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Drivers, fans gambling for better weather

LAS VEGAS -- The track has been tested, drivers are ready and fans are pouring into town. Now if someone can stop the storm clouds from showing up Sunday, one of the biggest parties in the history of this town, the 400 NASCAR race, will start on schedule.

Track officials expect more than 150,000 racing fans to show up for the 11:30 a.m. start. Overnight predictions, however, call for rain to hit around race time.Drivers qualified on Friday, then showed up for the all-important test runs, called Happy Hour, on Saturday.

That, said driver Derrike Cope, car No. 15, is when races are won or lost.

"This is when you test the track, the car, the tires and everything else, and make the final adjustments. This track changes. You can go out one day and its slick, then go out the next, after tires have put some rubber down, and it holds and it's fast," he said.

"But starting position is all important here. This is a shorter track than most. Making all the right decisions is next."

With that said, Ricky Rudd, by virtue of winning the pole position, would be favored. Except, of course, this is the third race of the season and the third time he has started on the front row, but he has yet to finish in the top five in a race this season.

Waxing philosophically, he said it hasn't frustrated him.

"We've got a new team that's coming together. I don't look at it as a negative in any way. At least we're starting at the front instead of using provisionals. I look at it as a positive. I feel like top fives will start showing up," he said.

That's not the case for Dale Earnhardt, who couldn't get the speed and qualified No. 33 of 43 starters.

Rudd lapped the 1.5-mile track at 172.56 mph, followed by Scott Pruett at 172.38 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 172.21. The elder Earnhardt ran at 168.32 mph.

Overall NASCAR winner Dale Jarrett qualified No. 6. Last year's winner, Jeff Burton, qualified No. 11.

Probably the most surprising starter for this race is Pruett, who last year was running Indy cars. This will be only his fourth NASCAR start. Coincidently, he's driving for Rudd's former sponsor -- Tide.

"This team started in September. We had no car, no team, no equipment, no nothing. With CART, if you show up you make the field," said Pruett.

"I'm still very much a rookie. I don't know all the tricks. It is pretty ironic that I start next to Ricky (Rudd) who had the Tide car (last year). When I first got on the track, I didn't like it at all. I was pretty intimidated with this place. It made us focus on the car and with my driving style. The best thing for me is time and miles on the car."

If rain does comes, the event may be forced to run on Monday. That said, it would cause a lot of scheduling problems for the race fans who poured into this town for the one-day event.