While the Las Vegas Motor Speedway was being created before his very eyes, NASCAR Sprint Cup and Vegas native Kyle Busch was cutting his racing teeth at the half-mile short track right next door.

The younger brother of 2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch‚ won two track championships at the “Bullring” in Legends cars before he moved up to late models in 2001. He had continued success in that class, winning 10 times that season.

But despite his talent, he never did win the facility’s biggest event.

“We had a chance to win the “Fall Classic,” it’s our big race out here,” Kyle recollected after today’s Shelby 427 at LVMS’ 1.5-mile superspeedway. “It’s called the Open Comp. I think it was 2001…It was the last race of the year and we knew were moving on and going [to the American Speed Association] next year.

“I think I‚ qualified on the pole, led the most laps. It’s 140 laps long, I led 130 laps and got wrecked with‚ 10 to go. I wasn’t able to win that one. I remember it quite vividly.”

Chances are he’ll remember Sunday vividly as well, but for much happier reasons.

Despite being forced to give up his pole position after changing an engine during Friday’s practice session, Busch went on a methodical march through the field. He capped it off by taking the lead with 17 laps remaining and held on through two late cautions to win the Shelby 427 at LVMS.

Busch made the race-winning pass by way of nudging Clint Bowyer up the race track in Turn 2 and going past him on the inside. As he cleared Bowyer, his spotter Jeff Dickerson muttered, “Say goodnight, Gracie,” over the radio.

Two late cautions in the final 15 laps would not stop‚ Busch from saying “Good night” to the field; he simply sped away from the field on both restarts.

Now he’s got a better prize from Vegas than that “regular old late model win” he said was the biggest win he’d had at his home track before Sunday.

“This is pretty awesome,” he said. “It’s very special. You never know how special they can be until you can get it done…The last 25-30 laps, I was just as nervous as could be.

“I don’t know if it’s set in yet‚ or not, but it feels pretty damn good right now.”

It was a wild race that saw a race-record 14 caution period mar the proceedings.

Multiple drivers in the top-10 of the points standings, such as Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, suffered engine failures. Edwards’ instance was more painful as the power plant in his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing car blew up as he was running fourth with two laps to go.

Several other contenders also found themselves caught in wrecks. But through it all, Busch made the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing machine fly.

Despite starting at the back, he found himself in the top ten by the race’s halfway point. From there, it was all about staying in striking distance up to the time he passed Bowyer for the lead, and ultimately, the victory.

“Bowyer slipped up off the bottom just a little bit, so I‚ had my [left-side tires] right on the white line there and got a good drive through the center of the corner because it gripped good,” said Busch.

“I got right up to him. He started coming back down a little bit. I like, ‘Oh, don’t do that,’ and then he got loose and I got by him…We‚ were able‚ to just have a little bit better grip than he did and pass him.”

It served as a perfect ending to what Busch’s crew chief Steve Addington called “a crazy weekend” for the entire No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.

“Sometimes, you just have to scratch and claw and kick and spit and fight for a win, and that’s what this race team did along with Kyle today,” he said. “I think they took advantage of an opportunity when it came.”

As a result of that, it was Kyle who took the checkered flag, did his burnouts, and made his customary post-win bow to the delight of a happy hometown crowd and members of his family, who waited for him in Victory Lane.

That contingent included proud mother Gaye and brother Kurt (who finished 23rd). After embracing Kyle, he reminded him of how they watched Las Vegas Motor Speedway created before their very eyes when they were younger.

“He said, ‘We watched this place be built and you were the first one to conquer it,'” Kyle recalled.

Now, he’s got a memory that will last him a lifetime.

About The Author

Chris Estrada is a Blast Magazine correspondent. His work appears in The Boston Globe, Indy Racing Revolution and FoxSports.com

Leave a Reply