March 1, 2009
It’s Going to be One Heck of a Party in Las Vegas!
Date: March 1, 2009
M&M'S® Driver Kyle Busch Wins Shelby 427 to Score First Win at Hometown Track
Event: Shelby 427 (Round 3 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 1st/1st (Running, completed 285 of 285 laps)
Winner: Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
With more than 140,000 fans cheering him on, several of them fellow Las Vegas natives, Kyle Busch bent down and kissed the start/finish line at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after scoring an emotional victory in Sunday’s Shelby 427 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Busch, who raced Bandoleros, Legends and Late Model stock cars at The Bullring, located in the shadow of the speedway’s construction behind turns one and two, conquered his hometown track by leading three times for 51 laps to win his first race of any type at the 1.5-mile oval.
“It’s awesome – this is just the feeling of a lifetime,” said Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M'S® Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). “This team does a phenomenal job for me – they’re so great. They believe in me, they believe in Steve Addington (crew chief) and that’s the mixture that we need. We’re able to win races. We didn’t have the best car today, 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."
“I want to thank M&M'S®, Toyota, TRD, Pedigree, Combos – everybody on this team. They’re phenomenal.”
While the victory was emotional for Busch, it certainly wasn’t easy.
Minutes into the first practice session of the weekend on Friday, the No. 18 M&M'S® Toyota experienced engine problems and the crew was forced to change power-plants. Busch completed only four laps in the 80-minute session, but none after the engine change.
With a new engine and despite completing only six miles of practice, Busch blistered the 1.5-mile oval during his qualifying run and set a new track record of 29.033 seconds at 185.995 mph.
Unfortunately, because of the engine change, Busch had to begin the race from the rear of the 43-car field per the NASCAR rulebook.
“The M&M'S® guys worked so hard on Friday to change the engine,” Busch said. “It put us in a hole, but we came back and won the pole and worked on the car because we knew Sunday was the day that counted the most.”
Despite battling a loose racecar for much of the initial part of the 285-lap race, Busch managed to lead by lap 54 during a round of green flag pit stops.
“We just had to battle back,” Busch said. “We didn’t have the best car out there today, but we had a car we kept working on – just kept making it better. Steve Addington, I have to thank that guy. He’s the leader on this team, everybody believes in him. I believe in him. As long as you have that, everything seems to run smooth.”
Busch stayed in the top-10 for the remainder of the race, and by the time a restart occurred on lap 228, the 23-year-old was in third-place and ready to make his move toward victory.
He worked his way past Bobby Labonte and leader Jeff Burton and held the point during laps 228-259 before a caution came out on lap 260 for debris.
Busch made his final pit stop under caution for two tires and fuel, and one lap later, restarted fourth behind Clint Bowyer, Burton and Jeff Gordon.
When the green flag flew on lap 264, Busch quickly moved past Gordon and Burton and set his sights on race leader Bowyer, who did not pit with the leaders in order to gain track position.
“Bowyer slipped off the bottom just a little bit (in turn one),” Busch said. “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. I got right up to him. He started coming back down a little bit. I’m like, ‘Oh, don’t do that.’ He got loose and I got by him. Fortunately, it was a clean move for us. We were able to get by him. He was able to rebound with a second place finish. I think he got by Burton there at the end. He had a good strategy there to stay out on his old tires. He knew what to expect with his car. We were able to have just a little bit better grip than he did and pass him.”
Despite two more caution periods, Busch never relinquished the lead and in a picturesque moment, took the checkered flag with the sun setting behind the frontstretch grandstands and the mountains to the west of the racetrack. One cool-down lap later, he kissed the start/finish line.
“I kissed the ground that this place was built on,” said Busch, a 2002 honors graduate of Las Vegas’ Durango High School. “We watched this place be built from the ground up. When we were racing out at the Bullring, this was nothing but a dirt lot. This was actually part of the parking lot I think for that Bullring racetrack. So, it’s come a long ways."
“I remember sitting up in the grandstands when I was younger and when Kurt (brother) and my dad (Tom) were racing, turning around and looking out there and watching it. They broke ground I think in ‘95 or ‘96 or something like that. Just kept turning around and watching it, watched the grandstands go up, the banking be put in, the outside retaining wall, the garages be built and stuff. Every weekend we were over at the Bullring and saw what was happening. This is pretty awesome. It’s very special. You never really know how special they can be until you actually get it done. Today was very, very cool.”
Busch became the first Sprint Cup driver in Las Vegas history to win the pole and the race in the same weekend.
“I don’t know where I get credited for winning this thing, whether it’s from the back or from the pole,” Busch said. “Either way, we conquered both of them, that’s for sure. It’s going to be one heck of a party in Las Vegas.”
Bowyer finished .411 of a second behind Busch, while Burton, David Reutimann and Labonte rounded out the top-five. Gordon, Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Busch’s JGR teammates – Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin – finished 13th and 22nd, respectively.
There was an event-record 14 caution periods for 66 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 427-mile race.
With three of 36 races in the books, Busch is sixth in the championship point standings and leads the JGR trio with 405 points, 54 markers behind new series leader Gordon. Hamlin’s 22nd -place effort moved him up one spot to 14th in the standings with 332 points, 127 points arrears Gordon. Logano now has 248 points and gained five spots to occupy the 32nd position, where he is 211 points out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the March 8th Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, GA. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 1:30 p.m.