Hoping To Double-Down in Las Vegas Victory Lane
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Aside from NASCAR’s biggest events like the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway or the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a win at the hometown racetrack is high on the priority list for many in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch crossed off an all-important hometown win in just his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Peanut Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and 2002 honors graduate of Las Vegas’ Durango High School would like to double his number of Sprint Cup wins at the 1.5-mile oval after he brought home that emotional first win there in 2009.
Driving the yellow “Americas Favorite Nut” Toyota this weekend, Busch hopes this weekend will be less eventful than 2009, when he qualified on the pole but was forced to start at the rear of the field because the 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. Busch 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.
While that win was special, but Busch 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 1.5-mile oval was built. Busch eventually moved up to Late Model Stock cars, and his winning ways continued as he captured 10 victories in Late Model competition at the Bullring in 2001.
So as Busch returns to Las Vegas for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series Kobalt 400, the only thing that will be sweeter than winning his first Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas would be winning a second Sprint Cup race on the grounds of where his promising career began.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Peanut Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Is there more pressure racing at your hometown track?
“Yeah, Vegas always means a little bit more pressure – more pressure on myself – just because it’s the hometown and you want to win there. Thankfully, I have won there and I’ve knocked that one off the list, but certainly you want to win there every year. It seems like either Carl (Edwards) or Jimmie (Johnson) are better than most, but I love Vegas, the atmosphere and everything going on around that place. It’s always been a big race for us and the M&M’s Peanut team.”
What was it like to bring home a Sprint Cup 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.”
Where does that 2009 win rank among your career wins?
“It was the biggest at the time, but the triple at Bristol ranks up there now, too, along with winning the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky a few years back. It was awesome in 2009, though – just the feeling of a lifetime. I told everyone it would be just like another race, but it really meant a lot more than that when I got to victory lane. To have my mom there, and my brother come to victory lane, just made it that much more special. We didn’t have the best car in 2009, but I feel like I drove a smart race, anyway, and did what we needed to do. We worked on it all day and kept making it better.”
Having grown up in Las Vegas, do you still have a lot of friends in the area? Do you get a lot of ticket requests from friends and family?
“I get a lot of ticket requests for California, Vegas and Phoenix – all the West Coast stops that we run. It’s kind of hard to fulfill all of them, but we try when we can. We get to go to M&M’s World on the (Las Vegas) Strip to sign some autographs on Thursday, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of the hometown fans there, as well.”
You have some extended track time at Las Vegas with some new rules in place starting last weekend at Phoenix. What do you expect this weekend on the first 1.5-mile oval of the season?
“I think I’m expecting that we really don’t know what to expect. How the car raced at Phoenix will be much different when we get to Vegas. We’ll try to use the Thursday test day and the rest of the practices as best we can and learn as much as we can. So far, they drive well. We haven’t really gotten into a pack yet with the mile-and-a-half stuff to see how they lead and follow. We’ve always qualified well at Vegas and I’m hoping we can keep that going and have some good track position to start the race with our M&M’s Peanut Camry and get Americas Favorite Nut in victory lane.
Are you able to enjoy trips to your hometown?
“It’s fine going back there. There’s really not much family out there. It’s just family friends. There are a lot of friends you get to see and catch up with that you text back-and-forth or talk back-and-forth with during the year, but you never get to see them, so that’s always cool to go out there to the race. Besides that, there are the different appearances we do for M&M’s. You get to go to some of the restaurants that you liked there growing up, so that’s always cool. It’s just another weekend, but I particularly know my way around this city better than I do any other place.”
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.”
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