CUP: A Parade Of Smoke And Neon

Traffic will become even more crowded than normal on very busy Las Vegas Boulevard in the middle of Thursday afternoon.

Better known as the Las Vegas Strip, the Boulevard carries visitors to most of the major hotel-casinos in Sin City, and, even in a down economy, it often hosts a slow-moving parade of vehicles.

That problem will be compounded to a degree Thursday, but only briefly – and for a good cause.

The champion, and his challengers, are in town.

The 12 drivers who participated in the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season are scheduled to parade down the Strip at 3:30 p.m. Vegas time Thursday. This – the Victory Lap – was one of the most popular fan events of last year’s first Champion’s Week in Vegas, as thousands gathered on the sidewalks and at the intersections to watch champion Jimmie Johnson and the other 11 Chase drivers make a loud spectacle of themselves moving down the Strip and performing burnouts now and then.

Johnson, who performed the same task last season, will have the honor of presenting the featured burnout of the parade at its end.

City police will escort the drivers in a “rolling” roadblock, temporarily closing major intersections as the parade passes.

Such spectacles were not possible in the crowded confines of Manhattan in previous years, but Las Vegas, with much wider streets and actual open spaces, is amenable to vehicular shenanigans. And loud? No problem. Loud is just another word in Vegas.

Before the Victory Lap, many of the season’s top achievers will be honored Thursday morning at the National Motorsports Press Association’s Myers Brothers awards luncheon at the Bellagio hotel. Awards that are not included in Friday night’s featured Sprint Cup awards banquet are presented at the luncheon, which will be attended by many of the sport’s leaders.

After the Victory Lap, the dozen Chasers will appear at a fan question-and-answer session at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Johnson, whose schedule has been mostly crowded since he won the championship Nov. 21 in Homestead, Fla., has been busy in Vegas with media appointments, photo sessions and other appearances. But there has been down time. He, wife Chandra and their baby daughter were spotted at the Wynn hotel Wednesday relaxing at a goldfish pond.

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.