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Las Vegas is where it all began for racing's newest stars

Posted: Thursday, March 04, 2004

LAS VEGAS Brendan Gaughan won't have any trouble finding a place to sleep during this weekend's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway: His father owns several hotels in town or he could go home and sleep in his old bed.

Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch can also enjoy their old bedrooms and a little home cooking.

A town famous for not having clocks on the walls and $1.99 steak-and-egg specials has a new reputation for producing some of the new stars of NASCAR. Gaughan and the Busch brothers are returning home to the Nevada desert, a place where their careers started in the shadows of towering casinos.

"This proves there is talent all over the country," Gaughan said.

"The problem with the West Coast is that nobody ever notices it because there were no great racing teams on the West Coast for a long time. It took a long time to get Greg Biffle, Ron Hornaday and Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch out to this level, but there's great racing all over the country."

Gaughan had a successful stint on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, winning six races last year. And he did it with a team based in Las Vegas, not North Carolina. The emergence of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and other facilities in the west has sparked a new interest in the sport and opened new doors.

The Busch brothers started in miniature Legends cars and slowly worked their way up the racing ladder. Kurt, 25, worked as a city meter reader for the water department several years ago when he got his big break a tryout with Roush Racing.

Car owner Jack Roush held an audition for one of his truck racing teams a tryout now known as the "Gong Show" and Busch won it.

Kyle Busch, who turned 18 last May, had a much easier road to stardom. He was signed by car owner Rick Hendrick when he was 17. He raced a year on the American Speed Association circuit as well as ARCA before he was allowed to make selected appearances in NASCAR following his 18th birthday.

Young Busch is a full-time driver on the Busch Series, but he will make a rare Nextel Cup Series start with his brother in Sunday's main event.

"It will be fun," Kurt said of racing against his brother for the first time since they were in Legends cars. "Maybe we'll have a chance to run side-by-side for a little bit and get some pictures out of it. I think it would be nice to say we raced each other in his first race, but anything can happen."

The Las Vegas track already has a reputation for such drama. Jeff Burton won a rousing battle with his older brother Ward here in 1999.

"I didn't expect to be racing against Kurt so soon," Kyle Busch said. "But I'm excited to do it, especially at home. This is going to be a special weekend for me and my entire family."

Las Vegas is one of the popular stops on the Nextel Cup Series schedule. Many drivers will arrive a day or two early to enjoy what the city has to offer including $1.99 steak and eggs, but for Gaughan and the Busch brothers, it's something more meaningful. It's a place where they can prove to their West Coast friends they're every bit as good as their counterparts from the Southeast.

"Every time we come to Vegas, I like pressure, but there's a point where you over-analyze, you over-engineer and get too pumped up," Gaughan said. "We hurt ourselves a couple times (in the truck series). It's not a home race for the Penske/Jasper team. This is not where they are from. It's just where Shane Wilson (crew chief) and I are from.

"We're just going to go out there and know it's a racetrack we'd like to win at and know how to win it and just do it right."

Gaughan, whose father owns such Las Vegas landmarks as The Orleans and Barbary Coast, already knows how tough it is to return home for a race. He was bombarded by requests for free rooms.

"I had a bunch of rooms at one time, but it didn't take long to give them all away," Gaughan said. "Las Vegas is a popular place, I guess."

For Brendan Gaughan, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch, it's also home.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.

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