Considering how the weekend started at Texas for Kyle Busch, it finished much better as the team earned a top five in a backup car. What will it take for the No. 18 team to earn a berth to the Championship 4? NASCAR America visited the Joe Gibbs Racing shop to talk to Kyle Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, about how his team’s approaching Phoenix.
After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.
The source of his emotion?
“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”
After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.
There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.
But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.
“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.
“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”
Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.
But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.
Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.
“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.
“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”
The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.
The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.
Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.
“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.
“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”
Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.
“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”
Ahhhhh omg such a proud mama right here!!! Brexton won his first race tonight in the Cadets and he was so excited! Kyle and I literally both cried amazing job buddy we love you so much! pic.twitter.com/IXZ9W12Vaz
— Samantha Busch (@SamanthaBusch) September 27, 2020
NASCAR’s playoffs continue this weekend on its largest oval track, Talladega Superspeedway.
All three national series will be competing on the 2.66-mile track.
Here are the preliminary entry lists for Talladega:
Cup – YellaWood 500 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)
Thirty-nine cars are entered.
Brendan Gaughan is entered in Beard Motorsports’ No. 62 Chevrolet for his final start of the year and his NASCAR career.
Ryan Blaney has won the last two Cup races at Talladega.
Xfinity – Ag-Pro 300 (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)
Thirty-five cars are entered.
AJ Allmendinger is entered in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet.
No driver is listed on SS Green Light Racing’s No. 07 Chevrolet.
Trucks – Chevrolet Silverado 250 (1 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)
Thirty-nine trucks are entered.
Natalie Decker is on the entry list after she missed Friday’s Las Vegas race due to not being medically cleared.
Trevor Bayne is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 45 truck for the fourth time this season.
Kurt Busch — Winless in 21 previous attempts at Las Vegas, Busch scored an emotional win at his hometown track. Busch took advantage of a strategy call by crew chief Matt McCall and a timely debris caution to take the point and led the final 26 laps. He earned his first win of the season. “This is 20 years of agony and defeat and now today with triumph,” Busch said after the race.
Matt DiBenedetto — Still seeks his first career Cup win and the 100th series victory for Wood Brothers Racing, but DiBenedetto finished second in both Las Vegas races this season.
Chris Buescher — His ninth-place finish is his second consecutive top 10 and third top 10 in the last five races.
Chase Briscoe — Had a dominant car and scored the win in the playoff opener for the Xfinity Series at Las Vegas.
Austin Dillon — His race was going well — he scored 10 stage points — until overheating problems sent him to pit road. He lost nine laps as his crew made repairs and went on to finish 32nd. That drops him to last among the playoff drivers with two races left in this round.
Chase Elliott — Was 10th on the overtime restart but got shuffled back and finished 22nd.
Denny Hamlin said he knew it would happen. He just didn’t know when.
A debris caution during a green-flag cycle proved key to Kurt Busch winning Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Las Vegas and Hamlin finishing third despite leading a race-high 121 laps.
The caution on Lap 237 caught most of the playoff drivers a lap down, forcing them to wave around. Busch was the only playoff driver who had not made a pit stop.
Hamlin, who was leading, pitted on Lap 233. He came in a lap after Alex Bowman stopped. Bowman was running second to Hamlin before the stop.
“Our hand got forced by (Bowman) by him coming in early there,” Hamlin said of his team not wanting to have Bowman gain time with fresher tires. “We both had a lead over the field. I thought we could have run a little bit longer, but we had to answer their strategy because they were within one second of us. We didn’t want to just to kind of give them the lead and count on running them down at the end of the race. You have to keep yourself in front of them.”
Instead of possibly celebrating a win and advancing to the next round, Hamlin left Vegas frustrated with his third-place showing.
“I just hate getting burned by the same thing, that’s it, that’s all I’m saying,” Hamlin said on the radio to crew chief Chris Gabehart after the race. “It’s the same thing I get burned on. I know we had no choice because (where) we were at.”
Gabehart responded to Hamlin on the radio: “The choice is I stay out another five or six laps and if the caution doesn’t come, we have no shot to win. I don’t know what I’d do different. The problem is there is no reason for the leaders to come early because you leave yourself vulnerable to that, but you can’t get all these goofballs to understand that. It’s what happens.”
Even after such a finish, Hamlin is 58 points ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the next round.
But that wasn’t enough to console Hamlin.
“I just hate missing out on victories,” he said of his playoff spot. “We’re so much better than the six victories that we’ve got. It’s just disturbing. I’ve never been so fast in so many races and not finish it like we feel like we should, but we’re up front. That’s what counts. That’s what’s going to get you to Phoenix, keep getting those wins and keep battling for race wins. You’ll get yourself to Phoenix (for the title race) and hopefully you’’ll get a championship out of it. That’s what we’re all here for. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Hamlin’s finish was his best in the playoffs and came after a first round that saw him score a stage win but not place higher than 12th.
Hamlin discounted the notion that putting together a new Cup team with Michael Jordan for next year and signing Bubba Wallace to drive for it had been a distraction earlier in the playoffs.
“I’ve been working for like 10 weeks on stuff, not just racing stuff, but stuff in general,” Hamlin said. “We’ve had bad breaks. Tonight was just another bad break like Darlington was, to be honest with you. Or Bristol. We led laps. We were, I thought, the best car.”
At Darlington, Hamlin missed pit road and had to go back around. Then a debris caution about 10 laps buried him outside the top 10 with less than 50 laps left. He finished 13th.
At Bristol, Hamlin started at the rear because his car failed inspection twice before the race. He ran fifth when he had contact with teammate Martin Truex Jr. as Truex returned to the track after pitting. Hamlin finished 21st.