LVMS’ 2nd NASCAR race tops 2018 in Las Vegas motor sports

Will it go ‘round in circles, like the Busch brothers in the NASCAR Cup Series?

Will it fly high like Travis Pastrana under a starlit Las Vegas sky?

Yes it will.

Yes it did.

A look back at the stories that made 2018 in local auto racing fast, furious and memorable:

1. LVMS gets second NASCAR race: It opened the playoffs, but the estimated crowd of 45,000 was the least attended Cup Series race in speedway history. The impact of the NFL on television and 100-degree heat will be minimized somewhat in 2019 with a later (4:15 p.m.) starting time.

2. Kyle Busch’s (almost) great season: The Las Vegas driver won eight Cup Series races and was a dominant force before settling for fourth place in the one-race showdown for the NASCAR championship. He also became the only driver in NASCAR history to reach 50 wins in each of stock car racing’s three touring series (Cup, Xfinity, Trucks).

3. Kurt Busch trades places: Why would Kurt Busch leave a championship-caliber team at Stewart-Haas Racing to join Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR organization for one more season? Easy: He’ll make a decent wage, receive more attention as one of only two team drivers and will have an option to drive in the Indy 500 again.

4. Noah Gragson on the rise: The Las Vegas youngster was voted Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Truck Series and nearly won the championship before signing to drive an Xfinity Car for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2019. He’s also popular on social media.

5. Four-wide drag racing at LVMS: The spring NHRA race at The Strip went from the traditional two lanes to four, and filled grandstands for the first time. You still can feel the ground shake at the Paiute Tribal Smoke Shop.

6. Sam Schmidt’s difficult season: The Henderson car owner’s lead driver James Hinchcliffe was bumped from the Indianapolis 500 starting lineup while his other driver, promising newcomer Robert Wickens, suffered a spinal cord injury in a devastating crash that left him partially paralyzed. These are times that will test a team owner’s soul.

7. Travis Pastrana jumps the fountains: The personable daredevil and action sports star paid homage to Evel Knievel by replicating three of his most iconic jumps — including the fountains at Caesars Palace — on one night. The jumps were made easier by modern technology but the crowd roared just the same.

8. Spencer Gallagher retires: The colorful Las Vegan won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race before being suspended four days later for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy. He was cleared and made his Cup Series debut before announcing his retirement at age 29. Otherwise, his season was uneventful.

9. Eli Tomac’s million-dollar ride: It happened in October at Sam Boyd Stadium as the veteran rider earned a $1 million bonus by sweeping all three motos at the Monster Energy Cup Supercross All-Star race. Fellow competitors immediately asked if they could borrow $20.

10. LVMS gets down, dirty: It was only the developmental K&N Series, but a young woman (Hailie Deegan) started first and finished second, and Brendan Gaughan stepped out of semi-retirement to drive in it. So Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s first NASCAR race on dirt was mostly considered a success after the cloud of dust dissipated.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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