Kyle Busch’s return home this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway could go a long way in determining his NASCAR Cup Series playoff chances when the Round of 12 kicks off Sunday at Busch’s hometown track.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) heads to the 1.5-mile desert oval 10th in the playoff standings, and with the unpredictable Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway roval set to close out the Round of 12, the Las Vegas native wants to get off to a strong start to the round with a solid finish Sunday.
Aside from NASCAR’s biggest events like the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a win at the hometown racetrack is high on the priority list for most NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Busch crossed that all-important hometown win off his list when he won in just his fifth Las Vegas Cup Series start in 2009.
The 2002 honors graduate of Durango High School in Las Vegas qualified on the pole that weekend but was forced to start at the rear of the field because his team needed to change engines during Friday practice. Unfazed, Busch remained patient on race day as he and the M&M’S team worked their way to the front of the field by the 54th lap. He went on to lead three times for 51 laps en route to claiming what he called at the time the biggest win of his young career.
This weekend, he would like nothing more than to double his number of Cup Series wins at Las Vegas to go with that emotional first hometown win.
While Busch added 2016 and 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins at Las Vegas to go with three NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series wins in a row from 2018 to 2020, he already was no stranger to winning on Las Vegas Motor Speedway property. From 1999 to 2001, he earned more than 65 wins in Legends cars while racking up two track championships at the facility’s “Bullring,” which existed for several years before the NASCAR oval was built. When Busch moved up to Late Model stock cars, his winning ways continued with 10 victories at the Bullring in 2001.
So as Busch returns to Las Vegas this weekend, he hopes the he can turn a trip back home into a trip back to a place he’s just as familiar with – victory lane.
Is there more pressure to go out there and win at your hometown track than anywhere else?
“I used to put more stress on myself to win there, no doubt. I never knew if winning there would happen for me and it’s neat I’ve been able to win in all three series at Vegas. There is stress going into those events. For myself, I was able to get that done in 2009 there at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to get into victory lane. That felt good. To able to go back there years after and go out there and race, and not have to worry about the stress of winning that race, you still want to win. We want to win every single one of them. That’s a fact. Overall, when you come into your hometown, and we watched this place get built from nothing, it means that extra more to you and it would be great if we could get back to victory lane this weekend with our M&M’S Camry.”
What’s changed to make Las Vegas grow into a real sports town?
“I think it’s definitely grown into that more and more over the years. When I was a kid there, I always kind of wondered why we didn’t have a professional team of any kind. You know, whether it would be hockey or basketball or baseball or football, but it’s becoming a sports town more and more, which is good. There are a lot of stars in all kinds of sports who come from our town with (Bryce) Harper, myself and Kurt (Busch), some other, younger, up-and-coming drivers, as well, like Noah (Gragson), and such. It’s nice to have an opportunity to have that place to be able to go play if you can make it to the hometown team and be a star in that series, that league.”
Do you feel you and your team are on the verge of breaking through for that first win of the season, or do you still have a lot of work to do?
“I think we struggle in traffic, that’s our biggest problem. I can’t get through traffic very well. We kind of saw it at Darlington a few weeks ago. Wherever I single-filed out in a race run is kind of where I ran. There wasn’t much of me going forward or going backward, for that matter. When I got up front and got up to second, I was able to restart with Martin Truex Jr. Truex and I ran really fast, really hard and drove away from the field. Our car had speed. We had the comfort in being up front and the aero being in second place versus being back in seventh or eighth or whatever it might be. We were able to drive away from the field. That gave me some optimistic measures for things to come and, obviously, our teammates have been starting up front, they’ve been running up front and they’ve been doing a good job of keeping themselves in the mix as far as all that goes on the intermediate tracks. If we can continue to evolve and get ourselves up a little bit higher, then hopefully that will bode well for us, too.”
What was it like to bring home a Cup Series win in your hometown in 2009?
“It was cool. To go out there and to run a smooth race and to have a shot at winning at the end of the race, that’s what it’s all about. I watched Vegas being built from the ground up, and I remember when it wasn’t anything but a gleam in the eye of Richie Clyne (founder of Las Vegas Motor Speedway) – all those guys who made that place happen.”
What is your fondest racing memory of growing up in Las Vegas?
“My fondest racing memory is probably my first Late Model race. I started about eighth or 10th and ended up winning it. My first-ever start, I won. So that is definitely a great memory to have.”