As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gets set to begin its West Coast swing in Las Vegas this weekend with the running of the Kobalt 400, it’s time once again to venture into the past in this week’s edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater”. This week we take it all the way back to 1998 and the inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup Series race held on the 1.5 mile speedway.
Fans in that area of the country were ready for some NASCAR action in their hometown and came out in full force for the inaugural event in Sin City. In fact, once tickets went on sale for the Las Vegas 400, every ticket, all 106,000 of them, sold out in 30 hours. A feat that hasn’t been replicated to this day.
In true Las Vegas fashion, the track pulled out all of the stops for the inaugural event, with appearances by Wayne Newton, Las Vegas showgirls, and even having legendary boxing announcer Michael Buffer give his patented “Lets get ready to rumble!” chant prior to the race.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Las Vegas Speedway and the grand premier of the Las Vegas 400! The track is ready, the greatest cars in the world are ready, the greatest drivers in the world are ready. Let’s get ready to rumble!”
For the 1998 season, Jack Roush had expanded his operation to five teams with the addition of Johnny Benson, Jr. to the fold and moved Mark Martin and his No. 6 car into one of the new teams with Jimmy Fennig at the helm.
The team that Martin left in 1997 to move to the new team in 1998 had won four races that season and Martin was unsure if he was making the right move for the 1998 season. He would soon learn that he made a great move.
Starting from the seventh position, Martin only took 12 laps to make his way to the front to pass Dale Jarrett for the lead.
Throughout the race, Martin made his presence known, as he would go on to lead a total of 82 out of the 267 laps in the event, including the final 23 laps. During the race, a severe vibration was discovered in the car, but Martin and his team did not let that deter them as they went on to win the race ahead of Roush Racing teammate Jeff Burton.
In addition to Martin and Burton finishing 1-2, the other three Roush Racing machines also finished in the top-10 with Benson in fourth, Ted Musgrave in sixth, and Chad Little in 10th.
“Let me tell you something. God answered my prayers today. We had problems today and I didn’t think we were going to make it. I just didn’t think we were going to make it. I just prayed for it to be His will, whatever, and I would accept it if it broke, but I was going to go out leading and that’s when I stepped on it and went to the front,” Martin said.
“I’ve got to thank Buddy Parrott and Bobby Hudson and everybody at Roush Racing for giving me this opportunity and building this brand new race team. Valvoline, Bugle, Bosch, Ford, Goodyear Tires worked awesome, and Eagle One, our new sponsor on-board this year. These guys are awesome and we made a change over the winter and I was afraid people were going to say I did the wrong thing. We did the right thing, man. We ran awesome last week and it was even better this week.”
The win at Las Vegas kicked off a great season for Martin and his No. 6 team as they would finish the season with seven wins and a second place points finish. If not for Jeff Gordon’s 13 win season, Martin very well could have been champion in 1998.