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Las Vegas native Kurt Busch makes Chase, NASCAR history

Most people know Kurt Busch as one of NASCAR’s best and most controversial drivers, a supercharged guy who gets out of bed every morning going 190 mph.

Al La Rocque knew him when he typed 30 wpm — words per minute. More or less.

When La Rocque taught a word processing class at Durango High School, Busch was one of his students.

“He sat in front row, front seat, right in front of the teacher,” La Rocque said.

Pole position.

Busch got an “A” in word processing. A couple of years later, Kyle Busch also signed up for La Rocque’s class.

Kyle Busch sat in the back of class, in the Michael Waltrip section. La Rocque said Kyle Busch’s behavior was a bit more “radical” than his brother’s. And this was before Darrell Waltrip and other people from the Southern states began to refer to him as “Rowdy.”

Al La Rocque coached high school basketball for years and years, won hundreds of games, a couple of state titles. He sent dozens of players to college, watched a lot of them evolve into successful businessmen and family men and community pillars.

The ones he gets asked about most are brothers who never dunked a basketball.

Whereas it was sort of expected that Kyle would make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which is what NASCAR calls its playoff system, it was sort of expected that Kurt would not, because Kurt now drives for a little underfunded single-car team based in Denver, of all places.

Until Saturday night, when Kurt drove the flat-black No. 78 Furniture Row/Beautyrest Chevy to a second-place finish at Richmond, Va. (Kyle was fourth), a little underfunded single-car team had never made the NASCAR playoffs. Wherever it was based.

Now one has. This is further proof that Kurt Busch is a more excellent driver than “Rain Main” in the movies, more fast and furious than Vin Diesel. Yes, he does lose his temper from time to time. So did A.J. Foyt.

“It’s like a D-League team making the NBA playoffs,” said La Rocque, who follows NASCAR just enough to put Busch’s accomplishment into terms he and Sioux Falls Skyforce fans can relate to.

Kurt Busch does not always see eye to eye with pit lane reporters, and car owners, and fellow drivers, and Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies when he’s leaving the track in Phoenix, recklessly, behind the wheel of a rental car; that’s why he’s been driving with the back-of-the-grid teams the past couple of years after winning the series title in 2004 with one that runs up front.

Basically, no one else wanted him.

Busch, 35, was the perfect gentleman away from the track this year. On it, he was a whirling dervish, as usual. He did not win any races in the flat-black 78, but he finished among the top five seven times, among the top 10 another 12 times and led 368 laps to grab a spot in the Chase. He was eighth in points after 26 races.

This was with a team, mind you, that finished 24th in points last year.

It bears repeating that a single-car team has never qualified for the Chase, and that’s why Kurt Busch will be back driving and swapping information with a multicar team next year, and one of the best ones at that — the one with Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick, the GoDaddy girl.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that Kurt will have more top-10s than Danica, but that she will get more TV time during the Super Bowl commercial blitz. And that her top will be at least partly unzipped.

I also predict that Kurt will have his firesuit zipped all the way to the neck and his right foot mashed all the way to the floor when the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins near Chicago on Sunday, because that is the only way a single-car team can run up front with the multicar teams, unless nitrous oxide is involved.

“It’s an amazing feeling to go up against these big teams and to put a little lone Chevrolet from Colorado into the Chase against the big boys,” Busch said.

“This feels incredible. The way that we worked together as a team — it’s amazing that we have come this far and put ourselves in this position. We are in the Chase, and we have a shot at the championship, so we are not done yet. It feels great to deliver and to achieve something very special.”

After the race at Richmond, Kurt Busch was a big story again for something that happened on the track, for making history with this little underfunded single-car team from Peyton Manning’s backyard where the air — if not his pit crew — is thin.

People kept sticking microphones in his face, and asking questions, and he processed the words as he did back in Al La Rocque’s typing class at Durango. He was courteous and grateful, and there was a smile on his grille that stretched all the way to his rear spoiler.

And everybody gave him an “A.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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