LAS VEGAS (AP) — When Kyle Busch emerged from his No. 8 Chevrolet following his victory last Sunday at Fontana, he was greeted with ... cheers?
The applause continued as Busch did his signature bow, and the feeling is new for him.
Busch has long played the NASCAR villain, but the two-time Cup Series champion is finding that fans are starting to come around to him.
“To (win) last week at California and to hear the (cheers) afterwards was really cool,” Busch said. “It’s awesome to me to hear a little bit of a changing of the guard, which is fun. Hopefully it keeps going.”
His next opportunity is Sunday's Pennzoil 400. Busch qualified fifth with a speed of 184.489 mph.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway is his hometown track, but even here, Busch hasn't been fully embraced.
In many ways, he has enjoyed being the bad guy. To suddenly become a fan favorite might take some getting used to.
“All my stuff is black for a reason,” Busch said. “It’s fun to always kind of play it up with the fans and stuff like that. My fans especially are awesome. I’ve got a lot that I wouldn’t say that I know personally, but whenever you see them at venues or at autograph sessions or KBM when we do Fan Day, you recognize these folks and you’ve seen them for 10 or 15 years.”
“It’s interesting just to continue to build off of that with new fans. People get a different read on me as I’m getting older and getting wiser and all those great things. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean I’m slowing down, though.”
He isn't doing that, considering he won at Fontana in his just second start for Richard Childress Racing. That gave him a NASCAR-record 19 consecutive seasons with at least one Cup Series victory, and he and brother Kurt Busch moved into first place with 95 combined wins for siblings.
Kyle Busch, who won Friday's Truck series race at Las Vegas, is the all-time leader with 226 victories in all three NASCAR series.
Now he's trying to add just his second Cup victory at Las Vegas. His other win came in 2009.
Busch has more on his mind than just winning. His 7-year-old son, Brexton, was scheduled to make his West Coast Bandolero debut at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the 3/8-mile track both Busch brothers raced on as youngsters.
“It’ll be fun to focus on the racing here at the big track and also Brexton tonight at the Bullring,” Kyle Busch said Saturday. “I’m excited to get over there and see what he’s got tonight.”
CHASTAIN KEEPS MOMENTUM
Ross Chastain has won three of the first four stages this season and leads the standings with 92 points.
He has built on the success of last season, when he finished second in the Cup standings. That was quite a jump from 2021 when Chastain was 20th, which itself was a notable leap from 43rd the previous year.
“Rolling into this year, we’re not resting on what we accomplished last year,” Chastain said. “Nothing is guaranteed in this sport and in life.”
Now it's a matter of Chastain turning his strong performances into victories. He was ninth in the Daytona 500 and third at Fontana.
Maybe he can take the next step in Las Vegas. Chastain qualified eighth in the Trackhouse Racing No. 1 Chevrolet at 183.755 mph.
He has run well at Las Vegas with two top-five finishes, but said the track doesn't particularly suit his skills.
“I study it like every other track, and I studied it harder this week leading into this race than I ever have before because I have more tools at my disposal than I ever have before,” Chastain said. “I don’t have answers. It doesn’t really feel any different when I’m on track. There’s not like a magic feeling I have where I know what I need in my racecar.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Busch is a 13-2 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. ... Brad Keselowski, who has won three times in Las Vegas, is at 20-1. “I think we've got a shot at it,” he said. “I saw the odds got published, and I smirked a little bit. I really would like to make an oddsmaker pretty sad this weekend.” ... Alex Bowman is the defending champion. “Probably coulda-shoulda-woulda won two or three of them here,” he said. “Backed into one last year.”
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