Finishing second doesn't always make you the first loser, as many racers believe.
Kyle Busch attracted the most attention Saturday night at the Bullring, but the focus should have been on second-place finisher Travis Swalwell's journey.
Just being in the race was reward enough for Swalwell.
The Fall Classic is one of the year's biggest events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's little oval, and the attraction of having a NASCAR superstar competing certainly enhanced the race's value.
The featured Super Late Models race paid $5,000 to winner Taylor Barton. That certainly would have been the season's biggest payday for the mostly family-funded teams in the race.
Busch often gets more for an hour of signing autographs.
But the Las Vegas native didn't receive a nickel from the track for helping sell tickets for the Classic. He paid to have his race car hauled in from North Carolina. He incurred the costs of round-trip private air transportation from Phoenix, where he won two of last weekend's three major NASCAR races.
Busch's perk from the speedway was a free pass into the 26-car race in which he had to start at the back of the pack. He missed qualifying and heat races because he was racing in Arizona.
Many of the nearly 4,000 fans just wanted to watch Busch, the fourth-best driver in Nextel Cup this season, return to race where his career began. The outcome was secondary.
Unless his car broke, he was likely to ruin the night for local racers and their amateur brethren from Washington, Utah, Idaho and California.
Busch, who like Swalwell is 22, says he just loves to race and showed he came to the Bullring only to win.
Swalwell lacks the resources of Busch and top Bullring teams. He started seventh and patiently ran in the top five most of the night.
Busch was a whirling dervish as he made several stunning passes to motor through the field. He was 10th after 40 of 140 laps and passed Swalwell for fourth with 69 to go.
Washington's Shelby Thompson apparently didn't like it when Busch began racing him door to door and passed him for second with 43 laps left.
Thompson tried to regain the spot on the next lap with an ill-timed move going into the first turn. Whether it was to put Busch out of the race or because of a lack of talent, Thompson caused both to spin.
Swalwell cruised patiently while the ensuing yellow flag waved; he knew he would move up to third when Busch and Thompson were penalized and sent to the back. It's been track policy for many years that those involved in causing a caution period are sent to the back regardless of who's at fault.
Busch knew that.
It's not a good rule, but it's the rule.
Thompson went to the back, and Busch was told to join him or leave. Busch left.
Busch's decision was disappointing because he had worked diligently to become more popular, and fans were deprived of seeing if he could rally through the field to win.
Officials did not show favoritism.
The level of exuberance shown by Barton and Swalwell -- who was overjoyed, and not just because of the $2,500 he won -- dashed my disappointment over Busch's departure.
Swalwell wasn't supposed to be racing Saturday. His dad, Randy Swalwell, and step-mom, Vanessa, decided a couple of months ago their popular No. 98 would have to be sold because of limited funding for the team.
They would have no Fall Classic this year.
"That was the plan," Randy said while his son beamed in wonderment after the race, accepting hugs and back slaps.
The family's plan changed about a month ago.
After Vanessa died from a brain aneurysm on Oct. 14 at age 46, the family was overwhelmed by support from the racing community -- from a packed church service for Vanessa to contributions of race entry fees and crew passes, tires, parts and cash to get No. 98 to the Bullring at least once more.
The car never looked better. A picture of Vanessa covered the hood. For at least one more Saturday night, her smile helped light up the Bullring.
"I hope she's not mad at me," Randy said.
He knows she's not.
It was a race the Swalwells and their extended racing family wanted and needed -- a race avid Bullring fans also needed.
Winning would have been great, but just being there was greater.
There are more important firsts for Travis and his family and friends to be concerned about now than a first in racing.
Like his younger brother's upcoming birthday, the first without his mom.
Or the first Thanksgiving and Christmas without Vanessa's physical presence.
Finishing first on the track is not always the greatest challenge.
Travis understands that now.
One day, Kyle Busch will too.
Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or email@example.com.