Well, NASCAR, wasn't that a party?


After 38 NASCAR Sprint Cup races over 10 months, the top drivers in the series were rewarded last week with a Las Vegas party.

Racers and fans deserve special festivities to culminate the longest season in sports, and that's what they received with the inaugural Champion's Week in Las Vegas after it had been held in New York City for 28 years.

The party will take place here for at least two more years.

Even the Cup drivers said they had fun.

No complaints from millionaire race car drivers? Gee, the three-day festival must have been good, if not great.

Of the celebration's three major elements, only Friday's banquet needs to be rebuilt like a crashed stock car.

The venue at Wynn Las Vegas drew the banquet's biggest crowd ever at about 1,200, and for the first time, fans -- about 100 -- were invited to attend the black-tie affair.

It's a safe bet next year's dinner will be held in a much larger room -- something like the MGM Grand Garden or the Mandalay Bay Events Center -- so thousands of fans can attend.

As pleased as the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is with the affair, it would not have agreed to pay NASCAR $800,000 a year to host it without a commitment that one day it will be open to the public.

But wherever the banquet is held, it needs a Vegas makeover. It needs more entertainment and shorter speeches. (The endless sponsor plugging should be handled by projecting logo images on a video screen.) Just let racing's elite speak from their hearts.

The rest of Champion's Week fulfilled every expectation.

On Thursday afternoon, a Victory Lap with the top 12 drivers made a 4-mile circuit of the Strip. Fans were delighted, although some governmental types got their feathers ruffled when nearly every driver smoked his tires. Only four-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was approved for smoky donuts, and those were restricted to the Spring Mountain Road intersection.

Right, like the drivers were going to listen. How could they resist showing off for thousands of fans who lined the route wearing NASCAR garb? Excessive displays of horsepower are why many fans arrived early to land good viewing spots and why next year's crowd will be at least twice as big. The burnouts must continue.

The most impressive part of the celebration was the first Chaser's for Charity free event and the roast of Johnson on Wednesday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which did a remarkable job of staging the event.

Live entertainment led to a question-and-answer session between fans and the gracious Dale Jarrett inside the free fan zone. Jarrett and emcee Jamie Little donated their time.

Yes, a few F-bombs were dropped in the roast and it should have carried an R-rating, but that can be controlled by warning all who attend what to expect.

It has been interesting to hear how many callers to Sirius satellite radio's NASCAR Channel the past week want the Cup season finale moved from Homestead, Fla., to Las Vegas.

Putting a second annual Cup race in Las Vegas is something nearly everyone involved with NASCAR wants, but it should not be part of Champion's Week. After 38 weeks of racing, drivers and fans deserve a week to party.

Especially in Vegas, baby.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.

 

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