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Banquet’s move to Las Vegas lauded

Las Vegas was the hot topic of discussion a week ago in the media center for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Word spread like an oil gusher that the annual Cup banquet and awards ceremony in December would move from New York City to Las Vegas this year.

I’m hearing the official announcement could be made April 17 during the Cup event at Phoenix International Raceway.

When NASCAR moved its banquet from Daytona Beach, Fla., to Manhattan nearly three decades ago, it made sense. Then, it was about building a brand on Wall Street.

The NASCAR fire now needs rekindling, as it’s not glowing as brightly as it was five years ago.

And there’s no better place to stoke the embers than the world’s entertainment capital on the Strip.

Drivers and race officials were all for the proposed move when asked about it April 3 during breaks in racing. They are supportive of moving the party from Midtown Manhattan and the storied Waldorf-Astoria to somewhere along the Las Vegas Strip.

Especially if the ceremony is open to fans and it becomes celebration.

A sample of the comments:

Jeff Burton: “Our banquet needs some life injected into it. It needs fan involvement; it needs a fresh look with new ideas. Vegas may give us a better opportunity to do that.”

Jeff Gordon: “I would like to see us incorporate the fans into the banquet. One of the coolest awards shows and events I’ve ever been to was the ESPYs … I believe at Radio City Music Hall in New York. A really cool experience to get the energy of that crowd in there.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I think everybody would be happy to make that trip and enjoy Vegas. They need to change it up a little bit and do it up a little.”

Tony Stewart: “I’m all for it. (New York City) doesn’t fit me and my lifestyle, but I think (Las Vegas) fits us a lot better. I am all for it.”

Kurt Busch: “It’s always exciting for my hometown to have more NASCAR things in it. Obviously, (Las Vegas) would be a cool place to have the banquet.”

Jimmie Johnson: “As long as we’re making forward progress with our sport and making the experience better and taking care of sponsors, then that’s what we need to do.”

Kyle Busch: “We always like going to New York. I know the girlfriends love going there for the shopping. … Vegas will be a little bit different in that respect, but at least the weather might be a little warmer.”

Richard Petty: “All I’ve heard is a lot of people would like to see it move. Don’t make no difference to me. I don’t usually go.”

The move has been promoted for nearly five years by Las Vegas Motor Speedway president Chris Powell and Bruton Smith, founder and chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the speedway and seven other Cup tracks.

“The hotel rooms will be half or less than New York. It won’t be snow and ice on the ground,” Smith said last week at Texas, another of his tracks.

The location for the awards banquet is NASCAR’s choice, and nearly everyone from racers to fans to media wants it to be in a venue large enough where thousands of fans can be included.

The MGM Grand Garden or Mandalay Bay Events Center could offer fan seating for about 12,000 and 7,500, respectively. That leaves floor seating for several hundred NASCAR drivers, teams and officials.

The location and other details, however, are similar to trying for years to get the pretty girl with dark hair to go on a date: Until she says “yes,” there’s no point picking an outfit and making a dinner reservation.

But after getting an approving wink, you can start coming up with ideas.

It’s time to go shopping, at least for something to wear to the banquet.

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

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