The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its annual trip deep into Busch brothers home territory with a trip to the 1.5mile 'quad' oval of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The Busch brothers – Kurt and younger sibling Kyle – hail from the world famous Nevada city and the pair seem to relish racing in their hometown. “I've always dreamed about winning the race there at our home track and we had a strong car there last year until we had the engine problem,” explains Kurt.
One driver who should be able to explain what winning at Las Vegas feels like is his brother. Kyle took the chequered flag at the track last year. ““It was awesome, just the feeling of a life- time,” Kyle says looking back on the win that saw him kiss the track in celebration. “I told everyone that it would be just like another race, but it really meant a lot more than that when I got to Victory Lane. To have my mom there and my brother come to Victory Lane just made it that much more special.”
Kyle may start the race as favourite, the driver starting the race with the best average finish of anyone at 5.2. However, it could be argued that the 24-year-old has fallen from the peak his reached in his first year with Joe Gibbs back in 2008, having narrowly missed out on the Chase last year despite winning four races.
And if Kyle and his Gibbs team have been pushed out of second place behind Hendrick Motorsports then the opening two races of 2010 should leave no-one uncertain of who looks to have replaced them.
Richard Childress Racing.
After a barren 2009 that saw a four car stable end the year winless a trimmed-back three car attack is looking to make up for that early this season.
Kevin Harvick heads the fledgling points table after two top-ten finishes by 19 points. From RCR teammate Clint Bowyer, while the third member of the team, Jeff Burton, is languishing (relatively) in a lowly fifth.
The change in fortune is not lost on Harvick, who is already looking ahead to the ultimate goal. “As long as everything keeps going like it's going,” he says. “I think out chance are as good as they have been to do both of those things with the Chase and hopefully compete for the championship.”
However, if the RCR resurrection is to continue in Las Vegas, then the driver to benefit may be Jeff Burton.
The veteran has the best history at the track, a third place finish last year being one of the highlights of a painful year. He is one of only three drivers to have an average finish inside the top-ten (Busch and Biffle the other two).
But at Las Vegas, perhaps more so than any other track the raft of statistics need to be treated with caution, thanks to the tracks overhaul in 2006, an event the races used to create the average straddle. The work saw the banking in the turns balloon from 12 degrees to 20, with the speeds following the same upward curve, Kyle Busch's 2009 pole lap (185.995mph) comfortably eclipsing the fastest on the previous configuration – 174.904mph set by Kasey Kahne in 2004.
Compare that to the longer, but flatter expanses of Auto Club Speedway the teams raced at last week, where Jamie McMurray's pole lap was 183.7mph. Yes, Las Vegas sees fast, close racing on high banks, but without the artificial leveller of a Restrictor Plate.
“[Las Vegas] is kinda unique,” contends Harvick. “Just for the fact it is really high speed but it's really, really rough for a newly paved race track. But it's been pretty racy the last couple of years just for the fact that you can run and run low.”
“When the race track was changed,” explains Jeff Burton. “I was really upset because I thought they'd mess it up but honestly they did a great job of making the race track better. It's way more racy, the fans see a much better show.”
“It's very fast, but it's a track where you have to have finesse. You have to be smart, you have to be smooth, but you have to be very aggressive at the same time.”