LAS VEGAS - Roush Racing drivers have won five of the seven Nextel Cup races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, including two in a row by Matt Kenseth.
With his team's proven record of dominance at the track, it would seem that Kenseth would head into this weekend's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 confident he can pull off the three-peat.
"Just because you've had success in the past definitely doesn't guarantee it for this time or the next time," Kenseth said.
In fact, Kenseth thinks that luck is a large reason the stable of Roush cars have performed so well in Las Vegas, beginning with the inaugural 1998 race won by Mark Martin. Former Roush driver Jeff Burton then added back-to-back wins in 1999 and 2000.
"Yeah, Jack has had a lot of success there," Kenseth said. "I think some of it is circumstances and having good cars, but having good fortune at the same time and not having an extra amount of bad luck and bad things happening."
Luck has definitely not been on Kenseth's side early in 2005.
Known for his steadfast consistency and his knack for being near the front of the pack at the end of most races, Kenseth has instead found himself way back in the field in the season's first two events.
A blown motor led to a next-to-last place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, and he was 26th at California the next week.
Now Kenseth, who had been in the top 10 in points for 71 consecutive weeks at the start of the year, sits back in 36th place in the standings.
"I think we all understand that this deal works in cycles sometimes," he said. "Sometimes you can't get anything to go wrong and no matter what you do, you can't mess up. Then at other times you really can't get anything to go right, so the last couple months of last season and the start to this one has been a time where we can't seem to get things to go right."
The 2003 series champion never contended for the title last season under NASCAR's new 10-race playoff format. Driver error in the second round of the playoffs knocked him out of contention and he finished eighth in the final standings.
Now he's the only Roush driver off to a slow start this season.
Kurt Busch, the defending Nextel Cup champion, heads home to his native Las Vegas as the current points leader. Martin is in third in the standings, rookie Carl Edwards is fourth and Greg Biffle is fifth and coming off a win two weeks ago at California.
It would be natural for Kenseth to be angry at the equipment failure and circumstances that have separated him from his teammates. He's not.
"I mean it's always disappointing when you don't get the result," he said. "But I'd rather be running good and leading laps and feeling like we're capable of winning races and not getting the finishes due to circumstances, than to be running bad all day and then luck into a 10th or 15th-place finish."
So while Kenseth heads into Las Vegas at the back of the pack, Busch heads home as the points leader and a sort-of celebrity. Sports heroes aren't really a big deal in Vegas, so Busch doesn't really feel the red carpet treatment he would if he were from, say, a small town in Wisconsin like Kenseth.
Still, Busch and younger brother Kyle, a Nextel Cup rookie, are feeling a few of the perks of fame at some of the local spots they frequented as teens.
"Vegas is a celebrity-driven city, so it takes a lot for people to get excited," Busch said. "But the times I have been back, there have been some spoils and it's nice to be able to enjoy them and for my friends and family to get some of that special treatment."
But the track hasn't been that good to Busch, whose ninth-place finish last season is his only Top 10 in four career starts.
It could be the pressure - "Every time we go to Las Vegas it's like my own Daytona 500 with all of the media and family and friends and the sheer excitement of the city and being back at home," Busch said - but crew chief Jimmy Fennig is determined to help his driver leave Vegas a winner.
"This race means a lot to Kurt and the whole team is excited about going back out to Vegas," Fennig said. "We've never run as well here as we've wanted to, and we came out here to test last month and learned a few things that hopefully can pay off for us this weekend."
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