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Kyle Busch wins NASCAR race on his home turf

The Las Vegas native captures the Shelby 427, passing Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton in the closing stages.

March 02, 2009|Jim Peltz

LAS VEGAS — There's a small racetrack northeast of the Las Vegas Strip called the Bullring, where, as a kid in the mid-1990s, Kyle Busch would watch his dad and older brother drive various minor league race cars.

Kyle also would turn to watch the construction behind his seat where they were building the massive Las Vegas Motor Speedway that would start hosting NASCAR Sprint Cup racing in 1998.

"Just kept turning around and watching it, watched the grandstands go up, the banking be put in," Busch recalled. "I watched this place be built from the ground up."

It's a memory that prompted Busch, still wearing his helmet, to gently lie prostrate and kiss the track Sunday after winning the Shelby 427, his first Cup victory at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"This is pretty awesome," said Busch, who also cut his teeth at the Bullring. "The last 25, 30 laps I was just as nervous as could be. It was just the hometown, just the nerves of winning here, not being able to relax."

Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton, teammates at Richard Childress Racing, finished second and third, respectively, after Busch passed them in the closing stages of the 285-lap race.

Busch's brother Kurt, who still has never won a Cup race at Las Vegas, finished 23rd and then hugged Kyle in Victory Lane.

Matt Kenseth, meanwhile, saw his hopes of becoming the first driver to win the first three races of the year evaporate before the race was 10 laps old.

Kenseth's No. 17 Ford, which he drove to victory at Daytona and Fontana, suffered engine failure and sidelined him for the day.

The win was Busch's first since August, when his victory at Watkins Glen, N.Y., gave him eight wins for the season and made him a favorite to win the championship. But Busch faltered badly in NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Cup playoff.

On Sunday, though, he won after having to start at the rear of the 43-car field because his Joe Gibbs Racing team had changed the engine in his No. 18 Toyota.

When the race started, the handling on Busch's car was off, but he methodically climbed through the field as his crew made adjustments.

He also was helped when two other contenders, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, stumbled with pit-road problems with 65 laps left.

Gordon overshot the entrance to pit road and then blew a tire as he circled the track once more. At the same time, Johnson overshot his pit box and lost valuable time.

Johnson, the reigning Cup champion and a three-time winner at Las Vegas, later spun out and hit the wall with six laps remaining. He finished 24th and sits 19th in the Cup standings. Gordon finished sixth.

Busch's car was one of five Toyotas that had to start at the rear because of engine changes. The other four switched engines because of problems with their original motors made by Toyota in Costa Mesa.

Their replacement engines apparently worked fine Sunday, and two of the four -- David Reutimann and Brian Vickers -- finished in the top 10.

But several other drivers, in addition to Kenseth, did have engine woes.

Defending race winner Carl Edwards and David Ragan, both Kenseth teammates at Roush Fenway Racing, also suffered engine failures. So did Hendrick's Mark Martin.

Roush Fenway co-owner Jack Roush said his teams might have "misjudged how fast this tire was going to be" for the race and as a result his drivers "over-revved the engine."

Edwards tried to be conservative with his car, but, as he tried to gain positions at the end, his engine blew as well, Roush said. Edwards finished 17th.

"When it comes down to the final laps, like with Carl, you've got to go for it," Roush said.

Kenseth's race was over after six laps and he finished 43rd -- the first time he has finished last since his championship year in 2003.

"It's bound to happen sooner or later; it just didn't happen at a good time," Kenseth said. "We didn't even really get to race today."

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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Next week

KOBALT TOOLS 500

When: Sun., 10:30 a.m. PDT

Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway

TV: Channel 11

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