Las Vegas Weekend Preview: Kurt Busch hopes for home cooking at Las Vegas

Kurt Busch (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Already a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, Kurt Busch added NASCAR’s next piece of prestigious hardware to his trophy case when he won the Daytona 500 two weeks ago.

Although he’s a champion and now has a win in NASCAR’s biggest race, he still desperately wants to win at his home track – Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Busch will get the chance to do that when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series takes the 1.5-mile oval for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

“It’s just fun to come back and reminisce,” Busch said. “But, ultimately you’ve got to strap on the helmet and focus on the task at hand. It’s always special in Vegas.”

The No. 41 Ford driver has struggled at Las Vegas, where he grew up racing on the three-eighth-mile bullring. In 16 starts there, he only has four top-10 finishes with a high showing of third (2005). Last season, Busch finished ninth and led 31 laps in his hometown.

Sunday’s race kicks off a three-contest West Coast swing – known as NASCAR Goes West – for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

“The West Coast swing is a perfect gauge for how your work went through the off-season, whether it’s the wind tunnel, the chassis dyno, new development, and then the team, as far as how the pit crew is performing,” Busch said. “Those races on the West Coast swing really can put a stamp on where you are, what needs to be done, and what weaknesses or strengths we have.”

Despite success at Phoenix and Auto Club, both tracks where he has won, Las Vegas remains Busch’s favorite destination on the West Coast Swing.

“My hometown of Las Vegas, going back there to see family, friends, and restaurants, there’s this old-school place where we always used to go get pizza when I was a kid, it’s just great to go back to the roots and reminisce. It gets you back to where everything started, going to Vegas.”

Wallace, Hemric look to build on strong Atlanta finishes

Darrell Wallace Jr. and Daniel Hemric had forgettable season openers at Daytona when a wreck on the 29th lap ended both of their days.

FONTANA, CA – MARCH 19: Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #6 Ford EcoBoost Ford Mustang Ford, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Xfinity Series 300 at Auto Club Speedway on March 19, 2016 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Fortunately, the two young drivers expected to be NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contenders bounced back nicely with finishes of sixth and ninth, respectively, at Atlanta.

They’ll try to build momentum in the series’ first stop on its West Coast swing – Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on FS1).

Wallace has made two starts in Sin City, finishing seventh in 2015 and placing 33rd last season after wrecking out of the race.

“Last weekend in Atlanta was big for us,” Wallace said. “We showed how we will never give up and will fight to get the best finish we can. That gives everyone on this team a lot of optimism as we get ready for Vegas this weekend. There’s a whole new attitude around our shop and it’s really fun to be a part of.”

Hemric, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, will compete at Las Vegas in the XFINITY Series for the first time this weekend. In two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at the 1.5-mile track, he’s finished sixth (2015) and second (2016).

“I have only run the truck races there at night, so it will be interesting to have all of our on-track activity during the day,” Hemric said. “It’s just a fun place. No matter what, everyone gets pumped up to go to Vegas. That trickles down through the system and gets the drivers pumped up, too. I love what the race track has to offer.”

Las Vegas Race Weekend Preview

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: Kobalt 400

Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Date and Time: Sunday, March 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FOX, 3:30 p.m. ET, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 80),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on lap 267)

What To Watch For: Brad Keselowski goes for his second consecutive victory as he attempts to defend his win at Las Vegas. … Five drivers who are 26 or younger sit in the top 10 of the points standings through the first two races: Chase Elliott (fourth place, 21 years old), Joey Logano (fifth, 26), Kyle Larson (sixth, 24), Ryan Blaney (eighth, 23), Trevor Bayne (10th, 26). … Ford has won the first two races this season with Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. The manufacturer has also won every stage except for one. … Kevin Harvick has led the most laps in each of the first two races (50 at Daytona and 292 at Atlanta). Since 2014 Harvick has led more laps than the next closest driver (Brad Keselowski, 3,296). … Kyle Larson, who has finished third or better in three of his last four starts for an average showing of 4.75, searches for his first win of 2017 at Las Vegas.


Race: Boyd Gaming 300

Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, March 11 at 4 p.m. ET

Tune-In: FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

What To Watch For: Elliott Sadler attempts to extend his three-point lead in the standings over Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender William Byron. … Seven of the top-10 drivers in the NASCAR XFINITY Series points standings are younger than 27: William Byron (second place, 19 years old), Ryan Reed (third, 23) Matt Tifft (fifth, 20), Dakoda Armstrong (sixth, 25), Brennan Poole (seventh, 25), Daniel Hemric (ninth, 26), Harrison Rhodes (10th, 23). … Las Vegas natives Kyle Busch, Brendan Gaughan and Spencer Gallagher will compete in Saturday’s race.

About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.