By Jerry Bonkowski
The Sports Xchange
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- For the first time in their NASCAR careers, Las Vegas natives and brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch captured front-row spots during qualifying for Sunday's Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
But, unfortunately, when the green flag falls on race day they'll start at opposite ends of the 43-car field instead of next to each other.
Kyle Busch, who broke the track record and set a blistering lap of nearly 186 mph, will be credited with winning the pole but will start at the back of the field for Sunday's race.
The reason: The motor in his No. 18 Toyota blew up just five laps into practice early Friday afternoon. A coating issue is believed to be the problem.
"I don't have any idea (what caused the motor problem)," Kyle Busch said after qualifying was over. "It's a completely different engine department and tooling (than other Toyota-powered teams)."
As a result, the younger Busch brother was forced to go to a backup motor for qualifying. And in a twist of irony, that motor was actually more stout and powerful than the motor that blew up.
Still, NASCAR rules require that teams must use the same engine in both qualifying and all practice sessions, as well as on race day. If a change is made anywhere along the way, the car and driver are penalized and must start the race at the end of the 43-car field.
"I wish we were starting up front so we could get the five bonus points (for leading a lap) early, but unfortunately that's not the case," Kyle Busch said. "We'll have to battle up through there and pass everybody if we can and get there eventually to get the five bonus points.
"The scenario is now different. We've just got to take what's been given to us and try to battle it out on Sunday. The big check comes after the leader of the last lap, not the first lap."
Short of winning a race like the Daytona 500, returning to and having the potential of winning on their home track is the same feeling for the Busch brothers as Tony Stewart's love affair with Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Stewart grew up 50 miles away from IMS and finally earned a win there in 2005 when he captured the Brickyard 400, a feat he repeated two years later.
Although LVMS is equally as important to them as IMS is to Stewart, neither Busch brother has managed to take a Sprint Cup checkered flag here.
"It's definitely just as prestigious for the Busch brothers here in Vegas as it would be for Tony in Indy, for sure," Kurt Busch said. "We both watched the track get built and come out of the ground.
"At that time, we thought it could get a Cup date, and it did. It happened. It helped jump-start our careers. This place will always hold a special part in my heart, and hopefully we'll have a chance to duke it out for the win, just like we did today for the pole."
Although he can empathize with his younger brother's plight of having the pole-winning effort go for naught, older brother Kurt couldn't help but take a good-natured jab at his sibling.
"It's just because they had too much power," he smirked. "It's hard to keep it contained in a box."
Kyle smiled and took the comment in stride, and then made a good-natured jab of his own -- not at his older brother but at the race track and city.
"It's a great opportunity for both of us to be on the pole here," Kyle Busch said. "I don't know what I need to do (to get more recognition in his hometown).
"I guess I need to win a race before I can be part of the Vegas commercial when they have the commercial spots (on TV) at the beginning of the year: 'It's Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch, and come see the rest of the guys.' I guess I'm just the rest of the guys, so maybe one of these days we can win one and get on the commercial. That'd be cool."
Because of the motor change, Las Vegas fans will be deprived of the chance to see two of their favorite sons duke it out with each other, especially on the first lap, to see who would get the first five bonus points for leading a lap.
"I'm going with the question: Is the outside groove still smoother?" Kurt said.
Kyle quickly interjected, "I have more horsepower, so I'd beat him in turn one."
And while Kyle will have his work cut out for him to make his way back up through the pack, Kurt couldn't help lament what might have been.
"It'd be great to go after it and see who's going to lead the first lap, but you can't get caught up in all that notion," Kurt Busch said. "You have to focus for 427 miles here, and that's what we're looking forward to, to get to the end and see who has a shot once we have our final pit stop. That would really be the fun show that we're all looking for."
Given the unpredictability of his younger brother, while Kurt may not battle Kyle at the start of Sunday's race, he still might get his wish of racing him to the checkered flag.