The Kyle Busch championship tour continues this weekend as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt 400.
A native of Las Vegas, it will be Busch’s first time racing at his home track since claiming his first Cup title in November.
After two races, Busch is making up for the 11 races he missed in 2015 after injuries sustained in the Xfinity Series opener at Daytona International Speedway. He heads into the weekend with the points lead after finishing third at both Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Daytona result was a career best in the race and Sunday’s top five at Atlanta was his fifth, which includes two wins.
But Las Vegas is different. Busch is the only Nevada native to win at the 1.5-mile track, which began hosting Sprint Cup events in 1998. Busch’s lone win came in 2009 when he won from the pole. Other than that, he’s only earned two top-10 finishes at the track in his last seven races there.
“Vegas always means a little bit more pressure – more pressure on myself – just because it’s the hometown and you want to win there,” Busch said in a press release. “Thankfully, I have won there and I’ve knocked that one off the list, but certainly you want to win there every year.”
It’s been seven years since Busch’s win, coming in his second season with Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR has claimed both of Toyota’s two wins at LVMS, the second coming in 2013 with Matt Kenseth. The remaining four races over the last five years have been split by Ford and Chevrolet.
“It seems like either Carl (Edwards) or Jimmie (Johnson) are better than most there,” said Busch. “I was fortunate enough to win there in 2009, but we haven’t run to my liking there overall, so I’m hoping we can have a strong run there this weekend.”
A JGR teammate, Edwards has won in Vegas twice, the last coming in 2011. Johnson is four-time winner in Las Vegas, finding victory lane from 2005-07 and in 2010.
But the entire field will be in new territory this weekend, as the Cup series brings its new low-downforce package to the track after its debut at Atlanta. Johnson was part of a Goodyear tire test at the track in January that included Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski.
“It’s much different than Atlanta last weekend, even though both tracks are the same size,” Busch said. “Vegas is really grippy with the tire being a little harder compound and you’ve got really good speed, but then in the race it gets sunny and can get loose and slick. Once you get your car handling good, you still have a lot of speed and don’t fall off at places like Atlanta and Texas.”
Busch and the rest of the field will see extra track time this weekend to prepare. NASCAR is giving Cup teams five hours of testing Thursday in addition to its regularly schedule practice sessions on Friday and Saturday.