Kyle Busch’s return to his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend could go a long way in determining his NASCAR Cup Series playoff chances when the Round of 12 kicks off Sunday.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) heads to the 1.5-mile desert oval fifth in the playoff standings, and with the unpredictable Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval set to close out the Round of 12, the Las Vegas native wants to get off to a strong start to the round with a solid finish Sunday.
Aside from NASCAR’s biggest events like the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a win at the hometown racetrack is always high on the priority list for most NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Busch crossed that all-important hometown win off his list when he won in just his fifth Las Vegas Cup Series start in 2009.
The 2002 honors graduate of Durango High School in Las Vegas qualified on the pole that weekend but was forced to start at the rear of the field because his team needed to change engines during Friday practice. Unfazed, Busch remained patient on race day as he and the M&M’S team worked their way to the front of the field by the 54th lap. He went on to lead three times for 51 laps en route to claiming what he called at the time the biggest win of his young career.
This weekend, he would like nothing more than to double his number of Cup Series wins at Las Vegas to go with that emotional first hometown win.
While Busch added 2016 and 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins at Las Vegas to go with three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins in a row there from 2018 to 2020, he already was no stranger to winning on Las Vegas Motor Speedway property. From 1999 to 2001, he earned more than 65 wins in Legends cars while racking up two track championships at the facility’s “Bullring,” which existed for several years before the NASCAR oval was built. When Busch moved up to Late Model stock cars, his winning ways continued with 10 victories at the Bullring in 2001.
Along with the familiar primary colors of M&M’S, the Henderson, Nevada-based Ethel M Chocolates brand will have its logo on the No. 18 Toyota’s decklid and front quarterpanels this weekend. The brand was primary sponsor of a car for the first time ever during the March Las Vegas race. Ethel M Chocolates is a marquis offering, manufactured by Mars Wrigley North America and dedicated to creating premium chocolates with fresh ingredients and no artificial preservatives. This year marks the 40th Anniversary of Ethel M Chocolates, a momentous milestone for the brand.
So as Busch returns to Las Vegas this weekend, he hopes the he can turn a trip back home into a trip back to a victory lane. As the saying goes, “home is where the heart is.” And for Busch, home is where the trophy is, along with an automatic ticket into the Round of 8 of this year’s Cup Series playoffs.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Is there more pressure to go out there and win at your hometown track than anywhere else?
“I used to put more stress on myself to win there, no doubt. I never knew if winning there would happen for me and it’s neat I’ve been able to win in all three series at Vegas. There is stress going into those events. For myself, I was able to get that done in 2009 there at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, to get into victory lane. That felt good. To be able to go back there years after and go out there and race, and not have to worry about the stress of winning that race, you still want to win. We want to win every single one of them. That’s a fact. Overall, when you come into your hometown, and we watched this place get built from nothing, it means that extra more to you and it would be great if we could get back to victory lane this weekend with our M&M’S Camry.”
What was it like to bring home a Cup Series win in your hometown in 2009?
“It was cool. To go out there and to run a smooth race and to have a shot at winning at the end of the race, that’s what it’s all about. I watched Vegas being built from the ground up, and I remember when it wasn’t anything but a gleam in the eye of Richie Clyne (founder of Las Vegas Motor Speedway) – all those guys who made that place happen.”
What’s changed to make Las Vegas grow into a real sports town?
“I think it’s definitely grown into that more and more over the years. When I was a kid there, I always kind of wondered why we didn’t have a professional team of any kind. You know, whether it would be hockey or basketball or baseball or football, but it’s becoming a sports town more and more, which is good. There are a lot of stars in all kinds of sports who come from our town with (Bryce) Harper, myself and Kurt (Busch), some other, younger, up-and-coming drivers, as well, like Noah (Gragson), and such. It’s nice to have an opportunity to have that place to be able to go play if you can make it to the hometown team and be a star in that series, that league. The Golden Knights are really big in town, now, and I’m sure there’s a lot of buzz having the NFL there, now, with the Raiders, as well.”
With the Round of 12 having two wild-card races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval, how important is it to get off to a good start in Las Vegas this weekend?
“I think everyone heads to Las Vegas putting a lot of pressure on themselves to make sure they run well in that event because they know what the next two race have in store for them. If you asked any crew chief what race are they are most focused on in that round, they would all tell you Vegas to try and have a good race. With having that much focus on that race, it’s going to make that one tough, as well. You just go out there and do the best you can do. We ended up throwing a bit of a Hail Mary at the Roval and it ended up costing us a bit, so that’s just the unfortunate nature of those two races being in the round together, and we certainly want to get off to a strong start at Vegas with our M&M’S Camry. We’ll have our friends at Ethel M with their logos on our car, as well. They are located right there in Henderson and we are hoping to give them a great run.”
What is your fondest racing memory of growing up in Las Vegas?
“My fondest racing memory is probably my first Late Model race. I started about eighth or 10th and ended up winning it. My first-ever start, I won. So that is definitely a great memory to have.”
● Event: South Point 400
● Time/Date: 7 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Sept. 26
● Location: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
● Layout: 1.5-mile oval
● Laps/Miles: 267 laps, 400.5 miles
● Format: Stage 1: 80 laps / Stage 2: 80 laps / Final Stage: 107 laps
● TV/Radio: NBCSN/ MRN/ SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Meet the No. 18 M&M’S / Joe Gibbs Racing Team
Primary Team Members:
Driver: Kyle Busch
Hometown: Las Vegas
Crew Chief: Ben Beshore
Hometown: York, Pennsylvania
Car Chief: Nate Bellows
Hometown: Fairfax, Vermont
Spotter: Tony Hirschman
Hometown: Northampton, Pennsylvania
Over-The-Wall Crew Members:
Gas Man: Matt Tyrrell
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Front Tire Changer: Blake Houston
Hometown: Enochville, North Carolina
Jackman: T.J. Ford
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Tire Carrier: Joe Crossen
Hometown: Salisbury, North Carolina
Rear Tire Changer: Jeff Cordero
Hometown: Salem, Connecticut
Road Crew Members:
Race Engineer: Seth Chavka
Hometown: Soldotna, Alaska
Truck Driver: Chris Miko
Hometown: Bronx, New York
Truck Driver: Tom McCrimmon
Hometown: Spicer, Minnesota
Mechanic/Tire Specialist: Justin Peiffer
Hometown: Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Mechanic: Scott Eldridge
Hometown: Warsaw, Indiana
Notes of Interest:
● Round of 12: Busch was able to survive and advance to the Round of 12 of the 2021 Cup Series playoffs, which starts Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Busch has racked up 22 important playoff points he can take with him through each round. He sits fifth on the playoff grid with 11 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s. He will start the Round of 12 sitting 37 points behind points leader Kyle Larson.
● All in the Stats: Busch has one win, eight top-five finishes and 11 top-10s and has led a total of 260 laps in 20 career Cup Series starts at Las Vegas. Busch’s average Las Vegas finish is 12.0.
● Alone in Ninth: With Busch’s win at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June, the two-time Cup Series champion scored his 59th career win in NASCAR’s top series as he moved past Kevin Harvick into sole possession of ninth on the all-time win list. Next up on the win list is Dale Earnhardt, the seven-time Cup Series champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer who won 76 races during his storied career.
● 222 and Counting: Busch will be aiming to add to his record 222 overall wins among NASCAR’s top three series this weekend at Las Vegas. In addition to his 59 Cup Series wins and 102 in the Xfinity Series, Busch has 61 wins in the Camping World Truck Series.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!