Take note, Caesars Palace: Kurt Busch plays on Strip at last


So I'm riding shotgun in The Blue Deuce, and Kurt Busch, who for the past five years has alternately caressed and beat upon its steering wheel, is waving to thousands of NASCAR fans and nearly as many curious onlookers who are waving to him as if he's the mayor of some little town during the Fourth of July parade or one of the Kardashians, take your pick.

Busch is telling me he had several dreams growing up in these streets, although not the particular street we are traveling on, because before NASCAR got so big for its britches, you would have had to rob a bank and taken somebody hostage in front of the Imperial Palace to shut down the world-famous Las Vegas Strip.

Many of these dreams, he says, have come true. One hasn't.

"I always dreamed about seeing my name on the Caesars Palace marquee, before it went digital," the Las Vegas native and 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion is telling me now.

I motion to my pilot with the heavy right foot, cocking my head toward the marquee. They have Jerry Seinfeld's name up in digital lights.

We are bump drafting the No. 33 of Clint Bowyer in front of O'Sheas, where normally leprechauns would be posing for photos with tourists from Iowa. It's loud and it's smoky, because Jeff Gordon has just dropped a transmission or a valve or the pass the Bills' Stevie Johnson should have caught in his back pocket against the Steelers last weekend, and the thousands of NASCAR fans and curious onlookers are going crazy. And I'm sitting like six inches from Kurt Freakin' Busch, and he's wearing dark glasses, and we're bumping fists, as if he's enjoying this as much as I am.

Then I sense a vibration on my cellphone. Or maybe it's just those ponies under the hood of The Blue Deuce, stretching their legs a little bit.

Nope, it's definitely the cellphone. It's my sister, who is about to get on a plane in Boise, Idaho, and she's bored, and she wants to know what I'm doing.

This might not be as surreal as it gets. But until the Cubs win the World Series, it'll have to do.

Welcome to the NASCAR Victory Lap, which, next to watching guys from places such as Kannapolis and Level Cross and Hueytown and South Boston -- the one in Virginia, not Massachusetts -- get gussied up in tuxedos for the big awards banquet today at Wynn Las Vegas, is fast becoming the highlight of NASCAR Champion's Week since it moved to Las Vegas two years ago from the stodgy Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Sophistication is one thing. "Girls Direct to Your Room," as it says in giant letters on one of those rolling billboards heading in the other direction, is something entirely different.

Then it's "our" turn to do a smoky burnout, and Busch the elder -- kid brother Kyle is fishtailing down the other side of the Strip, having performed a series of doughnuts so grand they would have gotten Kirstie Alley's attention -- drops the gearshift into second. I clench the edge of my seat as if it's a rope in an Indiana Jones movie because I know what's coming next. The Blue Deuce rumbles and lurches and then ... nothing.

Busch has killed the engine.

If this was Darlington or Bristol, where they don't like him or Kyle very much, people would probably be cheering, because that would be one less car that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have to pass.

Busch uses a swear word, though not the one he usually reserves for Tony Stewart. He starts flipping toggle switches and mashing pedals, and The Blue Deuce roars to life. And then I'm spinning like a top. Or a record, baby, round, round. And I'm choking on tire smoke, too, though not as much as Kevin Harvick when he mashed pedals and blew out tires, bringing everything to a screeching and comprehensive halt.

"You ever do anything like that in your old man's car?" I asked Busch after my spine stopped tingling and returned to its full, upright and locked position.

No, he said. It was his grandma's Buick Century.

"And I almost got away with it."

That darn Kyle.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. 

 

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