Las Vegas decision-makers, including driver Brendan Gaughan, worked hard for years to bring a second NASCAR race to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Now for the second year, the city welcomes the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at the South Point 400, named after the Gaughan family’s South Point Hotel, on September 15. This year’s race had its start time pushed back to 4 p.m. PT because last year’s midday heat resulted in the track’s lowest attendance in its NASCAR history.
“This my hometown, my home track, we’ve worked a long time to get this second date in Las Vegas,” said Gaughan, who has raced for more than 20 years, including in the Monster Energy Cup Series. “Vegas bought into NASCAR as a marquee sport probably before many other big cities.”
The race in Las Vegas also comes at a crucial time for NASCAR, as it will also be the circuit’s launch of its in-race betting product, which will be available in sportsbooks across the U.S. The product was made in partnership with Genius Sports, which weaves NASCAR’s live data feed to create live betting props and lines for bettors to place wagers. According to NASCAR, the rollout this weekend is of “Phase 1” and will be fairly simple betting options, but more complex and detailed prop bets and betting options will be available in the future, starting likely at the beginning of the 2020 season.
Previously, the sport allowed Vegas sportsbooks to take action on the races in Vegas, which Gaughan said was a win for fans, the city, and the sport.
Gaughan said the South Point 400 is a good thing for fans, as many races are in towns without much else. He said having all the additional entertainment options of the Strip along with the race makes for a better weekend for racegoers.
“It’s a big win for fans,” he said. “It’s a town someone can come and make their hard-earned dollar work. It’s a cheaper flight, you can stay at Caesar’s Palace for less than a Motel 6 at another town during a race weekend.”
While NASCAR ratings and attendance have dipped recently, Gaughan said that’s more of an indication of digital access, and that hosting better auxiliary events and providing fans more than just the race is a key to bring fans back in. He noted massive investments from tracks in Daytona, Richmond, and Phoenix.
Gaughan is hosting a charity bowling tournament, featuring more than 20 drivers, and the weekend also included the Burnout Boulevard, where drivers perform burnouts on the Strip. On top of all the other attractions, former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch will make an appearance, driving the pace car for the South Point 400.
Add in Cirque de Soleil shows or Elton John, and Gaughan said the multiple races in Vegas are an overall positive for the sport.
The mass amount of attractions beyond the NASCAR races makes a logical location for the kickoff event the circuit’s playoff series, said Rick Heinrich, NASCAR account manager for Goodyear.
“Las Vegas is the site of some of the most high profile sporting and entertainment events in the world,” Heinrich said. “Now with a second event annually, and making it the first playoff race, fans will get more of the great Las Vegas racing they’ve looked forward to since it was added to the circuit in 1996.”
Along with the South Point, which Gaughan has tabbed with the slogan “Where the Racers Stay,” he said other casinos and resorts have recognized the sport’s impact and have signed on as sponsors, like the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino and Stratosphere.
“The casinos get it, these are the people we want in Vegas and we want to take care of them,” he said.
The first race to come to Las Vegas, now the Pennzoil 400, started in 1996, which Gaughan said it’s helped build a professional sports foundation in Las Vegas now that the city has WNBA and NHL teams, a new Triple-A ballpark, USL soccer team and the NFL on the way in.
“Vegas reinvents itself,” he said. “When the world went kid-friendly, we built amusement parks. Then we had big shows and the night club scene. We’re always on the cutting edge of what people want.
“Right now, the biggest business in entertainment is sports.”