Busch brothers beat the odds in hometown duel
The Busch and the Shrub both put on spectacular shows Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. View of the forest through the trees? Perhaps a sibling rivalry on the way.
When Kurt Busch climbed out of his car to give his younger brother Kyle, the rookie whom he affectionately calls Shrub, a congratulatory, great-job-beating-me-today pat on the head, it marked what could be the beginning of the next great sibling rivalry in NASCAR. It also marked the end of something.
"I'm done giving him advice," Kurt said after Kyle finished second in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, one spot better than Kurt. "He beat me fair and square."
"It feels awesome. I wish it was one-two," added Kyle, pausing and realizing he had another "brother" out on the track -- race-winner Jimmie Johnson is Kyle's teammate as part of the Hendrick Motorsports family. "But I don't want to wish any bad luck on (Johnson's) 48 (car)."
The Busch brothers kept the capacity Vegas crowd on its feet at their home track, and kept mom and dad on the edge of their seats watching their two prodigies -- one, Kurt, who once set a record as the youngest driver to win a NASCAR event when he won a truck race at 17, and the other, Kyle, who was so talented that he juggled offers from almost every major race team at age 16 but so young that NASCAR denied him entry into races until he turned 18.
On Sunday, they both finished in the top three. Kurt, the defending Nextel Cup champion, called it one of his favorite days on the racetrack.
"I'm so proud of him," he said of his younger brother. "I can't even tell you."
Kyle Busch was a major story in NASCAR racing well before he signed up for his first full season this year. He made headlines when NASCAR turned him away because he was too young to race in a circuit that carried major cigarette sponsorship and, thus, instituted a requirement that drivers be 18 or older.
He made headlines again when, shortly before his 18th birthday, he shocked everyone by leaving the Roush Racing organization -- which fields his brother's cars and which was fielding his ASA and ARCA cars at the time -- to race for rival Hendrick Motorsports.
And, upon turing 18, Busch once again drew attention while competing in NASCAR's Busch Series as he immediately became a consistent top-five finisher.
The local race fans in Las Vegas have always known that the Busch brothers were special racers. Now, it looks like NASCAR Nation's about to find out, too.
"They both are extremely knowledgable and smart drivers," said Jack Roush. "The talent is there and the focus and commitment is there."
Adds Mark Martin, who took Kurt under his wing early on and counseled Kyle while he was driving ASA: "You can tell that racing was a big part of their family growing up because they just have those things that you don't just pick up right away. They've obviously been working at it a long time."
What exactly is that thing? Who knows. Maybe it's genetic. Or maybe it's just something that results from fierce competition between brothers.
"Ever since we were racing (go-karts)," Kyle Busch said, "we've been very competitive with each other."
Kurt Busch doesn't mind admitting that his younger brother beat him a time or two when they were growing up. But now, even with stock-car racing's biggest trophy sitting in his garage, he smarts from having lost to his kid brother on NASCAR's biggest stage -- and in front of their home crowd.
"He did it at Vegas of all places," Kurt said. "He knows he's got work to do with his team and getting himself comfortable at all the racetracks, but [after beating me today] he definitely can take the four-wheeler and spray rocks on the side of my truck if he wants. He did a great job. I'm real proud of him.
"I'm beside myself really because I didn't expect this from him so early, but I talked him up like he couldn't do any worse and he was really coming together quicker than I thought, but those Hendrick guys will take care of him."
Still, with a third-place finish, Kurt sits second in the points standings (and could be first if NASCAR docks Johnson points for failing post-race inspection) and look poised to defend his title well. What's more, the third-place finish is Kurt's best at his hometown track.
"Each of the years that I've been here we've had small things happen to us," Busch said of his visits to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "In my rookie year, you're a rookie once and you finish where you can. I ended up 11th.
"I think I've blown up a motor. I think I've crashed once. Last year we finished ninth, so this year was my fifth run to get a top five. It's great because all the excitement and the fans -- you come off a championship year and you've got a checklist of what things you want to do and Vegas is definitely on my checklist."
With his best career finish at Vegas, too, Kyle said he can cross something off his checklist: Proving that he can beat this track. He just wished he could have finished one spot higher, which would have been even more satisfying for the underdog that oddsmakers listed at 60-to-1.
"I had a bunch of guys that put money on me so I was wishing that the 48 would have pulled over and let us win," Kyle said, joking. "It would have made some bank. I bet you all the sports books would have went broke."
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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