Kurt Busch wins at Atlanta

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McClatchy Tribune
Monday, March 9, 2009
— After leading 234 of 330 laps but still having to battle his way past Carl Edwards in a green-white-checkered finish to win Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch did a curious thing.

His victory celebration consisted of a full lap around the 1.54-mile track in reverse. He didn’t simply go the “wrong” way, as the late Alan Kulwicki did when he clinched the championship here in 1992.

Busch put his No. 2 Dodge in reverse and went trunk-first into Turn 1 and all the way around. What was his message?

How about, “I’m back?”

Busch plugged his car’s sponsor as he described how he got the idea.

“It’s something me and my buddies brewed up after a few too many Miller Lites,” he said. “It kind of lets the car relax and wind down. It’s like cooling down a horse after a good run in the Kentucky Derby or something.”

Busch said his friends came up with a name, too. He believes it needs work.

“You have to know the guys I was partying with,” Busch said. “They called it ’The Donkey.’ They wanted me to push for that, but I don’t know if I want that to stick.”

Busch won 14 races and a championship between 2002 and 2005 while with Roush Fenway Racing, but had won just four times in three years since moving to Roger Penske’s team. His only victory of 2008 came in a rain-shortened race in which strategy meant more than speed, and he’s made the Chase for the Sprint Cup only once in his first three years in the No. 2 Dodge.

Lately, he also has become the “other” Busch brother as Kyle has emerged as a superstar. “I feel like I need to hold up my end of the bargain,” Kurt said.

There wasn’t anything cheap about what he did to the field at this 1.54-mile track on this sensationally sunny afternoon. Simply put, Busch put a hurting on his fellow drivers. By Lap 65 his lead was 11 seconds, and if not for the occasional caution he might have lapped the field.

As it was, though, Busch’s 19th career victory did not come without challenge and consternation.

By his own estimation, Busch said he hit the wall a dozen times while rim-riding the high line to let the new-generation Dodge engine in his car eat. “You just have to hang her out there and let her rip,” he said.

The rest of the time, though, he did what he thought he needed to do.

“Today I felt like I drove the track and not the competition,” Busch said. “This was old-school Darlington and old-school Rockingham. The times I brushed the wall was just stupid. I was racing the competition.”

Late in the day Busch was holding second-place Brian Vickers at bay, but Robby Gordon’s car shed the carcass of one of its tires to bring out a caution on Lap 322 and set up the green-white-checkered finish.

“It was good and bad,” Busch said. “(Vickers) was catching us. We were going to put on a heck of a show.” Vickers lost ground on the pit stops, however, and wound up fifth.

Crew chief Pat Tryson said there was no way he wasn’t going to bring Busch in for four tires on a track notorious for its lack of grip. But Bob Osborne, crew chief for the No. 99 team of Carl Edwards, decided to change just right-side tires.

That gave Edwards the lead for the restart on Lap 329, but not for long.

As the cars powered into the first turn, Busch jumped to the high side where he’d been remarkably strong all day and left Edwards in the dust. Jeff Gordon, who restarted third, took second from Edwards as well.

“The lead was the best position we could have been in,” Edwards said. “We ended up third and that was probably our best-case scenario.”

Gordon’s runner-up finish leaves him atop the standings, 43 points ahead of Clint Bowyer, who finished sixth Sunday. Kurt Busch is third, 46 points back, and now he’s heading to Bristol where he has historically run exceptionally well.

“I feel like this team is poised for good things,” Busch said.

Penske agreed.

“We’ve had a great driver in this car from the day he joined our team, but I don’t think we’ve given him a good enough horse,” Penske said.

“Kurt never lost faith. I know we all wondered last year if we had fallen off the train. But he saw what we were doing trying to get better cars. I think that has shown in the past four races. We’re back in business.”

As for the backing-up business after the race, on further thought Busch said he believed homage the former driver of the No. 2 car might be in order.

“Rusty Wallace might have said we had a good hot rod today,” Busch said. When Wallace won a race, he’d give the car a name.

“So I’d like to suggest we name this car, ‘Hot Rod,’ and maybe that’s what we’ll call the backward lap, too.”

As good as Busch was on Sunday, that still needs work.

Last updated: 9:55 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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