Las Vegas Weekend Preview

Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service

Kyle Busch returns to hometown track on cusp of first win

The last time Las Vegas native Kyle Busch visited his hometown with NASCAR, he paraded around his championship trophy during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week.

This time he’s there to compete, one year after missing the race at his home track due to a broken right leg and fractured left foot suffered two weeks before it.

Busch will attempt to earn his second career win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 (3:30 p.m. on FOX) – the first stop on the three-race NASCAR Goes West tour.

“Vegas always means a little bit more pressure – more pressure on myself – just because it’s the hometown and you want to win there,” Busch said. “Thankfully, I have won there and I’ve knocked that one off the list, but certainly you want to win there every year.”

Despite having only one victory in 11 starts at his hometown track, Busch is one of the favorites this weekend. He has started the season off strong with two third-place finishes and excelled at three races using lower downforce aerodynamic packages the past two seasons, winning at Kentucky and finishing seventh at Darlington last year, in addition to his third-place showing over the weekend at Atlanta. The package used Sunday at Atlanta is scheduled to be employed in every non-restrictor-plate race this season.

“It’s much different than Atlanta last weekend, even though both tracks are the same size,” said Busch, whose 11.7 average finish at Las Vegas ranks second among active drivers. “Vegas is really grippy with the tire being a little harder compound and you’ve got really good speed, but then in the race it gets sunny and can get loose and slick. I was fortunate enough to win there in 2009, but we haven’t run to my liking there overall, so I’m hoping we can have a strong run there this weekend.”

Busch grew up racing on the famous Las Vegas Motor Speedway 3/8-mile Bullring where he won two track championships.

“I’m hoping we can give everyone something to cheer for this weekend,” Busch said. “Especially since I wasn’t able to race there last year because of my injury.”

Ty Dillon leads RCR to Las Vegas

Ty Dillon’s two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts to begin the season haven’t distracted him from his goal of winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship.

The 24-year-old No. 3 Chevrolet driver ranks third in the standings in the series where names are made – only five points behind first-place Elliott Sadler – after finishing 13th at Daytona and fifth at Atlanta to open up the season.

Dillon leads Richard Childress Racing’s full-time XFINITY Series driver contingent of Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 (4 p.m. ET on FS1) – the first race of the three-event NASCAR Goes West trip.

“I think last season we had a good couple of weeks during the West Coast races, but this year we’ll look to build on that,” said Dillon, who posted two top-10 finishes in the XFINITY Series’ three-race visit to the Pacific last March. “I’d love to be able to go out and win a race and lock this team into the Chase; that is the ultimate goal. But we also realize that these next three races are a grind and it’s important to do well and set the tone for after the Easter break.”

Jones and Gaughan have jumped out to strong starts this season as well. Jones sits fourth in the XFINITY Series, trailing Sadler by only six points, while Gaughan is in sixth, 10 markers off the lead.

Jones, 19, leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. He has never made an XFINITY Series start at Las Vegas, but finished fifth there last season in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.

“We ran top-five all day and had a lot of speed (in the Truck Series race last year),” Jones said. “I think that’s what I like most about Las Vegas, you can carry a lot of speed around that track. I anticipate seeing a lot of the same conditions in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race this weekend.”

The home crowd will be pulling for Las Vegas native Gaughan, who placed sixth at LVMS last season and has a 9.5 average finish at the desert oval. Gaughan won the 2003 NCWTS race at his home track.

“Las Vegas Motor Speedway is another track that has aged and tires wear out now,” Gaughan said. “It’s a nice place to race where Goodyear can bring the tire they want to bring. It ages, it slips and slides, so it’s another fun place and for me its home. It’s Vegas.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Kobalt 400
Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Sunday, March 6 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)

What to Watch for: Jimmie Johnson attempts to pass Dale Earnhardt for sole possession of seventh on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins list by notching his 77th career victory. … Kevin Harvick hopes to win his second consecutive race at Las Vegas and repeat his dominant NASCAR Goes West performance from last year when he also visited Victory Lane at Phoenix and finished runner-up at Auto Club. … Kyle and Kurt Busch each start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – their home track. … Martin Truex Jr., who finished runner-up at Las Vegas last March, goes for his third straight top 10 of the season.

Race: Boyd Gaming 300
Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, March 5 at 4 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)

What to Watch for: Elliott Sadler looks to extend his series points lead. … Daniel Suárez, who is second in the series standings, goes for his first career NASCAR national series win. … Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Erik Jones attempts to produce another high finish after placing third at Atlanta. … NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola are all scheduled to compete in Saturday’s race.

Image: Waylon Oakes / Drafting The Circuits

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