Las Vegas — Kyle Busch has had plenty of highlights in his short NASCAR career: setting a record as the youngest winner in series history, giving Toyota its first victory and returning Joe Gibbs Racing’s flagship car to prominence.
None of it compared to winning at home.
Busch notched the biggest victory of his young career Sunday by driving from the back of the field to win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his hometown track.
Although there are far more hallowed tracks in NASCAR, this 1.5-mile oval in the desert was where “The Wild Thing” most wanted to win. He proved that with an elaborate victory celebration that ended with him on his knees, kissing the finish line.
“I tell you what, this is pretty cool,” Busch said. “I didn’t know exactly what it would mean, but coming to the checkered flag, there were knots in my stomach. It’s bigger than winning the Daytona 500. I said it wasn’t going to be, but it is.”
Busch struggled in his first visit to Vegas, wrecking 11 laps into his Cup debut race and finishing 41st.
He bounced back to compete for the wins the next two seasons, but settled for second- and third-place finishes to then-teammate Jimmie Johnson. His best chance might have been last year, when he returned home leading the points for the first time in his career and won the pole. But he struggled with the handling on his JGR Toyota and wound up 11th.
This year, he wouldn’t be denied.
Busch came prepared at the start of the weekend, beating big brother Kurt for the pole to put brothers on the front row for the first time since 2000. But an engine change in his Toyota meant he had to power his way through the field over 285 laps.
In a brief address to the crowd before the start of the race, he promised to get to the front.
“I just said, ‘Hey, you know what? We’re going to the back so get ready for a show. Here it comes,’” he recalled. “Even if I got up to 20th and then backed it in, it was still going to be a show.”
Busch took the lead with 57 to go, then lost it during a late round of pit stops. Busch was third on a restart with 22 to go, then chased down Jeff Burton and leader Clint Bowyer to move out front again.