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Thursday, February 28, 2008
Updated: February 29, 12:22 PM ET
Kyle Busch rolled the dice in Vegas, but Burton hit the jackpot

By Mark Ashenfelter
ESPN.com

Jeff Burton
Kyle Busch gets sideways as Jeff Burton cruises to victory in the 2007 Sam's Town 300 at Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS -- When we last saw Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Nationwide Series cars, they were staging one of the best finishes of the year.

Not to mention one of the most frustrating of the year for Busch, a Las Vegas native aching to win a national series event at his hometown track. Busch went for a last-lap spin trying to hold off Burton, who earned his third win in seven Nationwide races at the track.

Overall, Burton has five top-5s and six top-10s at Vegas, showing he's a force to be reckoned with even after the track was reconfigured prior to the 2007 race. Having surrendered the lead to Busch late in last year's event, Burton thought he'd "messed this thing up."

"With two laps two go I didn't think that I had much of a chance to get the win, but I just kept fighting and kept trying. With one-and-a-half laps left we had made a dent in his lead, and on the last lap I made another dent," Burton said. "I made my mind up that Turn 4 was going to get interesting because I knew that I wasn't going to lift and he wasn't going to lift either.

"I got the [Richard Childress Racing] Chevy on the outside, and that was cool and it worked out for us. The finish made great television, and it was exciting for me to be part of that win. I think that it was one of the best races of the year."

Last year marked the first time the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series raced on the reconfigured track, and the Nationwide race showed that the changes could make the racing more competitive. Initially, the track was quite flat and that wasn't conducive to keeping the fans enthralled.

Burton now thinks the excitement level has been elevated.

"The racing surface is still fairly new and the banking in the corners [is] a lot steeper than what they used to be," Burton said. "It's quite a challenge for the drivers, to be quite honest, but we typically run well at that track so that's always exciting."

If Busch has a strong run at Vegas and finally finishes ahead of Tony Stewart after finishing second to him in the year's first two Nationwide races, he could end the day with the points lead. If so, he'd become the first driver ever to lead the standings in each of NASCAR's national series at the same time.

He'll need to gain 31 points on Stewart for that to be the case. After finishing second at Auto Club Speedway on Monday, he said leading isn't his main goal.

Jeff Burton
Jeff Burton on his 2007 win at Vegas: "I think that it was one of the best races of the year."

"The biggest thing we try to do is to get results and get wins -- that is the optimum thing that you want to do to get your team to Victory Lane," Busch said. "… It just means that either I have more work to do or whatever to get my stuff a little bit better to get to Victory Lane. It's been a good weekend for me. You can't really complain coming out of two weekends [with] all six finishes in the top five."

And Busch certainly doesn't mind to be in Vegas for the weekend.

"It's always nice to go back to the home track and the hometown -- see some friends and hang out with some friends," Busch said. "[But] it's pretty much business on Friday, Saturday and Sunday."

Another driver normally a force at Vegas is Kevin Harvick, who has a win, four top-5s and five top-10s in seven starts. He tested his Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet here, but knows everything that worked in the past isn't necessarily the hot setup this weekend.

With the Nationwide cars using carburetor spacers to reduce the horsepower, the cars aren't as fast on the straightaways, but they are much faster in the corners.

"We had a little tire trouble -- not everyone did, but we had some trouble on our cars," Harvick said. "The corner speeds are so much faster than they used to be, 14 or 15 mph faster than the Cup cars through the center of the corner. As you make the [fuel] run, the car gets a little tight and the track is a little rough, so you have to do a few more things than you normally do. It was really cool when we tested, so I think as we return, depending on the weather, things could be dramatically different."

Temperatures will be in the mid-70s, another change for the teams to adapt to. And Harvick will experience different feels in his Sprint Cup and Nationwide cars.

"It'll be interesting to see how things shake out and how the racing actually is," he said. "Qualifying will probably be really close. You will have a lot of moving and shaking as the race starts because the handling of the car still means something as you go through the runs because you are really close to wide open and you want to try to keep that through the run.

"The runs are a little shorter because of the smaller fuel cells; everyone is at the 18-gallon fuel cells now. A lot of things are different and it's a lot of different things to take in a short amount of time. The Cup cars are 14 mph slower in the corners and 14 mph faster on the straightaways than the Nationwide cars, so it balances itself out."

While Harvick will be jumping between cars and trying to forget how things were at the track in the past, everything's new for JTG Racing driver Kelly Bires, who has never raced at the track.

Bires did get to test here, though, so he's shooting for a top-10 finish. But with 15 Cup drivers in the field, that won't be easy.

"We want to gain points and not tear anything up. We don't have room to tear anything up," Bires said. "We need to get through these first six weeks clean and then we'll have a couple of cars waiting back at the shop. Right now, we're pretty low [on inventory]. We don't have as many bullets as we want, but they're in the process of being built. It's going to take about four or five more weeks and we'll have what we need."

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.