; it's all about the motorcycles." Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears (No. 41 Target Dodge) also will appear on the show.

* Mark this milestone ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been around longer than you might think. He's scheduled to make his 150th career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start on Sunday.

* Nemechek wants to maintain spot in Top 10 ... Joe Nemechek (No. 01 USG Sheetrock Chevrolet) is 10th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 this week, enjoying one of the best starts of his career. "We've gotten off to a pretty good start and that's the way we want to keep it," Nemechek said. "I like everything about this team and it's nice to go into a race with the feeling that you have the ability to be competitive and run with the leaders." Nemechek is even more optimistic this week; he won the NASCAR Busch Series race last season at Las Vegas, then finished ninth the next day in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event.

* Additional four-race deal for 'Front-row Joe' ... Las Vegas will be the first of a four-race package in which USG Sheetrock will be the primary sponsor of Nemechek's car, which is fielded by MB2 Motorsports. Chicago (July 11), New Hampshire (Sept. 19) and Darlington (Nov. 14) will be the others. The U.S. Army will continue to be the primary sponsor for all other races. For USG's four-race deal, the U.S. Army will be an associate sponsor.


Fords have won four of the six NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races at Las Vegas, all by Roush Racing drivers. Along those lines, Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) and Jeff Burton (No. 99 SKF Ford) have both dominated at Las Vegas over the six years NASCAR's premier series has raced there. Martin and Burton are the only drivers to score five top-10 finishes in the six races. Burton and Martin rank 1-2 in laps led at Las Vegas. Burton leads the way with 204 followed by Martin with 186. Burton leads all drivers with two victories at Las Vegas (1999 and 2000) and is the only driver with more than one victory. Martin won in 1998 and Matt Kenseth won last year. ... The same story holds true for NASCAR Busch Series races at LVMS; Roush drivers have won three of the six events. ... Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) has scored three consecutive top-10 finishes at Las Vegas, the only driver to do so. Tony Stewart scored fifth-place finishes in each of his last two races at Las Vegas, the only driver to score top-five finishes in the last two races there.


* "I guess if the start/finish line was a couple of feet further, I may have won." -- Kasey Kahne, on last week's runner-up finish at Rockingham, where he was 0.010-second behind Matt Kenseth.

* "Being in demand is a good thing, because that means we're running well." -- More from Kahne, regarding his post-Rockingham attention.

* "It's been a long time -- certainly longer than what I would have liked -- since I've been in the top 10 in points and it feels good to be here." -- Ward Burton, who is in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 for the first time since March of 2002, in ninth place.

* "You've got to stay on the gas to win at Vegas. If your car's hooked up, it feels like a rocket ship going through the tri-oval." -- Johnny Sauter (No. 30 America Online Chevrolet).


Las Vegas Motor Speedway first hosted NASCAR racing in 1998, but it was not the first time NASCAR's premier series had competed in that area. A scheduled 200-mile race, featuring Grand National (NASCAR NEXTEL Cup) cars, was slated for Oct. 16, 1955 on the 1-mile dirt-surfaced Las Vegas Jockey Club horse track. The Las Vegas Hilton now sits on that site.

A field of 27 cars took the green flag. The race was called due to darkness after 111 miles. Norm Nelson, driving one of Carl Kiekhaefer's powerful Chrysler 300s, captured the pole with a speed of 74.518 mph and went on to win the race in only his second NASCAR start.

Nelson averaged a speed of 44.449 mph for the race and won by a margin of two laps over runner-up, Bill Hyde. This race was Nelson's only NASCAR pole and only NASCAR win, although he had great success with other sanctioning bodies. Among the notables in the field that day were Johnny Mantz, winner of the inaugural Southern 500 in 1950, and West Coast stars Danny Letner, Lloyd Dane, Bill Amick and Eddie Pagan.

Fast Facts

What: UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. (Race No. 3 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
Where: Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway.
When: Sunday, March 7, 3 p.m. (ET).

TV: FOX, 2:30 p.m. ET.
Radio: PRN/XM Satellite.

Race length: 400.5 miles/267 laps.
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Ward Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Joe Nemechek , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Johnny Sauter , Kasey Kahne , Ray Evernham , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports