Throwback Thursday – Busch Series Heads West for the First Time

Jeff Green wins his first Busch Series race in 1997. Photo - NASCAR.com

Seven years after first driving in a NASCAR major series, Jeff Green picks up his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory – 1997  In 2000, Green had one of his most dominant years with 25 top-fives and won the Busch championship by over 600 points. 2001 marked the third consecutive season, Jeff Green finishes in at least second place in the Nationwide (Busch) Series, one of the best stretches in circuit history.
Photo – NASCAR.com

During the first 15 years of its existence, the NASCAR Busch Series never made a stop to a track west of the Mississippi River.

It all changed in 1997 when the series visited the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March.

A 1.5 mile track with multiple grooves of racing, the first ever race run there was a NASCAR Winston West Series race won by Ken Schrader in November 1996. The event ran in conjunction with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, a race that was won by Jack Sprague.

Heading into the Las Vegas 300, some drivers had some experience under their belt.  Tim Steele, in his first Busch start for Phoenix Racing, finished runner-up to Schrader and Michael Waltrip raced to a fourth-place finish in the truck race.

Jeff Green was still winless in his NASCAR Busch Series career.  After Dale Earnhardt retired from Busch racing in 1994, Green became the new driver of the No. 3 in 1995. He collected two runner-up finishes (spring Charlotte and fall Bristol) and a fifth-place points finish in the 1995 standings.

Green went once again winless in 1996 and left the No. 3 team after the season.

He joined Diamond Ridge Motorsports, owned by Gary Bechtel, to drive his No. 8 Chevrolets for the 1997 season. After finishing second to Mark Martin at Richmond, it was the fourth runner-up in Green’s career.

He got off to a great start to the weekend by winning the pole for the inaugural race. Green’s teammate Elliott Sadler qualified second and made it an all Diamond Ridge Motorsports front row.

Winston Cup Series interloper Joe Nemechek stormed out to an early race lead and led the first 38 laps. Green’s car was not very good on the restarts, but once the race resumed, his car began to free up and make its way toward the front.

The Las Vegas 300 featured 25 lead changes and great side-by-side racing.

Todd Bodine led with 40 laps to go, but NASCAR veteran Dick Trickle started to reel him in. Trickle made the pass for the lead with 30 to go and Green also got around Bodine. The top two drivers never won a Busch race before.

Green started to gain on Trickle and pulled to his back bumper with around 20 laps left to run. With 15 laps to go, Green had a run to the outside of Trickle and led for the last time.

In his 100th career Busch Series start, Jeff Green finally won his first Busch race in the inaugural Las Vegas 300.  Dick Trickle finished runner-up.

Trickle would go on to grab his first Busch win the very next race at Hickory Motor Speedway.

Alongside the Busch Series program, Diamond Ridge Motorsports also had a Winston Cup Series program with the No. 29 car.  Robert Pressley ran the first ten races before being released.

Team owner Bechtel appointed Jeff Green to the No. 29 Cup car and finished out the 1997 season with a career-best fourth in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

1997 Las Vegas 300 Top Ten

                #8 Jeff Green (first career Busch Series win)

                #64 Dick Trickle

                #36 Todd Bodine

                #21 Michael Waltrip

                #4 Tim Steele (only career Top-5 finish)

                #45 Greg Sacks

                #10 Phil Parsons

                #3 Steve Park

                #99 Glenn Allen Jr.

                #72 Mike Dillon (father of Austin and Ty Dillon)

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