Viva Vegas

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I've already paid more interest to the Sprint Cup Series Awards activities this week in Las Vegas than I did the last few years combined when it was held in New York City.

The decision to take the show out of Manhattan and bring it to Sin City was long overdue and there is suddenly new life to what had turned into a very tired event.

New York served its purpose and helped put NASCAR on the map when the decision was made to hold the year-end gala in The Big Apple nearly three decades ago.

Putting stock car racing in the country's biggest media market and in front of the companies who pour millions of dollars into the sport every year not only made NASCAR a mainstream sport but helped its phenomenal growth.

But truth be told things got a bit lost in the shuffle in recent years and the media exposure as well as overall interest in NASCAR's annual visit to New York began to dwindle. It's hard not to get shuffled aside by all that goes on in NYC and the time had come to re-energize the whole shabang.

Thus the move west which has put some spark back into the event.

Whether or not Friday night's actual championship ceremony is entertaining, which at least carries better odds than past years when the likes of James Woods and David Spade made us cringe as emcees, I applaud NASCAR for taking a chance to at least try something different.

SPEED will televise the banquet with the capable hands of Mike Joy, Krista Voda, Steve Byrnes and Jeff Hammond part of the telecast while MRN Radio provides live coverage with its solid group of reporters and announcers.

Frank Caliendo has been tabbed as host and although he does a mean John Madden, I'm holding judgement until I actually watch the proceedings.

But so far the activities that have led into Friday's finale have been entertaining and in fact funny.

A "roast" of Jimmie Johnson held earlier this week, which included fan participation - a great idea - included several drivers and comedian emcee Kevin Burke shooting off a few gems. For example:

"I'm not saying Mark (Martin) is old, but the pole sitter for his first race was Ben-Hur. And Mark's new sponsor is Depends."

"Where's Kasey (Kahne)? Oh, sorry, buddy. I couldn't see you sitting behind all the adults. Hey, Kasey, Danica Patrick may be coming to NASCAR, so at least you'll have somebody you can beat in a fistfight."

"Tony (Stewart) had to give his monkey to a zoo. You can always tell which one is his. It's the one throwing [crap] at all the other monkeys."

Hopefully some of this off the cuff stuff will be part of Friday's ceremony and drivers won't just recite canned tripe written by PR people off the teleprompter.

And again the inclusion of fans at the banquet is another great step in turning this event into something special.

Let's hope this year is the beginning of a long run out in the desert.

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