Remembering NASCAR’s first visit to Sin City

As we get ready for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (FOX, 3:30 p.m. ET), it’s easy to forget how foreign Las Vegas was when NASCAR first raced here in 1998.

But when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolled into Vegas for the first time, it was like going to a totally foreign country.

NASCAR featured the Good Old Boys of the Deep South, and back in the day, they typically didn’t frequent places populated by gamblers, showgirls, singers, strippers and cowboys, so that inaugural trip really had jaws dropping.

The inaugural Las Vegas 400 featured a starting command from boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer, and race winner Mark Martin was greeted in Victory Lane by none other than Vegas legend Wayne Newton and bevy of beautiful showgirls.

It was a strange moment given that Martin, now a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, is the least Las Vegas guy you’ll ever see — he maintained a strict diet-and-exercise regimen, got up at the crack of dawn or maybe earlier and was a model of clean living. He was definitely not a denizen of Sin City.

But what’s really amazing about that first race? The top five finishers were Martin, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Jeff Burton, Rusty Wallace, Johnny Benson and Jeremy Mayfield.

Sensing a trend yet?

OK, how about this: Finishers 6-10 were Ted Musgrave, Jimmy Spencer, Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott and Chad Little.

Got it yet?

Well, here you go: Not a single one of the top 16 finishers in the inaugural Las Vegas 400 is still racing full time in NASCAR today.

In fact, the only driver in that race who is entered in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 is Derrike Cope, who finished 31st in the first race in 1998 and hasn’t raced a Cup car here since 2004.

One other odd fact: 13 of the top 14 finishers in the 1998 Las Vegas 400 drove Fords. The only one who didn’t was Dale Earnhardt, who drove the black No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to an eighth-place finish.