Kurt Busch Finally Gets His Happy Homecoming

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, September 28 2020

Kurt Busch celebrates his first victory at his hometown track. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Jim Fluharty)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Kurt Busch got a victory in Sunday night’s NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and that got him an automatic berth in the upcoming Round of 8 in Cup Series playoffs.

But it wasn’t so much what Busch got, but where he got it that seemed most important to him afterward.

The victory came at his hometown track and it ended a lifelong quest.

“This is 20 years of agony and defeat and now today with triumph, I don’t know if I have any more gas left or if I just filled my tank up to go win every race that I’m going to go race next,” Busch said.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built from the desert gravel pit that it was by Richie Clyne and his group and then 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 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 to make it in racing.”

Busch is the 2004 Cup champion. He’s been driving Cup cars for 21 years and he’s won 32 times in his career.

But never in Vegas.

“For me it was a hobby,” Busch, whose younger brother Kyle has one win in Vegas, said. “I never knew I’d get this far.  A guy named Craig Keough here locally here 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.

“It takes a village to make somebody cut through and make it, and this is my hometown and I have so many people to thank, and I couldn’t be more proud and I know that they’re very proud right now watching on TV…and seeing their hometown boy win at the hometown track.”

Good fortune played big part in Sunday’s win.

With little more than 30 laps to go and the field cycling through green-flag pit stops, out came the yellow flag. Busch, who had not pitted under green, took advantage and when the green flag dropped again with 25 laps to go, Busch restarted from second place. A lap later, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver passed Matt DiBenedetto for the lead.

Busch, not among the race leaders until that point, hung on, survived a restart and overtime, and went on to get his first victory of the season — and just his third podium of 2020.

“I knew the race would come to us,” Busch said. “We needed to get to nightfall and one of those quirky Matt McCall (his crew chief) pit sequences finally unfolded. We got lucky. You got to be lucky You’ve got to be lucky in any race. But we did it tonight. With team work and pulling threw and just not giving up.”

Vegas was the first of three races in the second round that will see the playoff field trimmed from 12 to eight. The Round of 8 begins in three weeks.

DiBenedetto of the Wood Brothers finished second while Denny Hamlin, who led a race-best 121 laps for Joe Gibbs Racing, was third.

DiBenedetto came within .14 seconds of giving his iconic team its 100th race victory.

“Man, it’s heartbreaking to come that close,” DiBenedetto, who has not yet been signed to a contract for next year, said. 

“I love driving for this team. I hope I get to drive for them for a long time to come,” he said.

Hamlin’s finish followed a big week of news for him. Earlier in the week, it was announced that he and basketball legend Michael Jordan had purchased a Cup Series franchise and would field a one-car team next season. Their driver will be Bubba Wallace.

“Untimely cautions, it’s what’s keeping us out of victory lane,” Hamlin, who got his first podium of the playoffs, said. “We obviously had a dominant car today. It was probably by far the best car I’ve had at Vegas and maybe a in a long time at a mile-and-a-half” track.

“Really encouraged by the way we ran. Obviously very disappointed we didn’t get a win.”

Fourth was Hamlin’s Gibbs teammate Martin Truex Jr., while Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman was fifth.

Having tough nights among the 12 playoff drivers were Joey Logano of Team Penske and Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing.

Logano may well have fallen victim to payback. On Lap 88, Kyle Busch and Logano were going door-to-door when Busch appeared to bang into Logano. The contacted caused a rear tire rub on Logano’s car and sent him to the pits.

Last week at Bristol, in the final race of the first round of the playoffs, Logano blocked Busch late in the race in a move that may have prevented Busch from getting his first victory of the season.

After the Bristol race, Busch said of Logano, “He’s nobody’s friend for a reason.”

Logano fell off the lead lap Sunday because of the pit stop. Thanks to late-race cautions, Logano was able to move up to a 14th-place finish.

Busch had his own problem a bit later. During a green-flag pit stop on Lap 118, the air gun of Busch’s tire changer failed and had to be replaced. Busch was running fourth at the time. He finished sixth but never threatened for the win again.

Dillon raced in the top 10 for virtually the whole race — until he pitted under caution on Lap 191. That’s when a penalty on pit road forced him to the rear of the lead-lap field. Then, with little more than 50 laps to go, Dillon’s engine threw the belt which powered the power steering and the cooling fan.

The Round of 12 continues next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway and will be finished off at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course in two weeks.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, September 28 2020
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