Las Vegas revs up for NASCAR party

It took NASCAR a little too long to announce its schedule for the first Sprint Cup Champion's Week in Las Vegas, but good things are worth waiting for.

It wasn't until this week that an official calendar for next month's festivities was released, and new events make a trip to town worthwhile.

Jerry Bonkowski, a friend and longtime motor sports journalist, has an article at this week in which he admits to misgivings about wanting the event moved to Las Vegas from New York City.

"While I like Las Vegas, the aura there just can't match that of Manhattan. And while the Wynn (Las Vegas) is one of the classiest in Sin City, it's no Waldorf-Astoria," he writes.

"But for the previous five years, I always looked forward to heading to New York City, a city I previously hated for a reason I can no longer remember, but one that I since fell in love with."

Let me refresh your memory, Jerry: traffic congestion, overpriced rooms and food, and potential for snow.

The Big Apple couldn't have cared less about catering to race cars, drivers or fans. And the last time I checked, New York doesn't have a speedway or want one.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority wanted Champion's Week so much that it agreed to pay NASCAR between $500,000 and $1 million a year to host it. It would be good exposure for the city and eventually attract thousands of visitors to the party.

The highlight of the week will be the Chasers for Charity Fanfest on Dec. 2 (Wednesday) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It offers free activities inside the Neon Garage, including a question-and-answer session with 1999 Cup champ Dale Jarrett that will be hosted by Las Vegan Jamie Little.

Thanks to NASCAR, the top 12 drivers will attend and walk through the crowd before heading to a roast, where the group will have its way with the Chase champion.

Roast admission is a $250 charitable donation to Speedway Children's Charities. Thanks to the Speed channel and the speedway, it will be shown free on closed-circuit TV inside the Neon Garage.

Last year, New York black-flagged the traditional "victory lap parade" for the top drivers because it compounded traffic congestion when they drove their race cars around Times Square. And in years the parade was permitted, drivers had to follow all traffic laws and obey stoplights. Not even a tire chirp was permitted.

Here in Las Vegas, we cherish traffic stoppages and detours, and love failing to yield.

The Vegas-style lap will start in front of the MGM Grand, head north on Las Vegas Boulevard to Spring Mountain Road, U-turn to head southbound on the boulevard and back to the MGM. During the run, drivers will make pit stops along the Strip and the champion is expected to execute some smoky donuts along the way.

Try that in Manhattan and you'll get arrested.

A free feature Thursday night will be Tony Stewart's annual "Stewie Awards" program for Sirius Satellite Radio from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Rio, and the public is welcome. That, too, will be more fun than the banquet the next night at Wynn Las Vegas, where the speeches will be sanitized and boring.

It was the correct move 27 years ago when NASCAR's postseason coronation was moved from Daytona Beach, Fla., to New York, giving the racing organization a needed presence on Wall Street to lure corporate America.

But times have changed, and the move to Las Vegas shifts the focus to fans.

Champion's Week 2009 is where it belongs, and it will get better for fans each year.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at throughout the week and for Champion's Week news.