Tony Stewart Starts Champions Week in Las Vegas - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
NASCAR has moved west for a week, taking up lodging in Sin City to celebrate the end of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Most of the focus will be on three-time champion Tony Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), as he becomes the first owner/driver champ since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
Still, the other drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup top-12 will have their opportunities to shine throughout the coming week; it's not just about Smoke. (Oh yeah it is).
Stewart went to the start line to celebrate his title by using the backdrop of the New York New York hotel and casino (Manhattan was the site of Smoke's first two celebrations) for the first photo (of many) he'll perform during the week. He also posed at the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, in front of the MGM Grand Hotel lion and went to the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay for his evening photo op.
On Wednesday the four-day gala starts in earnest for the No. 14 Chevrolet driver Stewart and the other 11 Chase finalists. Las Vegas Motor Speedway has a kickoff event that features a "Newlywed Game" situation where paired drivers answer questions about each other. Like most events this week, the Fremont Street is free and begins at 2:15PM PST.
Thursday features the annual NMPA Myers Brothers awards luncheon at the Bellagio Ballroom. The function presents awards to the champion crew chief Darian Grubb, the champion sponsors Office Depot and Mobil 1, Sunoco Rookie of the Year to Andy Lally and most popular driver, which is likely to be Dale Earnhardt Jr once again.
NASCAR Victory Lap takes place at 3PM on Thursday as the 12 top drivers roar down the Las Vegas strip in their race cars, albeit not at full song. There's an area for burnouts by the drivers and pit stop demonstrations on the schedule. The lap starts in front of Planet Hollywood and ends at the Hard Rock.
The Coca Cola Fan Zone at Hard Rock starts at noon and offers interactive displays and the opportunity to be there for the end of that smoking Victory Lap by this year's 12-best.
After the Lap, starting at 4:30PM, NASCAR's charitable arm holds its gala, with tax deductible $20 entry fees benefiting the NASCAR Foundation. This event features unfiltered, "tell-all" discussions with the top-12 drivers.
Finally, the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series award ceremony starts Friday at 6PM PST. It features Reba as host and musical performances by Kid Rock, country artist Ella Mae Bowen and the Broadway cast of Jersey Boys. The top-10 drivers will be at this show and discuss their seasons, with the bulk of attention going to three-time champion Stewart and his Stewart-Haas Racing team.
For nearly all of these functions, fans can stream the action live at www.NASCAR.com.
© 2011 Anne Proffit