Tuesday, March 3, 2009 | 2:08 a.m.
Before Las Vegas Motor Speedway opened in 1996, a much smaller facility known as The Bullring served as the only place where Southern Nevada motor sports enthusiasts could enjoy watching racers bang fenders on an oval circuit. The Speedway was still relatively new when a teenage sensation, Kyle Busch, won two Legend Car championships at The Bullring and went on to graduate with honors a year early from Durango High School.
Now 23 and one of the superstars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, the major leagues of stock car racing, Busch on Sunday achieved what any professional sports figure dreams of accomplishing. He scored a major victory in his hometown by taking the checkered flag in the Shelby 427, starting from the 39th position in a field of 43 competitors. That the victory occurred on a speedway that sits adjacent to The Bullring gave it a storybook flavor that ranks among the greatest Southern Nevada sports accomplishments in recent memory.
It was an added bonus that Kyle and his older brother, former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch, ran the top two qualifying times for the race — the first time the Las Vegas natives had ever pulled off that feat. It was particularly sweet that the event was sponsored by legendary race car manufacturer Carroll Shelby, who operates a business adjacent to the speedway.
NASCAR fans have developed a love-hate relationship with Kyle, a brash competitor who openly enjoys playing the villain’s role. But no one has ever questioned his immense talent, with many experts predicting he will one day retire as one of the sport’s greatest drivers.
There is no avoiding the fact that his Shelby 427 victory gave Southern Nevada motor sports fans a day to remember.