'Home' Game to Open NASCAR Playoffs
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Sept. 10, 2019) – In most every professional team sport, the top team at the end of the regular season gets the advantage of hosting its first playoff game at its home venue. In fact, in the National Football League, the top two teams in each conference get a first-round bye with a guaranteed home game the second weekend of the playoffs.
While the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is not one of those stick-and-ball sports, M&M’S Hazlenut Spread driver Kyle Busch, this year’s regular-season champion, will kick off the 2019 playoffs with a “home game” at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Sunday’s South Point 400 is the closest thing Busch might have to a home track advantage.
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 high on the priority list for most NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Busch, a Las Vegas native, crossed that all-important one off his list when he won at his hometown track in just his fifth NASCAR Cup Series start there in 2009.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and 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 the 1.5-mile desert oval to go with that first emotional hometown win.
While Busch also has 2016 and 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins at Las Vegas, 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.
Busch, the 2015 Cup Series champion, will start the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and with 45 playoff points entering the final 10 races to decide the 2019 title.. Entering the 10-race playoffs, Busch has tallied four victories among his 13 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s en route to the regular-season championship for the second year in a row.
So as Busch returns to Las Vegas this weekend, he hopes the success of the No. 18 M&M’S Hazelnut Spread team during the regular season will pay off with a win to start the playoffs during their “home game” Sunday in Las Vegas.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How do you feel as you prepare for another run at the title?
“It would certainly be nice to be headed into the playoffs with a little momentum on our side. That’s not the case. We head to my hometown, Vegas, to kick it off. Hopefully, we can have a good, clean playoff run. Our guys have done a great job. We’ve had fast cars this year. Hopefully we can continue that and start off the playoffs right this weekend with our M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Camry.”
You have a ton of experience on your team. How do you think that experience will help you?
“You look at it, and we won the title in our first year together. We have been able to back it up with championship race playoff positions each year since. Hopefully we can keep that trend going. We have certainly worked hard throughout the regular season to get this playoff point advantage that we have right now. It would be nice to not have to rely on those points but to be able to win some races here and close out the season strong and get to Homestead and race for a championship.”
What are your biggest challenges with the upcoming tracks in the playoffs?
“I would say the ‘Roval’ (at Charlotte) is the biggest challenge, just because it’s still such an unknown. Nobody knows what’s going to happen there. And then, of course, Talladega is always a crapshoot race for many of us. Love going to Kansas, though. Martinsville is good, and finishing out the year at Homestead and hopefully being able to go and race for a championship.”
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.”
Is there more pressure racing at your hometown track?
“Yeah, Vegas always means a little bit more pressure – more pressure on myself – just because it’s the hometown and you want to win there. Thankfully, I have won there and I’ve knocked that one off the list, but certainly you want to win there every year. I love Vegas, the atmosphere and everything going on around that place. We’ve run up front there the last couple of years, so I would like to get our M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Camry back in victory lane there. It’s always been a big race for us and the M&M’S Hazelnut Spread team, so I’m hoping we can bring home the win in my hometown.”
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 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.”
Notes of Interest:
- The South Point 400 will mark Kyle Busch’s 525th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 17th NASCAR Cup Series start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
- Busch has career totals of 55 wins, 31 poles, 196 top-five finishes, 290 top-10s and 17,016 laps led in 524 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came in June at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came in last October at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
- Busch has one win, five top-five finishes and seven top-10s and has led a total of 254 laps in 16 Cup Series starts at Las Vegas. Busch’s average Las Vegas finish is 12.2.
- Playoff Regular: This is Busch’s 13th appearance in the playoffs. The M&M’S Hazelnut Spread driver being the 2015 series champion.
- Regular-Season Champion: On his way to winning the regular-season championship, Busch notched 30 playoff points during the regular season. On top of those 30 points, the regular-season championship earned him an extra 15 playoff points for a total of 45. He can carry those over to start each round of the playoffs.