Kyle Busch thrills hometown faithful

3/2/2009 - NASCAR

LAS VEGAS -- Kyle Busch got out of his car at the finish line and grabbed the checkered flag when the Shelby 427 ended. He started back to his car, but stopped. Busch turned around, laid down on the track and kissed the pavement.

Melodramatic, you say? Look at it from his perspective.

Busch grew up in the shadow of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He cut his racing chops here, barely into his teen years, when he won two Legends Car championships at the little bullring track on the speedway grounds.

For Busch, this is hallowed ground.

So who could blame him for a little smooch of the asphalt in a hometown victory? In Busch's eyes, it was a cherished moment, a place where he can win a race and not hear boos. At this track, the fans love him.

"I watched this place be built from the ground up," Busch said. "I didn't know if we would ever win here. This is awesome."

Officially, Busch goes in the books as the first pole-winner to reach Victory Lane in a Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In reality, he started 39th, going to the back after an engine change after qualifying.

"I don't know if we get credit for winning from the back or from the pole," Busch said. "Either way, we got it done."

Before the race, Busch downplayed what it would mean to him to earn a Cup victory in Las Vegas. He placed it fourth on his wish list behind the Daytona 500, the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

"I know I said this wouldn't be as big as those, but it is," Busch realized after the victory. "This is pretty cool. I didn't know exactly what it would mean to me, but coming to the checkered flag, I had knots in my stomach. This is probably as big as the Daytona 500 for me."

Big brother Kurt, who hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with his sibling, was the first person in Victory Lane to congratulate his brother. Kurt had tears in his eyes as he hugged Kyle.

"Our mom [Gaye] was right there, too," Kyle said. "Her face was soaked."

Busch came close to similar emotional moments the previous two weeks, but walked away from the first two Cup events of 2009 disappointed.

He was the guy to beat in the Daytona 500 before a wild wreck not of his making ended his day. And he was on the brink of a historic triple-win weekend at Fontana, Calif., seven days later, but fell two spots short at the checkered flag.

"We didn't let Daytona haunt us," Busch said. "We were the best car there, I thought, and missed out. But you're never owed anything in this sport. You just have to take what you can get."

That's what Busch did Sunday, holding off Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton on the final restart with three laps to go. But there was frustration along the way.

He managed to move into the top 10 midway through the race, but complained about how loose the No. 18 Toyota was. Crew chief Steve Addington tried to reassure his driver on the radio.

"All those guys up front are complaining about being loose,'' Addington said.

I didn't know exactly what it would mean to me, but coming to the checkered flag, I had knots in my stomach. This is probably as big as the Daytona 500 for me.

-- Kyle Busch

Busch wasn't comforted. "Yeah, but here's the difference," he said. "They're all faster than me!"

Not for long.

Addington kept his cool, knowing he had the right guy behind the wheel if they kept plugging away.

"It was a crazy weekend and crazy race," Addington said. "We had to make some major adjustments. Sometimes you have to scratch and claw for a win. That's what we did today."

Busch kept clawing his way forward while some of the other contenders were beating themselves. Jimmie Johnson drove through his pit box and got a lap down. He crashed with six laps to go and finished 24th.

Jeff Gordon blew a tire when he locked the brakes and failed to make the turn on to pit road. He finished sixth.

Carl Edwards had to make a return to pit road when his No. 99 crew dropped a lug nut. Edwards finished 17th.

And a couple of guys who expected to contend for the victory -- Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin -- left the race early with blown engines.

Kenseth was hoping to become the first driver to win three consecutive races to start the season, but he finished last for only the second time in his Cup career.

It wasn't a day for history. It was a day for the local hero -- at the one spot where fans accept Kyle Busch and appreciate his rowdy ways.

For the Sin City native, there's no place like home.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Terry can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.