After the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of the season, Kyle Busch already is paging Lady Luck.
The good news for Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is that there's no place better to find a little bit of luck than his hometown of Las Vegas.
While the talented 24-year-old finished 14th in both the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and last Sunday's Auto Club 500 (Fontana, Calif.), the final results were not indicative of how strong Busch and the No. 18 team have been to start the season.
At Daytona, Busch led laps and ran near the front all race long, but was caught in the slower inside line during the final three restarts, which hampered any chance to win his first Daytona 500.
Kyle had another strong performance in Fontana, only to be thwarted by more bad fortune. While diving onto pit road for the final time on lap 224, Brad Keselowski spun and brought out what would be the last caution of the day on lap 225. Busch's team had no other choice but to perform the pit stop and hope to get back out before race leader Jeff Burton could make it to the exit of pit road to put Busch a lap down.
Despite a lightning-fast stop by the No. 18 crew that got Busch off pit road just a few car lengths behind eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR ruled that Johnson made it off pit road before Burton passed him. Kyle's consolation prize was the free pass from NASCAR for being the first car a lap down, but he was forced to start at the tail end of the lead-lap cars.
That final bit of bad luck ended up being too much for Busch to recover from with only 20 laps to go, and it turned a promising run into another disappointing result.
As the defending winner of Sunday's Sprint Cup Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch knows that a little luck, coupled with some hard work by the entire M&M's team, could yield results just like last year's monumental hometown victory.
The 2002 honors graduate of Durango High School in Las Vegas qualified on the pole for last year's race, but was forced to start at the rear of the field because of an engine change during Friday practice. Nonetheless, he showed plenty of patience as he and the M&M's team were able to work their way to the front of the field by Lap 54. Busch went on to lead three times for 51 laps and claimed what he called the biggest win of his young career.
Busch and the M&M's team will hope to once again be a factor at Las Vegas, much like he was at the first two races of the season. But this time, it would help if Lady Luck showed up to facilitate a repeat performance from last year and push him and the No. 18 team to victory.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You got to come back to Las Vegas for a promotional day in January and to Hobbytown USA, where you worked when you were 15 years old. What do you remember about growing up there and working at Hobbytown USA?
"To get back there in January and do a little RC (radio-controlled car) racing, that brought back the good old times and memories of me racing and working at Hobbytown USA when I was 15, 16 years old, and messing around with RC cars. It brings back memories of growing up there. I always rode my bike when I worked there, but fortunately I got to drive there last month. It was cool to come back and see everybody, to see the family that owns the store. It's fun to just relive all it was. I don't get to spend as much time where I grew up. It's usually in and out for an appearance, so I enjoy it whenever I can."
What was it like to bring home a win in your hometown last year?
"It was cool. To go out there and to run a smooth race, and to have a shot at winning the race at the end of the race, is what it's all about. I watched Vegas being built from the ground up, and I remember when it wasn't anything but a gleam in Richie Clyne's eye - all those guys who made that place happen."
Where does last year's win rank among your career wins?
"It was the biggest so far. It was awesome, just the feeling of a lifetime. I told everyone that it would be just like another race, but it really meant a lot more than that when I got to victory lane. To have my mom there, and my brother come to victory lane, just made it that much more special. We didn't have the best car last year, but I feel like I drove a smart race, anyway, and did what we needed to do. We worked on it all day and kept making it better."
What did you learn from some adversity of a blown engine in practice and a accident in the Nationwide race that helped you be patient enough to win the Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas last year?
"I think, to probably take the bad days a little easier. But I hate bad days. I'm still not going to take them as easily as I should, especially like the Nationwide race there last year. We had a great car - should have won that race, too. But, you know, when the engine blew in practice on that Friday, I could have thrown my helmet down and stomped away. I told the guys, ‘Great job,' and look at what we did (after the engine problem in practice). I just went in the hauler and let those guys go to work and do what they do best. I just kind of sat there and cooled off a little bit, watched the rest of practice to see if I could learn anything from watching guys practice on TV, watching some different lines and what guys were doing in qualifying trim. I went out there and ran a Mark Martin type line and ended up getting the pole there. That was pretty awesome, to be able to do that and then come from the back, be patient, and win the race, too. I'm trying to learn to keep cool in those situations. Just like last weekend's Nationwide race in California - I thought for sure Joey (Logano) had us covered, but then the caution came out and things fell our way. It just shows you that you should never give up in this sport."
How hard was it to not make the Chase top-12 last year, especially with the banquet being in your hometown?
"I wanted to be in it. You want to be in it any year, but knowing that it was coming to Vegas, it was going to be cool to be in the top-12 and come out for the banquet. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out to our advantage in order to get ourselves in the Chase, but we're looking to change that around. We've got a lot of good things coming up for this year with Dave Rogers as our crew chief. The final three races last year, he brought a lot to the table and we learned a lot. We got going a little bit better, I felt like. We ran well in our first two races and had good cars, but things just didn't fall our way. I'm hoping we can find a little more luck this week than we have so far in the Cup Series this year."
Having grown up in Las Vegas, do you still have a lot of friends in the area? Do you get a lot of ticket requests from friends and family?
"I get a lot of ticket requests for California, Vegas and Phoenix - all the West Coast stops that we run. It's kind of hard to fulfill all of them, but we try when we can. We get to go to M&M's World on the (Las Vegas) Strip to sign some autographs on Thursday, so I'm looking forward to seeing some of the hometown fans there, as well."
What is your fondest racing memory of growing up in Las Vegas?
"My fondest racing memory is probably my first Late Model race. I started about eighth or 10th and ended up winning it. My first-ever start, I won. So that was definitely a great memory to have."