Published Saturday, March 7, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Updated Saturday, March 7, 2015 | 9:18 a.m.
The best driver in the world, Jimmie Johnson, was more than a year away from making his Sprint Cup debut the last time neither Kyle Busch nor Kurt Busch raced at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NASCAR weekend.
Recent Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano was in the fourth grade. A 14-year streak of the Busch brothers serving as main attractions at their home track ends this weekend without either in the field for Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 Xfinity series race or Sunday’s Kobalt 400 in the Sprint Cup.
“I know competition will be easier for all of us because those guys aren’t out here,” Carl Edwards smiled. “Those guys are both extremely fast.”
The 29-year-old Kyle Busch has tallied 29 Sprint Cup victories. He managed to pass older brother and 36-year-old Kurt Busch’s 25 wins two years ago.
But it will be a while before fans can watch the Durango High graduates attempt to pad their totals. Although the Delaware attorney general’s office declined to pursue criminal charges over an alleged domestic assault on Kurt Busch earlier this week, he remains under a NASCAR-mandated indefinite suspension.
He must complete the private terms of a reinstatement program to rejoin the series, which could culminate before Kyle Busch is healthy. Kyle Busch is holed up in his Charlotte-area home recovering from a fractured right leg and broken left foot, injuries suffered in a crash into a wall while racing in the Xfinity Series event two weekends ago in Daytona, Fla.
There’s no timetable for Kyle Busch’s return.
“Our emphasis is to get him back as quick as we can,” Joe Gibbs, owner of Kyle Busch’s racing team, said in Daytona after the wreck. “I know that is what Kyle would want to do.”
Kyle Busch has stayed active on Twitter, posting “would rather be driving than watching,” the day after his accident. That sentiment may ring extra true this week, as he’s always spoken highly of coming home to compete on a track he watched get built.
The feeling is the mutual, as the speedway has benefited from having a local superstar. One of the most memorable moments in the history of the race came six years ago when Kyle Busch prevailed despite a dead-last starting position.
He was primed for another big season in 2015, listed as the sixth choice at 12-to-1 odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook to win his first Sprint Cup title before the injury.
“I really look forward to having Kyle back with all the speed he has and being a huge part of (Joe Gibbs Racing),” said Edwards, who’s a teammate of Kyle Busch for the first time this year. “He’s a guy I can learn a lot from.”
Kurt Busch was also looking forward to a successful season after breaking out of a two-year winless streak with a victory at Martinsville last year. But his plans were derailed when the domestic abuse allegations surfaced last November, which preceded a highly publicized hearing.
Kurt Busch maintained his innocence throughout, and expressed vindication in a statement released earlier this week after he was cleared of all charges.
“As I have said from the beginning, I did not commit domestic violence,” Kurt Busch said in the statement. “I look forward to being back in racing as soon as possible and moving on with my life.”
Kurt and Kyle Busch might not be on hand, but that doesn’t mean their cars are also on the shelf. Regan Smith, a Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, is filling in for Kurt Busch and driving the No. 41 in the Kobalt 400.
Veteran David Ragan will take the wheel in Kyle Busch’s familiar M&Ms-themed Toyota car. Edwards reported that Ragan had the fastest practice of anyone on the Joe Gibbs Racing team.
But there’s still a void without the Busch brothers. Out of the 18 years Las Vegas has hosted a Sprint Cup race, this will only be the fourth without either of its two most famous native drivers.
“All of us are thinking a lot about Kyle, and his recovery seems to be going really well,” Edwards said. “And it seems like Kurt is well on his way to being back here soon, so I guess we’ll look forward to their return.”