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Spring is in the air, and today is the harbinger of March Madness and the just-ahead wild Spring Break festivities. It’s all about the game and the roar of engines as basketball championships get underway, and a stunning lineup of NASCAR stars fans out across the valley.
The Western Athletic Conference basketball tournament starts its four-day run at Orleans Arena, and the Mountain West championships tip off for four days at the Thomas & Mack Center. The eight WAC teams are Fresno State, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Utah State and of course Nevada. Our UNLV takes on Wyoming in the men’s first round of the Mountain West on Thursday; the other matchups are San Diego State vs. Boise State, New Mexico vs. Air Force and Colorado State vs. TCU.
We, of course, are rooting for our Running Rebels, and even former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson stopped by practice to offer words of advice. First match up today is in women’s basketball between the San Diego Aztecs vs. Air Force. Please follow our Las Vegas Sun sports colleagues who watch these games far closer -- and better -- than we do.
Racecar drivers from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the Nationwide Series start their round of appearances today in advance of NASCAR Weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We’ve put them together with other highlight events in one handy Royal Robin Rundown:
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7
Jennifer Jo Cobb, 5 to 7 p.m., Lee’s Discount Liquors, Sunset Road, Henderson.
Race Weekend begins at 5 p.m. as spectator gates open with the double-header IMCA Modified and West Coast late model racing at the resurfaced half-mile Dirt Track. Opening ceremonies and the national anthem are at 6:55 p.m.
Freightliner trucks start the first round of the 2012 Run Smart Hauler Challenge at LVMS. The official hauler of NASCAR holds the competition every year to test the driving abilities of team-hauler drivers, with $30,000 to the winner. The timed competition features a specially designed course that challenges drivers with tight turns, backing drills and other obstacles. Drivers are eliminated after each round leading up to the finals, which are at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina before the Bank of America 500 on the weekend of Oct. 13.
THURSDAY, MARCH 8
Eric McClure, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Walmart, West Tropical Parkway.
Tony Stewart, 1 p.m., Office Depot, West Craig Road.
Bobby Labonte, 3 to 5 p.m., Walmart, West Tropical Parkway.
Kyle Busch, 4 to 6 p.m., M&M World, Las Vegas Blvd.
Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip, 4 to 6 p.m., the Pub at the Monte Carlo.
Brendan Gaughan, 6 to 8 p.m., South Point.
Greg Biffle, 6 p.m., Team Ford, Drexel Road.
Jamie McMurray, 6 p.m., Bass Pro Shops, Silverton.
Jimmie Johnson, 7 to 8 p.m., Suncoast.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., 7 to 8 p.m., Sam’s Town.
Brad Keselowski, 8 p.m., Dick’s Last Resort, Excalibur.
Kurt Busch, David Reutimann, Dave Blaney, Ken Schrader, Robert Richardson Jr., Scott Riggs, Eric McClure, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Johanna Long, 8 to 9 p.m., the Riviera.
The Kyle Busch Foundation slot tournament begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Riviera, and the Casey Mears Geico Sprint Cup car will be on display there throughout the weekend.
Fifty haulers will parade for 5 miles on the Strip starting at 6 p.m. from the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign to the former Sahara and then enter I-15 N to LVMS.
The World of Outlaws Sprint Cars Series, the 360 Sprint Car Series and the IMCA Modifieds are at LVMS.
The four-day Growth Energy conference gets underway as part of NASCAR Weekend. The Washington, D.C., ethanol advocacy group is one of NASCAR’s major green partners. Steve Phelps, chief marketing officer for NASCAR, and Steve O’Donnell, VP of racing operations for NASCAR, will speak about NASCAR Green, and NASCAR team owner Richard Childress will receive America’s Fuel Award, the highest honor presented by Growth Energy.
FRIDAY, MARCH 9
Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt, 7 to 8 p.m., Palms.
Michael McDowell and Jason Bowles, 7 p.m., the Pub.
Kurt Busch and others, 8 p.m., the Riviera.
Bobby Labonte, 8 p.m., the Pub.
Regan Smith and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 8 p.m., Sam’s Town.
We’ll have details of Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 and Sunday’s NASCAR Kobalt Tools 400 at LVMS in our Weekend Celebrity Preview posted Fridays.
The Stratosphere sports book has selected NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson as the favorite to win Sunday’s 400 at LVMS at 9 to 2 odds. Jimmie has made four trips to LVMS’ victory lane -- in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2012. Defending Kobalt Tools 400 champion Carl Edwards is listed at 8 to 1, as is last weekend’s Phoenix winner, Denny Hamlin.
Of our three hometown heroes, Kyle Bush boasts the best odds at 6 to 1. Kurt Bush’s new team is facing tall odds at 35 to 1, and Brendan Gaughan is in the field at 15 to 1. Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, winless at LVMS, is posted at 7 to 1.
We will have reports and photo coverage of NASCAR Weekend, so be sure to check back regularly.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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