It always seems like certain drivers become the center of attention whenever their chosen racing series heads to their home track. Back in the day, Michigan drivers Bob Senneker and Mike Eddy would always battle it out at their hometown tracks. Senneker would rise to the occasion at his home track at Berlin, while Eddy was the man to beat at Tri-City. If the "wrong" driver happened to win, the officials almost felt like there would be a mutiny in the grandstands by riotous fans.
In later years, Johnny Benson was tough at Berlin too. In fact, for 19 consecutive ASA races at Berlin a Michigan driver went to victory lane. Now, Benson is a perennial favorite when the Trucks go to his other home track, Michigan International Speedway. He has three top-five finishes and was just a couple of inches away from his second win there last June.
So it's no surprise that the Las Vegas drivers jumped up and took the spotlight at their home track on Friday. But it was an up and down day for the hometowners.
Brendan Gaughan's day started on the up end of the spectrum but ended down in the dumps. He was fastest in the morning Nationwide practice, his first attempt in NASCAR's second series at his hometown track. But then two hours after setting the fastest lap in the first session, Gaughan's day went up in smoke as he wrecked in turns three and four, doing heavy damage to his car. He's now faced with the daunting task of qualifying and racing his backup car, or the repaired primary, without any practice laps.
Conversely, Kyle Busch's day started off poorly but ended spectacularly. He had engine failure in the early moments of the first Cup practice and missed most of the session as the team replaced the burned out bullet. Once it was time to qualify, his early day problems were nothing but a memory as he blistered the track record to take the pole for Sunday's Shelby 427.
It will be an all-Busch front row as 2004 series champ Kurt Busch claimed the second position in qualifying. The older Busch has been off the radar in recent years, particularly after moving to the Penske operation. In contrast to his days with Roush, Penske has reigned in the brash and outspoken kid and turned him into a polished and professional adult. The only thing that has been missing has been the same level of performance, and the new Dodge engine could put Kurt Busch back at the front of the field on a more routine basis.
Kyle will be forced to take the green at the tail of the field due to the engine change, but will line up at the front of the field on the grid and on the pace laps. While he might not technically take the green flag from the pole, the qualifying results give hometown Vegas fans their first all-Vegas front row in their own race in the track's history.
It was noted on the SPEED broadcast of Cup practice that Roush Fenway Racing has signed 35 sponsors for its program in 2009. Is there anyone better at creating viable sponsor programs than Roush's marketing team? He even manages to create programs with competitors (such as Con-way Freight in the NCWTS and R+L Carriers in a limited Cup role) and seemingly leave everyone happy. The best sponsorships don't just involve companies writing a check to the race team, but they include opportunities for the sponsors to directly create added revenue from their racing involvement, and Roush knows this. Many other team owners do too, but not all. Particularly in this challenging economy, the days of a company simply writing a check just to see it's logo on a racecar are over.