By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
When the checkered flag waved for the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch earned a top-five finish in his 600th career NASCAR Cup Series start.
Despite minor contact with the outside wall and debris, the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Ethel M Toyota Camry ran inside the top-five throughout much of the 400-mile race. On restarts Busch held station with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, and eventual race winner, Denny Hamlin, as well as fellow playoff drivers Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson.
A caution-free final Stage spread the field out. While playoff drivers Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman, and William Byron experienced misfortune, Busch picked off positions and padded his cushion to the playoff cutoff.
In the closing laps, he battled teammate Martin Truex Jr for third. Busch brushed the outside wall when the duo went three-wide with the lapped car of Cody Ware. The damage was minimal, and he was able to hold off Truex for third when the checkered flag waved.
“I felt like we had a better car when the sun was out,” admitted Busch. “That was about the time that the lights turned on. We got into the wall twice off of Turn 2. That definitely hurt our speed for sure, we didn’t have the same speed after that. Overall, we maximized a good racecar. Certainly wish we could have gotten a win to not worry about the next two races, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
The milestone start for Busch came at his home track. The Las Vegas, NV native also made his Cup Series debut at the 1.5-mile track on March 7, 2004. However, that debut was short lived as Busch crashed just 11 laps into the race.
Fast forward 599 races and a little over 17 years later and Busch is now a two-time Cup Series champion. The driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Ethel M Toyota Camry has racked up 59 victories in those 17 years, just shy of a 10 percent win average in his Cup career.
“It just means you’re getting old,” Busch reflected pre-race. “Had No. 1 here, and 600 here, so that’s pretty cool. I guess it’s been a frustrating last couple of years not being able to continue down as many wins as we would like to have. That’s kind of been a little troubling.”
So far this season, the 37-year-old has two victories, one at Kansas Speedway and the other at Pocono Raceway. Busch has 226 top-five and 334 top-10 finishes. He’s earned 32 pole positions, the most recent at the 2019 Phoenix Raceway playoff race.
Kyle Busch was joined by his older brother Kurt Busch in making a milestone start at Las Vegas. For Kurt Busch, the race at his home track was his 750th career Cup start. The elder Busch first made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 2000 at Dover International Speedway.
“He’s just a lot closer to retirement than I am,” Kyle Busch joked. “That’s obviously really cool too just for both of us kids coming out of Las Vegas and having the opportunity to go race racecars for a living, what we love to do. That’s pretty special to have the careers that we’ve had, and to be here as long as we have considering we were close to getting kicked out a few times.”
After finishing runner-up in the first two Stages and the top-five finish, Busch is now third on the playoff grid. He’s 31-points ahead of the playoff cutoff, currently held by Brad Keselowski. Busch is 22-points behind leader Larson.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Jerry Jordan / Kickin’ the Tires