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Kurt Busch pays homage to grassroots racer during Las Vegas visit

Kurt Busch finally was able to celebrate winning last year’s NASCAR playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with his hometown fans.

It happened Tuesday at the South Point showroom in front of a couple of hundred people, which is a couple of hundred more than watched him claim his first LVMS victory in 22 starts. His breakthrough win came in front of empty grandstands because of COVID restrictions.

It wasn’t a true victory celebration, as state health codes precluded Busch from doing a smoky burnout in front of the Coronado Cafe. If truth be known, his presence was mostly geared to a ticket drive for next month’s NASCAR South Point 400 weekend at LVMS.

But the pit stop afforded the NASCAR champion the chance to mingle with local race fans and offer a few more thank-yous to those in his Las Vegas past who were instrumental in launching a career that shows few signs of slowing down, though Busch turned 43 this month.

Such as Phil Hayes, a former track champion at old Craig Road Speedway, which would be a perfect candidate for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NBC documentary series “Lost Speedways” were there anything left of it.

“When I wrecked three races in a row, my dad sent me to go see the ‘Mad Hatter,’ ” Busch said backstage at South Point, alluding to the top hat Hayes wore around the track before Busch started winning races. “He said, ‘Son, why do you keep putting yourself in position to wreck?’ ”

Remember this was 16-year-old Kurt Busch. If you thought he was obstinate climbing the NASCAR ladder, you should have seen him then, he said.

“OK, thanks, great advice, sure,” he said of his sarcastic initial reaction to his sit-down with Hayes. “Years later, it’s what’s still helping me now, 22 years into the Cup Series. Phil Hayes, the ‘Mad Hatter.’ Las Vegas. He should be on the Mt. Rushmore (of Las Vegas racers).”

Hayes, now 75, naturally was flattered when he learned of Busch’s remarks.

“He was young and fast — it’s easier to slow down a driver than to speed one up,” said the former sportsman class champ, who also raced sprint cars and built racing engines — when he was younger, Hayes hung around the Southern California shops of guys who built engines for Indy 500 roadsters.

“That’s where my experience came from and just always tried to pass it on,” he said.

“Kurt was one of the guys who listened.”

Around the horn

— As they say on the radio and TV, good seats still remain for the Sept. 26 South Point 400 NASCAR playoff race and truck and Xfinity Series races on that Friday and Saturday, and an ARCA Menards Series West race on Thursday. For tickets, go to https://www.lvms.com/tickets/ or call 1-800-644-4444.

— Green Valley High’s Molly Sullivan, who spent 14 years as a sports reporter, mostly in the NBA and NFL in Philadelphia, has returned home to serve in a community relations capacity for Clark County Commissioner (and former Bishop Gorman basketball player) Ross Miller.

According to sources, the former North Carolina and 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier in the 800-meter freestyle can still get from one end of the pool to the other almost quicker than you can say Katie Ledecky.

— How far has UNLV fallen off the conference expansion radar? In a story about the Big 12 trying to stay relevant following the departure of Texas and Oklahoma, Yahoo mentioned six schools as possible replacements. The Rebels weren’t mentioned, of course, but North Dakota State was.

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Max Pacioretty bought Golden Knights teammate’s Alex Pietrangelo’s 8,321-square-foot Summerlin mansion for $6.4 million this month, which, it can be assumed, is one of those trades that works for both sides.

If there were guest quarters for rising star Nick Suzuki, who was traded to Montreal (along with Tomas Tatar) in 2018 for Pacioretty, VGK fans might also be saluting the transaction.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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