Busch grew up racing just a stones throw from were the speedways stands and he watched it be built. Dreaming of the day that he and older brother Kurt would get to race in at their home track.
Having done so and then being able to win in Vegas was more than Busch imagined. Sunday he’ll attempt to do it again, starting from the outside of the front row in his No. 18 M&M’s Brown Toyota.
“It’s always great to get back to Las Vegas,” Busch said on Friday. “Just growing up racing outside turn one here at the ‘Bullring’ but to come back to the big track is always an exciting part of our year. For the 18 team we look forward to this race and trying to see how well we can run and of course we always try to put as much emphasis on every race as much as we can, but we certainly like running well here and trying to win this one.”
Busch says he’s expecting good things from his team this weekend. Yet, he’ll be expecting the most from himself. Every year when he drives through the tunnel for race weekend in Las Vegas he does with a lot of pressure on himself.
Pressure to either win or perform very well. It’s a special track, a special place and one that Busch enjoys coming to. His 2009 win at the time was one of the biggest in his career, joined now by the “triple” he pulled off in 2010 at Bristol and winning last year’s inaugural Kentucky race.
There’s only one hometown track though. And for Busch nothing can beat its atmosphere or knowing his way around town better than any other he’ll visit on the Sprint Cup circuit. It’s always a cool race, says Busch and that’s where his focus is this weekend.
Coming off a sixth place finish a week ago in Phoenix, where he led laps and was in contention until a late race pit stop miscue, Busch sits ninth in points. Vegas as always been a decent track for him but last year he finished 38th following a blown engine.
His win though, has been Busch’s only top five finish since the track was reconfigured prior to the 2007 season. In the five races on its new surface Busch has been all across the finishing board: 9, 11, won, 15 and 38th.
A new surface brings new racing, which drivers are still trying to figure out. Busch expects more of the same on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s very different from what it was with the flat surface,” Busch said. “I always enjoyed running on the flat surface. When we brought these new cars out, that’s kind of when they changed the track over too and were looking to make it a multi-grooved racetrack and you can run two, three-wide around the place.
“Which you can do, just the first time here the tires were so hard, the track was so slick and now that we’ve kind of seasoned the asphalt a little bit the tires are able to get a little bit better and we’re able to make those last. The racing’s been getting a little bit better. It’s kind of a crapshoot race if you will.”
From Busch’s seat it seemed that drivers who were good on the old track had a harder time getting accustomed to the new one. Although Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have remained a constant and Busch feels he’s been right there too.
“It’s certainly made for an interesting racetrack once it was all said and done,” said Busch. “For me I was used to the old surface, so I come out here thinking, ‘Okay, we’re going to Vegas.’ Well, it’s not Vegas anymore. It’s essentially somewhere different, so you’ve just got to get used to all that.”
Busch and JGR shouldn’t be fazed. The company is off to a hot start with all three drivers sitting in the top 10 in points and already visiting victory lane. Hamlin won last weekend in Phoenix and Busch took home the season’s first exhibition race in Daytona, the Budweiser Shootout.
Following his win Hamlin said the company was beginning to get back to being the JGR of old. Dominating races, having drivers in victory lane on a regular basis, just putting together the whole package on raceweekend and stealing the headlines. So far, Busch said he has not been surprised by the organizations early season success.
“I thought that there would be big things that could come out of JGR this year and we’re already seeing some of the fruits from that with Denny’s win at Phoenix last week,” he said.
“That was pretty cool. We ran strong and actually all the Joe Gibbs Racing cars finished in the top 10, including two [Michael Waltrip Racing] cars, which made five Toyotas in the top 10, so we were proud of that effort.”
Busch looks forward to the continued success this year and with he and crew chief Dave Rogers working with the new crew chiefs of their teammates, Jason Ratcliff for Joey Logano and Darian Grubb with Denny Hamlin. A key, he says, will be having all three working closely together in order to benefit all.
Appears so far so good and the fruits of their labor will most likely be shown the next few weeks as the season starts to roll forward with teams getting ready to grade themselves against the competition. For Busch and his JGR team the hope that a little home cooking will send them in a championship direction.