No practice, no qualifying and no spectators were no problem for Kurt Busch during last year’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Who would have believed that after all the years he spent trying to win at his hometown track?
Las Vegas’ native son timed his last pit stop perfectly to move to the front of the field, then held off challengers on multiple late-race restarts to end an 0-for-21 winless streak at his hometown track.
“This is 20 years of agony and defeat,” said Busch, who held off second-place finisher Matt DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin in an overtime finish.
“This feeling of growing up here and watching this track get built from the desert gravel pit that it was by Richie Clyne and his group, then when Speedway Motorsports bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there. I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars.’
“I never knew I’d get this far.”
Luck that had eluded him finally fell his way on lap 236 of 267. Busch was circulating among the also-rans but had yet to make his final pit stop when Jimmie Johnson blew a tire and brought out the yellow flag after the leaders already had made their stops.
Busch gained a ton of track position and lined up his flat black No. 1 Chevy alongside DiBenedetto for the restart. He quickly charged to the lead and was able to hold it after two more restarts following on-track incidents.
“I knew the race would come to us,” Busch said after claiming his 32nd career victory and clinching a spot in the next playoff round. “We needed to get to nightfall, and one of those quirky (crew chief) Matt McCall pit sequences finally unfolded and we got lucky.”
There weren’t any fans in the stands to help him celebrate because of state COVID-19 restrictions, so younger brother Kyle filled in admirably. The two-time NASCAR champion drove alongside on the victory lap and used his car to plant a kiss on the one driven by his big brother.
When Kurt Busch pulled into victory circle, the 42-year-old veteran pounded his fists on top of Chip Ganassi’s racecar. Only this time it was in jubilation instead of frustration.
He breathlessly thanked everybody he could think of: His mom and dad; his first sponsor Craig Keough; fellow racer Brendan Gaughan at the South Point.
“Hometown is special,” he said. “This Vegas place is special.”