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Kurt Busch flies high into Las Vegas night after win at home

Updated September 28, 2020 - 2:18 pm

The voice on the cellphone was buoyant and soon to be bubbly, but it was being muffled by the whir of rotors.

Roughly two hours after breaking through for his first NASCAR win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday night, Kurt Busch celebrated in true Las Vegas fashion. He was climbing aboard a Maverick helicopter to take a victory lap around the Strip in his hometown.

Let the record show that even after posting one of the most satisfying victories of his long career, Busch kept more than the required social distance from those below who in a nonvirus year would have been lining up to slap him on the back.

After his historic win earlier in the evening, he said he would call back. I didn’t expect him to. Not on this night.

Just before midnight my cellphone rang.

“I forgot if I was supposed to call you or you were supposed to call me,” Busch said following the helicopter ride during which the toast of the town toasted it back with champagne instead of Monster Energy, his longtime sponsor.

He was no longer 0-for-21 on his hometown track.

Though people in my business constantly had reminded him about never having won at home, Busch never bristled.

People in my business sometimes forget that Dale Earnhardt was 0-19 at the Daytona 500 before finally winning, that Mario Andretti was 1-for-29 at Indianapolis.

Lady luck smiles

The senior NASCAR Busch brother has won 32 times in 714 starts, ranking him seventh among active drivers and 26th all time. Hitting .300 is difficult in baseball, but nobody’s ever come close in NASCAR. Busch’s batting average is .044. It’ll probably be good enough to get him in the Hall of Fame.

He didn’t have the fastest car at the South Point 400. He practically had to drive the wheels off his black No. 1 Chevrolet just to stay within reasonable distance of the leaders. After the fast cars made their last scheduled pit stops under the green flag, Jimmie Johnson shredded a tire, allowing Busch to make his under yellow.

That put him out front. His heavy right foot kept him there over the final laps.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than fast.

Busch said winning at home was always in the back of his mind. Like Kevin Harvick at the finish, it was almost always there. Maybe he was pushing too hard, he said. This time, being in the NASCAR bubble, respecting the coronavirus, flying in on race day, it was different.

He landed Sunday morning and drove straight to the track in a rented Chevy Malibu in which he changed into his driving suit.

“I did it old school,” Busch said.

Spelling out victory

In a couple of hours, he was coming out of turn 4 and headed for home. At home. For the first time in 22 races at the old gravel pit, as he called it, there wasn’t a single car in front of him. All he saw was evening sky, empty grandstands and a checkered flag.

“Everything turned black and white,” Busch said.

When he was handed the black-and-white flag, he used it to tap on each letter of his hometown on the logo at the start-finish line.

L-A-S (space) V-E-G-A-S.

That’s how Kurt Busch spells victory.

“(Maybe) it was meant to be because of all the people who couldn’t be there with me. Family and friends, Star Nursery — Craig Keough has been to every single one of my NASCAR races at the big track, and he was not there tonight,” Busch said of the local garden center and its owner, his first benefactor.

“But I’m drinking a beer with him right now.”

The celebration had moved to the South Point. Fellow leadfoot Brendan Gaughan was there, along with some of their close friends from the speedway. Busch said he and brother Kyle weren’t leaving town until 1 p.m. Monday, and that this was Las Vegas, his hometown.

Who knew how much sleep he’d get or what might happen?

“I have not seen the beer tab, but I’m pretty sure Brendan Gaughan will be grabbing it,” said the proud owner of a one-race winning streak at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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

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