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Ickler handles Kyle Busch’s truck with care as Smith’s 350k comes to Las Vegas

Brian Ickler has been racing in NASCAR for less than two years but could help make history in the next two months.

He can also repay Kyle Busch for giving him an opportunity to race.

Ickler will drive the No. 18 Toyota today in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Busch has driven the truck to five wins in 11 races this season, and the entry trails Germain Racing’s No. 30 driven by Todd Bodine by 25 points in the owners’ standings.

The owners’ title carries a bonus of about $100,000.

Bodine, who won the Las Vegas race in 2005, has a commanding 257-point lead in the drivers’ standings with five races left.

“The owners’ championship is just as important as the drivers’ championship,” Bodine said.

Ickler will drive the Kyle Busch Motorsports entry for the seventh and final time this year in today’s Smith’s 350k before Busch takes over for the last five races.

If Ickler and Busch can run strong enough and Bodine falters, Busch, 25, could become the youngest owner to win a championship in any of NASCAR’s three national touring series.

“With all of his success, it’s hard to imagine we’re the same age,” Ickler, 25, said of Busch’s 80 NASCAR victories — 19 in Cup, 40 in Nationwide and 21 in trucks. “Every time you get into that truck, there’s added pressure because Kyle always runs so well in it.”

While a relative newcomer to NASCAR’s pro series, Ickler is not a racing novice.

The San Diego native was 16 when he became a professional desert racer. At age 17, Ickler won five of six races in the SCORE Desert Series, including the Baja 1000, en route to the SCORE Lite season championship and top rookie award.

That same year, Ickler began racing — and winning — in stock cars at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, Calif.

Ickler graduated to a regional NASCAR series, then moved to the Charlotte, N.C., area to begin running his own team in the regional NASCAR K&N East Series.

“I was winning on the West Coast, but it seemed no one was noticing, so I moved to Charlotte,” Ickler said.

The race-car shop that Ickler opened in 2008 happened to be three doors down from Busch’s shop in Mooresville, N.C.

“Kyle just walked in one day to see what we were working on, and we became friends,” Ickler said.

In 2009, Busch was able to secure 10 races for Ickler in a truck Busch drove part time for Billy Ballew Motorsports. Late last year, when Busch decided to start his own truck team, Ickler agreed to fill in for Busch at 10 races this year and shared driving with Kasey Kahne and Johnny Benson when Busch couldn’t.

“Kyle’s pretty much done everything for me in my career so far,” said Ickler, who finished ninth last year for Ballew in the Las Vegas truck race. “He’s been my biggest ally in making this transition and getting me into good, quality equipment. All of this only happened because of Kyle.”

Ickler got a chance to join Roush Fenway Racing this year in the Nationwide Series, where he has a best finish of ninth in five races and is scheduled for two more. Ickler said he is under contract with the Roush team through 2011.

Busch appreciates Ickler’s contributions in his truck, including a third-place finish at Martinsville, Va., and a fourth-place showing at Kansas City, Kan.

“He’s been able to do some things we weren’t expecting,” Busch said. “We’ve become friends, and he has a lot of talent.”

This weekend, Busch is chasing three championships — as an owner in the truck series; in Sprint Cup, where he ranks third among drivers; and as one of the drivers of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 in Nationwide, where the team leads in owners’ points.

In today’s Nationwide race at Dover, Del., Busch, the reigning series champion, will seek his 11th victory of the season, which would top the record he tied last year.

Busch might be 2,500 miles from Las Vegas, but he promises to be watching tonight’s truck race on the TV in his motorhome while communicating with KBM competition director Rick Ren and crew chief Eric Phillips.

“We’ll be texting back and forth most of the day,” Busch said.

Ickler knows he’ll receive feedback, acknowledging: “If you mess up, he’s going to tell you. He wants things perfect. There’s no sugar-coating with Kyle. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf’s motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/.

 

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