Having grown up in and around Las Vegas, Kurt Busch is very well acquainted with the NASCAR track there. Inside and out. Except for one spot -- Victory Lane.
This weekend, Busch will take an 11th swing at winning at his hometown venue, 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the way things are going for him and his Penske Racing team, it just might happen.
"We're coming back to Vegas hoping for the kind of change we've experienced at some of the other tracks recently," Busch said. "We're really hoping for the type of turnaround that we've enjoyed at tracks like Charlotte and Daytona. We've been able to taste success finally on those tracks, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway is definitely No. 1 on my hit list now."
To win the Kobalt Tools 400 and scratch Vegas off his list, Busch will have to break free of the woes that have made trips home so painful.
Busch has only two top-10 finishes at Vegas. His best finish is third and that came six years ago -- before the track was reconfigured with graduated banking.
In his past four appearances at the track, his best finish is 23rd. His grand total of laps led during those four races is one.
Busch's average finish in all starts at LVMS is 22nd -- his worst at all tracks.
"We have shown a lot of potential through the years in the Vegas races," he said, "but we've yet to be able to put together many strong showings from beginning to end."
And it was at Vegas where he had perhaps his most frustrating day of 2010.
"Last year's race is pretty representative of how our history has been on the Vegas track," Busch said. "We had a really fast Dodge Charger there last year and wound up winning the pole. We started out really on the loose side but had worked to get the car back under us and we were moving back toward the front. On a restart at about the 100-lap mark [Lap 94] Jamie McMurray and [Juan] Montoya crashed in front of us, and I was just a sitting duck and got collected. It was just so typical of how our luck has played out in the Vegas races."
But this is a new year for Busch, the 2004 Cup Series champion.
In a car with a new paint scheme, number (22) and sponsor, Busch is off to a slick start.
He won the Budweiser Shootout and his Gatorade Dual 150-mile qualifying race during Speedweeks at Daytona last month. He was in position to win his first Daytona 500 -- he led 19 laps -- but slumped to fifth at the finish line.
Busch looked good again in the second race of the season as he qualified second fastest and led 31 laps before finishing eighth. He is second in the points standings behind brother Kyle.
The impressive start comes on the heels of another solid 2010 season in which he earned a Chase berth for the second consecutive season.
So, confidence is high as Busch readies himself for another homecoming.
"I just get a strong feeling that our luck on our home track is going to change for the good this time around," he said. "I only have to look at how things have changed so drastically at tracks like Charlotte and Daytona. I know we can see that trend continue this weekend at Vegas."
|-- Kyle Busch is the only driver to start the season with top-five finishes in the first two races (fifth at Daytona and second at Phoenix).|
|-- Kurt Busch is the only other driver to score top-10s in the first two races of 2011 (eighth at both Daytona and Phoenix).|
|-- Jimmie Johnson has won four of the past six races at Las Vegas.|
|-- Greg Biffle has finished in the top 10 in his past three Las Vegas starts.|
|-- Jeff Gordon has finished sixth or better in five of the past six races at Las Vegas.|
|-- Eight drivers have finished 20th or worse in the first two races of 2011: Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Travis Kvapil, Andy Lally, Joey Logano, Joe Nemechek, David Reutimann and Brian Vickers.|
|-- A.J. Allmendinger has finished outside the top 20 in both of his Las Vegas starts.|
|-- Brad Keselowski has finished 25th or worse in two starts at Las Vegas.|
|-- In four Las Vegas starts, Juan Montoya has finished no higher than 19th.|
|-- In nine starts at Las Vegas, Dave Blaney has yet to finish in the top 10.|