Micah Roberts knows Jimmie Johnson is good at driving a race car and even better at driving a race car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
He makes case after case in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 car -- three straight wins at the UAW-Dodge 400, recent success in NASCAR's new Sprint Cup model, a mastery of 11/2-mile tracks.
But even Roberts, the sports book director for Station Casinos, is surprised at the early action on Johnson to win his fourth straight in Las Vegas on Sunday.
"People have been betting him like he's already won four in a row," said Roberts, whose sports books opened Johnson at 7-1 odds but now have him at 5-1. "You win three straight years with Jimmie and cash tickets, it makes you a big fan of the guy."
Roberts had Tony Stewart as the favorite at 7-1 in 2006 and 6-1 in 2007. After watching Johnson race to three straight wins in Las Vegas, though, Roberts and other local oddsmakers have wised up.
Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened Johnson at 5-1, followed by Jeff Gordon (6-1), Matt Kenseth (8-1) and Carl Edwards and Stewart (both 10-1). Las Vegas natives Kyle and Kurt Busch are at 12-1 and 18-1.
Roberts tabbed Denny Hamlin at 12-1, Casey Mears at 25-1 and Juan Pablo Montoya at 35-1 as good long-shot bets, and Mandalay Bay race and sports book director Jay Rood is looking at Kasey Kahne at 12-1, Jeff Burton at 25-1 and Brian Vickers at 60-1.
Many aspects factor into picking the odds-to-win favorite for a NASCAR race, Rood said.
Certain teams do well at certain tracks -- and with Joe Gibbs Racing fielding Stewart, Kyle Busch and Hamlin in Toyotas, Roberts expects a field day -- but bettors also must consider recent success.
"Roush (Fenway Racing) does well on these types of tracks," Rood said. "Super speedways -- you used to look to DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) and Hendrick Racing. But it's sorta like when you're handicapping a horse race -- if you've got a guy who's a great turf runner going to the dirt now, you don't know what you're going to get.
"If you've got a hot driver, it seems like he can drive a tractor on any track."
But action on the odds-to-win pool typically generates only 25 percent to 30 percent of total betting, Roberts said.
Instead, much of the action is on various proposition bets, including head-to-head driver matchups and team group props.
"There's much more prop betting here," Roberts said. "With the Daytona 500, we have a lot of action on it because it's open for so long -- we've had it open since December. But for Vegas, it's one week of solid wagering."
Said Rood: "We're gonna throw up Lowe's vs. Home Depot -- Johnson vs. Stewart. The cell phone guys, Alltel vs. AT&T -- Ryan Newman vs. Jeff Burton -- and the Battle for the Beers -- Kurt Busch (Miller Lite) vs. Kasey Kahne (Budweiser)."
One new prop bet at the Station Casinos is directly related to one old coach.
Particularly impressed by Gibbs Racing's lineup, Roberts added a bet for Toyota's first win of 2008, with the Las Vegas race coming in at 4-1 and next's week Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 8-1.
''Joe Gibbs (former Washington Redskins coach) is with Toyota now, and he makes winners out of just about anything he touches," Roberts said. "If you can win a Super Bowl with Doug Williams and Timmy Smith, you can just about win with anything."
Such prop bets cater to the casual fans, those who are more interested in the performance of their drivers than their wagers. Rood said most of the betting on Sunday's race is by relatively inexperienced bettors, those who want a 'dog in the race but who don't want to pay the veterinary bills.
"It's a novelty to them," Rood said. "NASCAR has a strong following, race to race to race. But this is the one race where a guy can go out and watch qualifying, come back to the hotel and select a winner or two. It's pretty much all novices."
Contact reporter Jon Gold at jgold@ reviewjournal.com or (702) 380-4587.