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Busch Is Riding on Family's Fast Track

Kyle, 19, has five wins as a NASCAR rookie entering the Busch Series race at Fontana. His older brother, Kurt, is also a top driver.

September 02, 2004|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

When Kurt Busch emerged two years ago as one of the hottest young drivers in NASCAR, the word out of his home base in Las Vegas was, "If you think Kurt's something special, wait until you see his kid brother."

The kid brother, now 19, has arrived.

Kyle Busch, driving a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, has won five races in his rookie season in the Busch series and is second in the points race as NASCAR's second-most popular circuit prepares for the Target House 300 on Saturday at California Speedway in Fontana.

The slender teenager trails Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s protege, by 78 points after winning at Indianapolis Raceway Park and Michigan and finishing third at Bristol, Tenn., in his last three races. In those three races, he made up 64 points.

"It would really be something special if I could win the championship and Kurt would win the Nextel Cup," Kyle said after arriving in Los Angeles from the family home in Mooresville, N.C. "I don't know if my dad [Tom Busch] could take it, he would be so proud. He's the one who started it all, and both of us owe so much to him and my mom. She videos all of our races. It's amazing how far we've come together from racing little dwarf cars in Vegas."

Kurt, nearly seven years older than Kyle, is sixth in Nextel Cup standings and almost assured a run at the championship in the final 10 races when only the top 10 in points are eligible for the $5-million prize.

Because of their age difference, the brothers raced one another in only one season. In 1999, when Kurt was running -- and winning -- the Featherlite Southwest Series, he also raced in 12 Legend car races against his 14-year-old brother at the Bullring in Las Vegas. They finished one-two in every race, each one winning six.

They also raced in Legend cars at Irwindale in 2000 and that time Kurt won, with Kyle second. Legend cars are five-eighth replicas of NASCAR stock cars from the 1960s and 1970s, powered by motorcycle engines.

"We had a lot of fun and it was great to be racing where our dad had won so many races," Kyle said. "He won 15 out of 16 races at the Bullring in a limited late model [stock car] in the early 1990s. He also won some track championships at the old Craig Road Speedway."

Kyle's rise has been meteoric. When he was 13 he drove in three Legends races at the Bullring and three years later was driving in NASCAR's Craftsman truck series for Jack Roush.

One of those races was at California Speedway and his precocious start worked against him. During pre-qualifying practice, Busch was fastest, but before he could make it official, Speedway officials informed him that he could not race because he was only 16 and the weekend's racing was sponsored by Marlboro.

He was too young to smoke, so it was deemed he was too young to drive in a cigarette-sponsored race. NASCAR followed suit and told him to come back when he was 18. For the next two years Kyle drove in American Speed Assn. and ARCA races to keep sharp. In 2003, after graduating a year early from Durango High to follow his racing dream, Kyle signed to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, joining Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers on one of racing's highest-profile teams.

It also meant that he would be driving Chevrolets; brother Kurt was in Fords.

"Kurt has been very helpful in giving me advice, but there isn't a whole lot we can relate to about the cars," Kyle said. "Roush builds the Fords and Hendrick builds our Chevys, so there are too many variables to trade much information. We do talk about as much as we can, though. Kurt has really been a help in my career.

"I also get a lot of advice from Brian [Vickers] because he won the Busch championship last year with the same team, the same bunch of guys on the crew. We started out slow this year, but in August our luck changed. We just hope we can keep the same momentum going."

Because both sons are driving for teams based in North Carolina, Tom Busch packed up the family, including his wife and mother, last year and left Las Vegas for Mooresville. They bought 77 acres with plans to have their team headquarters sometime in the future.

Because Kyle dominated the race at Michigan two weeks ago, beating out veteran Mark Martin, he is hoping for good results in Saturday's race at Fontana.

"We're bringing the same car out here that we ran at Michigan," he said. "There are only a few things we need to change. The tracks look exactly alike, but there is more banking at Michigan, so maybe we'll change the front springs and the front bar just a little bit to accommodate the difference. Trying to get that left front corner down is a little hard to do at California because of less banking but [crew chief] Lance [McGrew], the team and I will work on it in practice and hopefully get what we need."

Practice and qualifying are Friday.

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