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Kurt Busch finally becomes hometown hero with LVMS victory

Updated September 27, 2020 - 10:18 pm

No practice.

No qualifying.

No spectators.

No problem Sunday for Kurt Busch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

And who would have believed that after all these years?

Las Vegas’ native son timed his last pit stop perfectly to move to the front of the field, then held off challengers on multiple late-race restarts to win the South Point 400 and end an 0-for-21 winless streak at his hometown track.

“This is 20 years of agony and defeat. Now today with triumph, I don’t know if I have any more gas left or if I just filled my tank up to go win every race,” said Busch, who held off second-place finisher Matt DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin in an overtime finish.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching this track get built from the desert gravel pit that it was by Richie Clyne and his group, then when Speedway Motorsports bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there. I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars.’

“I never knew I’d get this far.”

Luck that had eluded him finallly fell his way on lap 236 of 267. He was circulating among the also-rans but had yet to make his final pit stop when Jimmie Johnson blew a tire and brought out the yellow flag after the fast cars at the front already had made their stops.

Busch gained a ton of track position and lined up his flat black No. 1 Chevy alongside DiBenedetto for the restart. He quickly charged to the lead and was able to hold it after two more restarts following on-track incidents.

“I knew the race would come to us,” Busch said after claiming his 32nd career victory and clinching a spot in the next playoff round. “We needed to get to nightfall and one of those quirky (crew chief) Matt McCall pit sequences finally unfolded and we got lucky.

“You have to be lucky in any race, but we did it tonight with teamwork, pulling through and not giving up.”

Kyle’s love tap

There weren’t any fans in the stands to help him celebrate because of state COVID-19 restrictions, so younger brother Kyle filled in admirably. The two-time and reigning NASCAR champion drove alongside on the victory lap and used his car to plant a kiss on the one driven by his big brother.

It was Kurt Busch’s first victory of 2020 — Kyle is still seeking his first — and his sixth top 10 finish in 22 races on his hometown track. That may be a decent record for a lot of drivers but falls short of expectations for one of his caliber.

When he pulled into victory circle, the 42-year-old veteran pounded his fists on top of Chip Ganassi’s racecar. Only this time it was in jubilation instead of frustration.

He breathlessly thanked everybody he could think of: His mom and dad; his first sponsor Craig Keough; fellow racer Brendan Gaughan at the South Point.

“Hometown is special,” he said. “This Vegas place is special.”

Hamlin fast but forgotten

DiBenedetto finished .148 of a second behind Busch for his second straight LVMS runner-up effort in the Wood Brothers Ford. “It’s heartbreaking to come that close,” he said of being outdragged by the race winner after the restart following Johnson’s flat tire.

But it was Hamlin who appeared to have the car to beat for most of the day.

“Probably the best car I ever had at Las Vegas,” said Hamlin, a Joe Gibbs Racing driver who led four times for a race-high 121 laps.

The three-time Daytona 500 winner assumed control of the race early. Hamlin took the lead from Kyle Busch on a restart following the competition yellow flag on lap 27 and pulled away to win the first 80-lap race stage as the drivers waited for the sun to go down and the 1.5-mile oval to develop grip.

Hamlin dive-bombed past Busch and Logano and into the lead on the restart of stage 2 that Chase Elliott won. Logano, who won the spring race at LVMS, was forced to pit with a bad tire rub after he and Busch collided as a result of Hamlin’s bold turn 3 move.

But that was long forgotten by the time Kurt Busch took the checkered flag and finally became a hometown hero in his hometown race.

This story has been corrected to say Kurt Busch drives a Chevy.

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

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