In most every professional team sport, the top team at the end of the regular season gets the advantage of hosting its first playoff game at its home venue. In fact, in the National Football League, the top two teams in each conference get a first-round bye with a guaranteed home game the second weekend of the playoffs.
While the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is not one of those stick-and-ball sports, M&M’S Hazlenut Spread driver Kyle Busch, this year’s regular-season champion, will kick off the 2019 playoffs with a “home game” at his hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Sunday’s South Point 400 is the closest thing Busch might have to a home track advantage.
Aside from NASCAR’s biggest events like the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a win at the hometown racetrack is high on the priority list for most NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Busch, a Las Vegas native, crossed that all-important one off his list when he won at his hometown track in just his fifth NASCAR Cup Series start there in 2009.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Hazelnut Spread Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and 2002 honors graduate of Durango High School in Las Vegas, qualified on the pole that weekend but was forced to start at the rear of the field because his team needed to change engines during Friday practice. Unfazed, Busch remained patient on race day as he and the M&M’S team worked their way to the front of the field by the 54th lap. He went on to lead three times for 51 laps en route to claiming what he called at the time the biggest win of his young career.
This weekend, he would like nothing more than to double his number of Cup Series wins at the 1.5-mile desert oval to go with that first emotional hometown win.
While Busch also has 2016 and 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins at Las Vegas, he already was no stranger to winning on Las Vegas Motor Speedway property. From 1999 to 2001, he earned more than 65 wins in Legends cars while racking up two track championships at the facility’s “Bullring,” which existed for several years before the NASCAR oval was built. When Busch moved up to Late Model Stock cars, his winning ways continued with 10 victories at the Bullring in 2001.
Busch, the 2015 Cup Series champion, will start the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and with 45 playoff points entering the final 10 races to decide the 2019 title.. Entering the 10-race playoffs, Busch has tallied four victories among his 13 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s en route to the regular-season championship for the second year in a row.
So as Busch returns to Las Vegas this weekend, he hopes the success of the No. 18 M&M’S Hazelnut Spread team during the regular season will pay off with a win to start the playoffs during their “home game” Sunday in Las Vegas.