So the last shall be first, and the first last. For biblical scholars, that was Matthew 20:16. For NASCAR fans, it was Sunday's Shelby 427 Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Starting from the rear of the field because of an engine change during Friday's practice session, pole winner and Las Vegas native Kyle Busch worked his way to the front throughout a race punctuated with a record 14 caution periods and streaked to a 0.411secs victory, his first of the season and his first at Las Vegas.

Matt Kenseth, first in the Cup standings entering the race, finished last, after his engine blew six laps into the race. That ended Kenseth's bid to become the first driver to win the first three races in a Cup season.

"This is pretty cool," Busch said after his celebratory burnout on the frontstretch, "I didn't know exactly what it would mean but, when I was coming to the chequered flag, there were knots in my stomach."

Even though the M&Ms Toyota started at the rear of the field, Busch still is credited for starting from the pole, making him the first to win from that position at Las Vegas. But that also meant that he had to contend with traffic until he took the lead for the first time, other than during an early cycle of green flag pit-stops, on lap 228.

"We just had to battle hard," said the 23-year old, who took his 13th Cup win, "We didn't have the best car today, but we had a car that we could keep working on and keep making it better."

Busch has now won nine of the 39 Cup races he has contested since moving to Joe Gibbs Racing to start the 2008 season. His first win for the team came last March at Atlanta, site of next week's race.

Clint Bowyer regained a lap he lost early and finished second, thanks to crew chief Shane Wilson's decision to keep him on the track while the other frontrunners pitted under caution on lap 260 of 285. Bowyer surrendered the lead to Busch off turn two on lap 269.

Jeff Burton, Bowyer's Richard Childress Racing team-mate, took third, followed by David Reutimann and Bobby Labonte. Jeff Gordon - who assumes the series points lead by 18 over Bowyer despite a blow-out that damaged his left-front bodywork - Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top ten.

On a day when cars displayed an alarming tendency to snap away from their drivers, three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who led a race-high 92 laps, spun in turn two to cause the final caution on lap 280 and finished 24th.

"I'm sorry, guys," said Johnson, who also had a tough day on pit-road, overshooting his stall once and being denied smooth passage to it by the exiting Labonte on another. "It wasn't meant to be today," crew chief Chad Knaus responded over the team's radio.

The race restarted with three laps left, and Busch pulled away from Bowyer and Burton.

Bowyer credited Wilson, his new crew chief this season, for the call that gained him the runner-up finish.

"That's where he shines," Bowyer said, "He studies pit strategy real hard and really works on it. And that's an area where I felt I could improve. I'm proud of him, proud of his call and glad it worked out."

Kenseth, who was bidding for a unique hat-trick after sweeping the season-opening events at Daytona and Fontana, came up short in the biggest way possible, reporting engine problem as early as the opening couple of laps, and finally succumbing to a failure after stopping under caution to have the plugs checked. The Roush Fenway driver falls to third in points, tied with team-mate Greg Biffle at 40 behind Gordon. Johnson, meanwhile, remained 19th in points, 145 behind the leader.

The only three drivers to score top ten finishes in the first two races of the season - Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart - all had their short streaks broken. Kenseth was 43rd, Stewart 26th and Busch 23rd.

Stewart's 'replacement' in the #20 Home Depot Toyota, rookie Joey Logano, stayed on the lead lap and posted his best Cup finish to date in 13th.

For the second straight race, Mark Martin's engine failed. He finished 40th and dropped to 34th in the Cup standings. Kenseth's team-mate David Ragan also succumbed to engine problems on the UPS Ford, while Todd Bodine's Curtis Steel Co Toyota suffered similar problems a day after several Toyota runners dropped to the rear of the starting grid with engine-related maladies.

Paul Menard and Aric Almirola both crashed out of the event, while others made it to the finish despite brushes with the wall, including Bowyer and rookie Brad Keselowski. McMurray's ninth place came after held a long, tap-induced, slide to keep the IRWIN Ford off the concrete, while Kasey Kahne, in eleventh, and David Stremme, in 18th, both spun and continued.

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service



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