Proving a Point: Busch in Prime Position Entering Las Vegas

By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS – Last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch had to settle for a third-place finish after coming up short three-one-thousandths-of-a-second from scoring his first victory of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Luckily for the two-time champ, a trip out west and back home to Las Vegas Motor Speedway couldn’t have come at a better time as he looks to ride a month-long heater into Sin City.

Busch started his sophomore season with Richard Childress Racing on a high note by finishing runner-up in the Busch Light Clash exhibition at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In the Daytona 500, the No. 8 was a mainstay up front as one of the strongest contenders for the win until late-race calamity limited the 38-year old to a 12th-place outing.

On top of his podium finish in Cup at Atlanta, the winningest driver in NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series history also extended his record to 65 with his seventh series victory at the 1.54-mile track.

Although only two races into the 2024 season, “Rowdy’s” hot start has him determined more than ever to capitalize on early momentum.

“Certainly I would have hoped that we had brought home a trophy by now, but having fast race cars that have good opportunities to be able to get out there and get those wins, it’s been nice,” Busch said. “You work so hard all the time trying to make yourself better and to be in a position to win races, so to be that close and in position to win and not get it, it hurts.”

“Everybody at RCR has been working really hard, pulling together and getting some good stuff going to the racetrack. Having fast cars at the places that we have (been to) means a lot with our notebook that we’ve been building from last year.

“That’s been really impressive and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Entering his home track, Busch is shown as the points leader over William Byron to begin his 20th full-time campaign. 

On top of his strong finishes at Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta, Busch proved to have prominent speed throughout both races by combining for a series-best 20 stage points so far – albeit without earning a playoff point.

Typically, being first in the standings wouldn’t be much to brag about this early on. However, back-to-back drafting races to start the season has made it difficult for even the best drivers to string together consistency.

Former champions Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski find themselves 31st and 34th in the standings respectively, while weekly contenders like Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick are also on the outside looking in of a top-16 spot.

Obviously, it’s extremely early, but it’s also important to get ahead of the competition as quickly as possible given the notorious parity and challenges presented through two seasons with the Next Gen car.

“I think I’ve always kind of been the guy who likes to get a strong start to the season,” Busch said. “I feel like my better years are when I start the season strong. We’ve gotten some stage points, but we’ve definitely missed out on some opportunities as well. 

“Same as race victories, those stage victories are really important when it comes down to the end of the season. But leading the overall points is great. We just know that we want to continue to be there and do that after Vegas, after Phoenix, after Bristol.” 

Busch cited establishing a baseline and compiling a deep notebook for each track as the most crucial aspect of his first year with RCR. Even in what could be considered a learning year, the driver of the No. 8 was able to earn three wins – his most in a single season since 2019.

With a better understanding of the equipment he’s driving, in addition to building more chemistry with his second-year team, Busch is most excited to apply what his team learned from a full season of work together.

He believes the team has already shown signs of improvement from their processes going back to the end of last season, when they started returning to tracks for a second time.

Last spring in Vegas, Busch wound up with a lackluster 14th-place finish. He noted the team’s ability to act on what they learned from that race and being able to parlay it into a third-place outing in the fall. 

Going into the Pennzoil 400, Busch is one-of-three drivers with three top-fives in four next gen starts at Vegas. His sixth-place average in that span is also second-best in the series only to Ross Chastain’s 5.5.

While the hope is he can score a second win at his home track, Busch understands the importance of putting together another strong points day in order to hang on to his lead in the standings given the nature of the seventh-generation car and 26-week regular season.

“You never know where you’re at in the cycle,” Busch said. “This sport is one big circle that just continues to kind of turn the wheel. That’s how I’ve always kind of seen it, and being here for 20 years, it hasn’t changed much. 

“It’s just a matter of what side of it you’re on and trying to work as hard as you can when you’re at the bottom to get to the top and then working as hard as you can when you’re at the top in order to stay there.”

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