Las Vegas Sun

May 22, 2024

Columnist Brian Hilderbrand: This time around, Kyle Busch kicks ash in Fontana

Brian Hilderbrand covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Sun. His motor sports notebook appears Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or (702) 259-4089.

Kyle Busch's relatively brief professional racing career came full circle Sunday night when he earned his first NASCAR Nextel Cup Series victory at California Speedway.

Four years earlier, the Fontana track was the site of the lowest point in Busch's career when he was not allowed to compete in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race because he was 16 years old and the race weekend was sponsored by a cigarette brand. It was the opinion of the sponsor, Marlboro, that no one under the age of 18 could compete in an event it sponsored because of the tobacco companies' Master Settlement Agreement with the states' attorneys general.

Busch, then a junior at Durango High, had competed in six truck races before that and was the fastest driver in the final practice session that weekend. Five minutes before he was to make his qualifying sun, Busch was asked to leave the speedway garage area. The incident ultimately led NASCAR to mandate that all drivers in its touring series be at least 18 years of age.

After becoming the youngest driver (by four days) ever to win a NASCAR Cup race, Busch, 20, recalled that weekend in 2001.

"That wasn't one of the funnest days of my career," Busch, a Las Vegas native, said. "Running here in the NASCAR Truck Series, (I was the) fastest guy in practice and basically got sent (home) and wasn't able to run the race, but that's also what led me here to Hendrick Motorsports.

"It was a very devastating day but also a very enjoyable day as well and what led me to the future as far as where I was able to go."

Busch was driving for Roush Racing at the time and had to sit out the 2002 and part of the 2003 Truck Series seasons until he turned 18. In the meantime, Busch decided to leave Roush for Hendrick Motorsports, in part, to get out from under older brother Kurt's shadow.

As Kyle Busch sat in his car late Sunday night in Victory Lane, Kurt Busch -- the reigning Nextel Cu0p champion -- leaned into the cockpit of his younger brother's Chevrolet.

"He came over and got in the window and said 'congratulations, I know how it feels,' " Busch said. "He asked me how it felt and I just told him, 'I can't believe it.'

"It's kind of like his championship -- we shared emotions there. We couldn't believe it that he was able to come through on that day and I was able to come through (Sunday)."

Although he trails his older brother in career victories (13 to 1), Busch managed to record his first Cup victory in his 31st career start; it took Kurt 48 starts to earn his first Cup race title.

CHASING THE CHASE: With one race remaining to determine the 10 drivers in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, five drivers have clinched spots in the Chase and a sixth -- Kurt Busch -- will clinch when he starts Saturday night's race at Richmond International Raceway.

Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin are in the Chase and Busch will make it six if he rolls off the grid Saturday. Eleven drivers are mathematically eligible for the four remaining spots, currently held by Jeremy Mayfield, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray.

BRIEFLY: Kyle Busch became the third first-time race winner in 2005, joining Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was eliminated from the Chase when his engine blew up at California Speedway, was third in points after 25 races in 2004; this year he is 18th. ... Kurt Busch has finished 15th or worse in each of his past four starts at Richmond. ... Kyle Busch finished fourth in his first career start at Richmond in May. ...

Scott Lynch of Las Vegas finished fourth in Friday's NASCAR West Series race and maintained a 48-point lead over Mike Duncan in the series standings. Spencer Clark of Las Vegas finished fifth in the 100-lap event.

AT THE BULLRING: Thane Alderman earned his second Super Late Models victory of the season during Saturday night's NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series action at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Other main-event winners were Michael Morrissey (IMCA Modifieds), Phil Goodwin (Chargers), Brennan Poole (Legends Semi-Pro), Derek Frohlich (Legends Pro/ Master), Jovon Halen (Thunder Roadsters) and Jeremiah Wagner (Bandoleros).