Opening the Playoffs with a 'Home' Game
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Sept. 13, 2018) – 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 their home venue.
While the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is not one of those stick-and-ball sports, M&M’S driver Kyle Busch – this year’s regular-season champion – will kick off the 2018 playoffs with a “home game” at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway during Sunday’s South Point 400.
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 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Busch, the Las Vegas native, crossed off an all-important one by winning at his hometown track in just his fifth NASCAR Cup Series start there in 2009.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and 2002 honors graduate of Durango High School in Las Vegas, qualified on the pole that day 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 a 2016 Xfinity Series win 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.
The 2015 Cup Series champion Busch will start the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and with 50 playoff points entering the final 10 races to decide the 2018 Cup Series championship. Entering the 10-race playoffs, Busch has tallied 17 top-five finishes in the regular season, already equaling his career-best number of top-fives earned during the 2008 and 2016 regular seasons and playoffs combined.
So as Busch returns to Las Vegas this weekend, he hopes the success of the No. 18 M&M’S team during the regular season will pay off with a win to start the playoffs with a “home game” Sunday in Las Vegas.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What’s the challenge this week in your efforts to get off to a good start in the playoffs?
“Going to Vegas, it’s not one of my best racetracks, for some reason. I’ve won there before, but it was a long time ago. We finished second earlier this year. We struggled early but came on late and we’d love to have the opportunity to go out there and win and just move ourselves automatically through to the next round and not have to worry about the “roval” (at Charlotte). Thankfully, with our season and our success that we’ve had with the 18 team, we’ve got that point cushion.”
How does it feel to win the regular-season championship?
“It’s awesome. It’s just another goal that you have and another opportunity to be able to go out there and score a win. Not only for myself or our team or M&Ms or Toyota, but it just gave us that extra motivation to bring home a trophy. They certainly stepped up the trophy game for this year, so that’s nice, and those bonus points will come in handy, too.”
What are your biggest challenges with the upcoming tracks in the playoffs?
“I would say the “roval” is the biggest challenge, just because it’s 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 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.”
What would it mean to you to take home another checkered flag this weekend?
“It would certainly be special to win there. I love going out to Las Vegas. You want to win any weekend, but especially when it’s in your hometown and you remember this track being built from the ground up and the hole being dug in which the track sits now. As far as anybody else knowing it’s our hometown, I don’t think they care. I think that we all race each other as hard as we can race each other every single race, anyway, no matter where we go. Guys are always chomping at the bit in order to see themselves get to victory lane, so that’s going to be their main reason in trying to keep you out of victory lane.”
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 Camry back in victory lane there. It’s always been a big race for us and the M&M’S 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 489th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 15th NASCAR Cup Series start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
- Busch has career totals of 49 wins, 30 poles, 178 top-five finishes, 262 top-10s and 15,497 laps led in 488 career Cup Series races. His most recent Cup Series win came six races ago at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Busch’s most recent pole, the 30th of his career, came at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in May.
- Busch has one win, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s and has led a total of 240 laps in 14 career Cup Series starts at Las Vegas. Busch’s average Las Vegas finish is 13.3.
- Regular-Season Champ: Busch secured the regular-season championship with his eighth-place finish Monday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Busch’s heads to his hometown in Las Vegas to start the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and will have 50 playoff points available to him to carry through with him during each round of the 2018 playoffs.