Kyle is homecoming king

Kyle Busch had the car to beat in the Daytona 500 two weeks ago, but was sidelined by the race's biggest crash.

A week ago he placed third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Fontana, Calif. He could have won that won, too.

But if Busch could have chosen any race to win among the first three of the Cup season, hands down it would be the one at the speedway he watched being built in the mid-1990s.

On Sunday, the Durango High School graduate wound up performing victory burnouts and planting a sloppy kiss on the start-finish line at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 23-year-old Busch won the Shelby 427 before an estimated crowd of 140,000, holding off Clint Bowyer of Richard Childress Racing to win by 0.411 seconds.

"We're partying it up big," Busch said. "The plane can't go home tonight (to Charlotte, N.C.), so it's going to be one heck of a party in Las Vegas."

Busch, the younger brother of fellow Sprint Cup racer Kurt Busch, became the first driver to win the pole and then the race in 12 years of Cup events in Las Vegas.

But Busch's pole start lasted only a few warmup laps. Busch qualified first Friday, but his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and four other cars were sent to the rear of the 43-car field after having to replace troublesome Toyota engines. That left Busch in the 38th starting position.

After that setback, Busch said he "could have threw my helmet down and stomped away." Instead, he calmly went to the office inside his race-car transporter.

"I just went in the hauler and let (the crew) go to work and do what they do best," he said. "I just kind of sat there and cooled off a little bit, watched the rest of practice."

During Sunday's driver introductions, Busch informed the crowd that he was motivated to quickly get to the front.

"I said, 'Know what, we're going to the back. Get ready for a show, here it comes.' ''

The storybook finish was fitting for a Strip showroom.

"We just had to battle back," he said of taking the last of his three leads with 17 laps to go.

Busch maintained his composure early in the race as he knifed through the field while crew chief Steve Addington was fine-tuning the car's handling on each pit stop.

"I have to thank that guy," Busch said of Addington. "He's the leader in this team, everybody believes in him. I believe in him."

The race, extended this year from 400 to 427 miles, was slowed by an event-record 14 caution periods that slowed a record 66 laps. The last two cautions didn't upset Busch.

"The last 25, 30 laps, I was just as nervous as could be," he said. "Fortunately we ran that many caution laps there at the end."

The weekend began with Matt Kenseth's quest to become the first Cup driver in 61 years to begin a season with three straight victories. When Kenseth's No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford blew an engine after only six laps, that quest went up in smoke.

By the end of the day, the only smoke was coming from Busch's car as he performed burnouts on the apron.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@ or 702-383-0247.