Hometown start for rookie Kyle Busch
by Pete McCole

March 4, 2004

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Kyle Busch

For a rookie driver, there seems to be no better place to make your debut in stock car racing’s premiere series than in your own hometown.

For Kyle Busch, this Sunday’s race will be a homecoming of sorts as he attempts to make his first NASCAR Nextel Cup start in his hometown of Las Vegas in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Busch’s Nextel Cup debut has been highly anticipated ever since his older brother Kurt, who drives the #97 Sharpie/Irwin Tools Ford Taurus for Roush Racing, moved up from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2001.

Kyle and Kurt Busch have always been competitors. From go-karts to Legends cars to remote control cars, the two Las Vegas-natives have excelled at them all. From an early age, there was little doubt that the younger Busch would follow in his brother’s footsteps.

"When I was in sixth grade, I wanted to be a baseball player because that's what I was doing at the time,” Busch said. “As I got a little older and saw what Kurt was doing on the racing scene and how much fun he was having and how well he was doing, I thought maybe I could do exactly what he was doing and be just as good.”

Watching his older brother tear up the local tracks gave the younger Busch an edge. It not only fired up the younger Busch’s competitive juices, but also helped him to learn the ropes.

“By growing up and racing in Las Vegas with him and seeing how he raced and the mistakes he made on the race track, I was able to learn from those and not do the same things as far as getting in wrecks and stuff,” said Busch. “I was always watching and learning from him and from the other drivers too. To have him as a teacher and a mentor has made it easier for me because I can talk to him about certain things and ask him about certain situations and I can realize and understand it a little bit more."

Jack Roush was the first to see Busch’s potential. As he had with his older brother, Kurt, Roush put the younger Busch into a ride on NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, a proven breeding ground for young talent. At the tender age of 16, Busch ran six races for Roush in 2001 before NASCAR changed the minimum age for competitors in the top three series to 18.

Busch, disappointed, gave up the drivers seat, but believes now that the decision made by NASCAR ultimately helped his career along.

“I wouldn't say it was exactly aimed toward me. I was in the main spotlight of it though,” Busch said. “NASCAR did what they had to do. They made the correct decision I believe. At the time I was very devastated and wondered what else could go wrong. But to have to go home and reevaluate things and run ASA was definitely a bigger learning experience for me than running Late Models in my hometown. It gave me a lot more experience before I got into the professional NASCAR Series like Trucks and Busch and now Cup. It was a little bit of a setback, but it actually helped propel my career."

Busch returned to the lower ranks of the ASA and caught the attention of Hendrick Motorsports, who signed him to a contract last year. After finally turning 18 last May, Busch made his Busch Series debut driving a car owned by Hendrick Motorsports driver Joe Nemechek. In seven starts in the Busch Series, he notched five top-10 finishes including two second place showings.

This year, Busch is running an “A-B-C” schedule, consisting of ARCA, NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Nextel Cup Series events. Busch scored a victory in the season opening ARCA race at Daytona and has run well driving the #5 Lowe’s Chevrolet in the Busch Series - a ride vacated by another young talent, Brian Vickers, who moved up to Nextel Cup following the 2003 season.

While Hendrick Motorsports plans to enter Busch in seven events this season, Busch is hoping to make his Nextel Cup debut in his hometown, while still staying focused on his full time Busch Series ride.

“It’s definitely a big deal to make my Nextel Cup debut in my hometown, especially with an organization like Hendrick Motorsports, but you have to treat this weekend like any other race,” said Busch. “I can’t let what I’m trying to do with the Cup car negatively affect what we’re trying to accomplish in the Lowe’s Chevrolet on the Busch Series side. We want to win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award, and we’re trying to get into the top-10 in points. Saturday is just as important a day for me as Sunday will be.”

Busch’s goals this season are realistic - run for Rookie of the Year in the Busch Series, hopefully win a few races and gain a respectable finish in the 2004 points standings.

His goals this season in the Nextel Cup Series are even simpler – just make the race, the rest is a bonus.

“I'd like to make every race. That's the first goal, to get in,” said Busch. “And then just to try to make every lap would be good. If I can go out there and make every lap of each Nextel Cup race, that would be awesome for me just because the series is so darn tough. Maybe there are a couple of chances where we can squeak out with a top 10 or a top 15 finish. Or, knock on wood, maybe we could even get a top five finish. But we're definitely going to set realistic goals and we'll try to do the best job we can and run every lap and be competitive.” 

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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