LAS VEGAS – The Busch brothers grew up racing on the 3/8-mile bullring that now sits in the shadow of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, many miles north of the glittering lights of the Strip.
In a town where precious few residents have deep roots, Kurt and his kid brother, Kyle, grew up in the game on the Vegas track and eventually blossomed into NASCAR stars.
Even after moving away for their racing careers, the Durango High School graduates still get a charge from coming back for Sunday's annual race.
"Every time I come out here, it reminds me of all the people that helped Kyle and I, especially our dad, Tom," Kurt Busch said. "The different late-model teams, modified teams, the Legends car races and all the competitors, the dwarf car days, it's just fun to come back and to reminisce. Ultimately, you've got to strap on the helmet, focus on the task at hand, but it's always special in Vegas."
Fans in other cities don't always embrace the Busch brothers, to put it politely. In Vegas, the hometown guys see their colors and numbers around every corner on autograph-seekers and old friends alike.
"I like the love, the camaraderie, just the overall family-and-friend aspect," Kurt Busch said. "I mean, walking from Victory Lane, getting the pole, I saw three old crew members and one of the lead track crew safety guys."
The trip evokes memories for Kurt Busch, who volunteered for the Vegas track safety crew in the 1990s "just so I could be closer to the action."
Kurt Busch would love to add a bit more success to his happy homecoming: He has yet to win the annual NASCAR race on the Vegas track. Kyle, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion, has just one win, back in 2009, and he missed last season's race with his broken leg.
Kurt Busch is in position for a big Sunday after winning the pole and setting the track speed record this weekend. He also claimed the pole last week in Atlanta with a team that has taken full advantage of NASCAR's new low-downforce package and tire setup.
Here are some other things to watch in NASCAR's third race of the season and the start of its three-race Southwest swing:
BLOWN AWAY: High winds are expected at the track on Sunday ahead of a desert storm. While the rain should miss the racers, wind gusts of 40 mph won't be surprising during the competition.
"Looking at the forecast, it looks pretty gnarly for the wind," Kurt Busch said, immediately adding: "That's a West Coast term, gnarly."
Joey Logano, who starts up front alongside Kurt Busch, predicts the track will be "dangerous, treacherous for sure."
NASCAR drivers are familiar with wind: The tracks in Texas and Kansas are notorious for gusts that test a driver's skill and guts. But Busch has done the math on the possible challenges, figuring they'll have to combat a 30 mph tailwind into Turn 3 and the same headwind on the front straightaway.
"That's a significant difference that these cars are going to feel," Busch said. "The downforce increase and decrease is staggering."
DOWNFORCE: The teams are still figuring out the vagaries of that new low-downforce package, but much of what they learned last week in Atlanta isn't applicable in Vegas, where the pavement is newer and the banks are more gradual. Still, teams are making progress. "I think we learned from our mistakes," said Logano, who was 27th in qualifying last week before coming in second in Vegas.
SUSPENSION PROBLEM: Martin Truex Jr. is racing his No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota for the first time since crew chief Cole Pearn was suspended for a rules violation last week. The team is appealing the ruling, so the suspension is stayed. "He'll figure exactly how to make sure something like this doesn't happen again, and he'll go through the appeal process and see what comes of it," Truex said of Pearn.
BACK OF THE BACK: Carl Edwards will start from the back in his backup car after hitting the wall in qualifying. The veteran was unhurt, but wasn't sure why it happened. Denny Hamlin also is in a backup car after hitting the wall coming out of the same turn in Thursday's open practice.
BAKERSFIELD REPRESENT: Kevin Harvick had a spectacular run in the Southwest last year, winning at Las Vegas and Phoenix before finishing second at Fontana. He qualified in sixth on Friday.