3/10/2013 6:00:00 AM Hoops and racing make Vegas the sports capital
NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Michael McDowell poses with fans Wednesday morning outside the Ambient Edge office. McDowell will start 39th in today’s Kolbalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas. Ambient Edge, a local heating and air conditioning company, will be McDowell’s primary sponsor for the race. RODNEY HAAS/Miner
If you're a college basketball and a NASCAR fan, then you might as well call in sick from work this week and make the drive to Las Vegas.
The combination of NASCAR and college basketball fans along with spring break college kids descending on Sin City - well, good luck finding an opening in one of the city's estimated 152,000 hotel rooms. Instead you may have to grab a sleeping bag and camp out in the parking lot of the Excalibur Hotel and Casino.
Our neighbors to the north are in the process of hosting four major sporting events, the West Coast Conference basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena, today's Kolbalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the PAC-12 tournament tipping off Wednesday at the MGM Grand Arena and the Mountain West Conference tournament at the Thomas and Mack.
The West Coast tournament tipped off Wednesday and features the country's new No. 1 team, Gonzaga. That's the first such ranking in the school's history and a great accomplishment for a mid-major that crashed the big dance in 1999 and has partied like it since. The Zags played in the semifinals Saturday and are headed for their 14th straight NCAA tournament since bursting onto the scene all those years ago. They will be looking for their 11th conference title since 1999. Tip off for the championship game is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday.
At the same time the West Coast tournament was kicking off Wednesday night, a few miles away on the Las Vegas strip, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series was pulling into town - quite literarally - with the annual NASCAR hauler parade to officially kick off NASCAR weekend.
Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson and last week's Subway Fresh 500 winner Carl Edwards will look to chase pole-sitter Brad Keselowski this afternoon. Driver Michael McDowell will look to have a strong showing for his sponsor Ambient Edge. Ambient Edge, a local heating and air conditioning company, signed a one-race primary sponsorship agreement with McDowell for Vegas. McDowell didn't race last week in Avondale but finished ninth at the Daytona 500.
Today also marks the 16th anniversary of the first NASCAR race to take place at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Danica Patrick was 14 and racing go-karts back then, and NASCAR's top series was sponsored by a cigarette brand and its second-tier series was sponsored by a brand of beer. Winston and Busch have hit the road, replaced by Sprint and Nationwide.
If you're a Dale Jr. and an Arizona Wildcats fan, or a Jeff Gordon and - God forbid - an Arizona State fan, then you might want to stick around for the PAC-12 men's basketball tournament that tips off Wednesday at the MGM Grand Arena.
The tournament is making the move from Los Angeles' Staples Center, its home since 2002.
This year the PAC-12 features three teams ranked in the latest Associated Press poll, No. 18 Arizona, No. 19 Oregon and No. 23 UCLA. That's not bad, but the better conference this year is the Mountain West, where New Mexico, Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State have all spent time in the top 25. Some say the Mountain West is the second-best conference in the country.
Oh, and if you didn't get your college basketball fix after this week in Vegas, the NCAA Tournament's West Regional semifinal and finals take place March 29 and 31st at the Staples Center, a mere 300 miles away and a week after NASCAR leaves town from the Auto Club 400 in nearby Fontana, Calif.