LAS VEGAS — The racing bug hit the Busch family long before the NASCAR champion brothers were born. Their father attended the first Daytona 500 in 1959 with his parents, and later, while working as a mechanic at a Las Vegas car dealership, he decided to try racing at the local short track.
Tom Busch built and won in his own cars. When his boys were born, he built cars for them, too. It was just a hobby when it began but it turned out the Busch brothers were a pair of thoroughbreds.
Busch developed his sons into a pair of aggressive and motivated young drivers who dominated the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, then raced their way to North Carolina hoping to make it in NASCAR. Kurt kicked the door open and Kyle, seven years his junior, followed.
Today they have a combined 88 Cup Series wins, three shared Cup titles and are considered among the most talented and knowledgeable drivers of their generation.
Now they are celebrating a weekend that brought the Busch family full circle. Kurt Busch finally won at the home track about 24 hours after a third generation Busch went to victory lane: Brexton Busch, Kyle's 5-year-old son, earned the first win of his career, in a winged box stock at Millbridge Speedway in North Carolina. Brexton's budding career is being steered, of course, by Tom Busch.
"My dad is the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff, on his cart. So he's got a big task," Kyle Busch said.
Brexton's win sparked emotions for all the Busch drivers, particularly Kurt, who was reflective after his nephew's win. Kurt wasn't there when Brexton won Saturday night but got all the details as the family flew to Las Vegas together Sunday morning.
"I just sat there on the plane going 'My dad helped me, we helped Kyle, Kyle and my dad and myself are helping Brexton,' it definitely felt like a generational shift was happening," the 42-year-old said. "I honestly had a feeling with his win, it was like, my job is almost done here. I'm starting to become that old guy, got to find the rocking chair because Brexton is taking over."
Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been tough on the Busch brothers, who grew up dominating the three-eighths-mile asphalt bullring on the property. All that success on the very same grounds, yet nothing but disappointment over at the big track.
Kyle won once, in 2009, but Kurt was 0-for-21 when the Cup race started Sunday night. Kurt wasn't all that great for two thirds of the event and then a caution flipped the race completely. He was suddenly the leader, had three remarkable restarts and finally earned his first Las Vegas Motor Speedway victory.
Perhaps the next winning Busch driver is on his way, but nobody is pushing Kyle or Kurt out of NASCAR just yet. Kyle is the reigning Cup Series champion, and although he is winless so far this year and in danger of playoff elimination in this second round, he has a long career ahead.
Kurt, the 2004 champion, is at the tail end of a 20-year Cup career. He was ranked last in the 12-driver playoff field before Las Vegas, but his first win of the season earned him a surprise automatic advancement to the third round. He's returning next season to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2020 but his runway as a Cup driver is shrinking.
The brothers have had a tumultuous relationship, one where on-track feuds spilled over into lengthy silences. Never the best of friends, marriage, Brexton and the pandemic have brought them as close as they have ever been as adults this past year.
It was evident as Kyle celebrated with his big brother during the cooldown lap Sunday with door donuts, the two cars bouncing together in a show of respect and shared joy. It brought back a flood of memories for Kurt of two young drivers desperately trying to beat one another in legends cars every Saturday night.
Brexton is in the infancy of his racing venture, the stage where he loves going to the track to see his friends. But his father has picked up on an enthusiasm in his son when Brexton gets in the car, when his belts are being strapped and when he's racing.
Brexton now knows what it feels like to be a winner, and just as Tom Busch did for his boys, Kyle Busch turned it into a lesson about success.
"I was like, 'You know, whatever that feeling is, whatever you're feeling, however it sits in you, you know that is feasible a lot more often than one time,'" Busch said he told Brexton. "'So just don't rest on just getting one. We've got to go out there and fight for more.'"