Series of mishaps, crashes drop local drivers out of contention at LVMS

This was far from a happy homecoming for three Las Vegas drivers.

Kyle Busch wrecked his car in practice Saturday and was forced to the back of the field for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400.

He began to make a charge through the field, but a series of mishaps caused Busch to finish 23rd in his No. 18 Toyota.

“We ended up taking four tires on our second stop when everyone else took two and lost our track position,” he said. “Then we got into the oil from the 93 car (Travis Kvapil) blowing up, and I got into the fence. Between that and not being able to keep up with the way the track changed, we just couldn’t end up recovering from losing the track position. Just a long and frustrating day.”

His brother and fellow Durango High School graduate, Kurt Busch, sustained two cut tires and crashed late in the race. His No. 51 Chevrolet placed 35th.

That was one spot behind Brendan Gaughan, a Bishop Gorman High grad whose No. 33 Chevy went into the wall on the eighth lap. He at least ran well in Saturday’s Nationwide Series Sam’s Town 300, placing fifth.

■ STILL WAITING – Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans were given early hope when he led 70 of the first 73 laps, surpassing the 52 laps he led all of last season.

But Earnhardt finished 10th, extending a winless streak of 132 races that dates to 2008.

“I think we should’ve run better than that, and the team felt like we should have been better than that,” he said. “We are just a little bit disappointed.”

He got into a dust-up with Mark Martin late in the race, running his No. 88 Chevy into the back of Martin’s No. 55 Toyota.

Earnhardt accused Martin of breaking “an unwritten etiquette” by staying high when Earnhardt clearly had the faster car.

“Don’t knock a half-second off my lap time being a jerk about it,” Earnhardt said. “Stay low. You are going to get it in the next corner, and the position is going to be yours.”

■ DASHED HOPES — Brad Keselowski took the lead on lap 234 before giving it right back to race winner Tony Stewart.

The fuel pump broke on Keselowki’s No. 2 Dodge during a late restart, and he wound up losing eight laps. Keselowski finished 32nd.

“We had a pretty decent Dodge Charger all day, probably not as good as Tony’s, but really strong,” Keselowski said. “We were going to give him a run for his money, and I was going to drive my butt off. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

■ CHANGE AT THE TOP — Matt Puccia became the crew chief for Greg Biffle’s No. 16 Ford in July, and he made personnel changes to the team in the offseason.

The changes seem to have worked.

Biffle finished third to move up a spot to first in the Sprint Cup standings. He has finished in the top five of all three races this season.

“Just plain and simple, Matt Puccia is the reason why we’re running and competing and finishing where we are,” Biffle said. “This team needed leadership. He was willing to step up and take the task on.”

■ THE BIG HOUSE — NASCAR estimated a crowd of 150,000, which seemed generous given the rows of empty seats. But it was far larger than any crowd any other sporting event in the state will draw this year.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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