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Busch brothers, Gaughan travel different paths en route to success


By JEFF WOLF
REVIEW-JOURNAL

They are three Las Vegas native sons who share little in common, other than a rare talent to drive cars fast enough to put them among the elite in American motorsports.

Beyond that, they couldn't be more different, from their backgrounds to their personalities.

Kurt Busch, 25, was the first to break into NASCAR's major leagues. While growing up, though, he was more intent on graduating from college and becoming an engineer, wanting only to race cars as a hobby.

Kyle Busch, Kurt's 18-year-old brother, was next to reach NASCAR and is on the cusp of joining Kurt in the Nextel Cup Series. Kyle was in middle school when he decided he wanted a career in racing. Nearly everything he did was geared toward that goal by the time he reached Durango High School.

Then there's Brendan Gaughan, 28, who won desert racing championships while attending Georgetown, where he was an all-conference place-kicker in football and walk-on Hoyas teammate of Allen Iverson in basketball.

Tom Busch worked long days selling tools around Las Vegas to support his sons' racing hobby.

The Gaughan family is well known. Brendan is the grandson of Las Vegas casino pioneer Jackie Gaughan and son of Coast Resorts chairman Michael Gaughan a former desert racing champion.

The three second-generation drivers are likely to compete in the same race for the first time -- the seventh annual UAW-

DaimlerChrysler 400 Cup race Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kurt, in his fourth full season in the series, and Gaughan, a rookie, are certain to be in the starting field of 43 cars when the green flag drops at noon. Kyle will compete in his third NASCAR Busch Series race of the year Saturday as a rookie for Hendrick Motorsports and will try to qualify for Sunday's Cup race.

If he makes it into Sunday's show, the trio will become the first born in a city west of Owensboro, Ky., to start a race in NASCAR's premier series.

Owensboro produced Darrell and Michael Waltrip, Jeremy Mayfield and the Green brothers -- Jeff, David and Mark. But the southeast is NASCAR's homeland.

Las Vegas' three native sons represent the diversity of Nevada racing, from Gaughan's days in the desert to the Busch boys' schooling on dirt and paved ovals in Southern Nevada.

"It'll be exciting to have the Busch family and Brendan Gaughan racing at the (speedway) in a city that's not known for breeding drivers," Kurt said. "Now there are three guys from Vegas, and we'll all be racing together. It should be pretty cool."

Kurt, who drives for Roush Racing, should be credited for opening team owners' eyes to the driving talent here. His full-time commitment to racing came in 1997, while he was in college.

He won the NASCAR Southwest Series championship in 1999 for team owner Craig Keough, another Las Vegan. Busch was hired by Roush and put in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2000, finishing second in the championship chase.

His next move was to the Cup series.

"I think Kurt was the one that opened all the doors, mainly because he got into the Southwest Tour and was doing really well, and that team was based out of Las Vegas," Kyle said. "He opened up a lot of people's eyes about the West Coast, and Vegas guys as well."

Kyle caught the eye of Roush Racing owner Jack Roush when he was 15. Right after he turned 16, he won his first NASCAR Late Models race at the LVMS Bullring, a three-eighths-mile paved oval, and went on to win 10 of 15 races he entered that year.

Roush hired him to compete in the NASCAR Truck series in 2001, but NASCAR soon adopted a rule banning drivers under 18 from competing in its three major touring series.

Kyle remained with Roush after graduating early from high school, driving in a Midwest regional stock-car series before signing with Hendrick last year.

"It's definitely a big deal to make my Nextel Cup debut in my hometown, especially with an organization like Hendrick Motorsports," Kyle said. "But you have to treat this weekend like any other race. I can't let what I'm trying to do with the Cup car negatively affect what we're trying to accomplish in the Lowe's Chevrolet on the Busch series side."

Among the courses Kyle took in high school was public speaking, and he is very polished in media interviews.

His maturity has impressed Kurt.

The older Busch, though well spoken, has been reprimanded by NASCAR for his behavior. The last incident was his running battle with Jimmy Spencer, who reached into Busch's cockpit to punch him following one dust-up.

Kurt, though, said he's learned from his mistakes.

"I learned so many things from last year, because I made so many mistakes," Kurt said. "There always are lessons to that you learn. Good or bad, you deal with them, and you take the next challenge."

Gaughan faces the challenge of moving from the truck series, in which he won six races and finished fourth in points for a team owned by his father, to driving for a team partially owned by Roger Penske and sponsored by Kodak.

While the Busch brothers often present a serious public demeanor, especially Kurt, Gaughan is just having the time of his life.

"I think I've always been able to have fun. I'm having a good time out here. For lack of better words, I'm having a great time."






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