NASCAR: ‘Other’ Busch gets dominating win
Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 8, 2009
HAMPTON, Ga. ó Kurt Busch grabbed the checkered flag, shifted his car into reverse and headed off on a unique victory lap.
Too bad for everyone else he didn’t drive that way during the race. It’s probably the only way he could have lost.
Busch, a former NASCAR Cup champion who’s been overshadowed lately by his kid brother Kyle, drove to a dominating victory Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Thirty-year-old Kurt led 234 of 330 laps in the Kobalt Tools 500, surviving a couple of scrapes with the wall and a late caution to pull away for a 0.332-second victory over Jeff Gordon.
It really wasn’t that close.
“I’ve got to thank my guys,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “This car was unbelievable. I guess good things come to those who wait.”
How dominating was Busch? He led more laps in one afternoon than he did all of last season (164), when his only victory came in a rain-shortened race at Loudon, N.H.
“I just drove (against) the track, not the competition,” Busch said. “We had strong pit stops, a great-handling car, a strong motor and a great assistant spotter.”
That would be team owner Roger Penske, who flew in for the day and helped keep an eye on things from above the main stands.
“We’re back in business,” Penske said. “His brother is a great driver, but there’s not many people out there who can hold a candle to Kurt.”
Last year, Busch’s lone win was due more to strategy than skill. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Kyle became a full-blown star. Then, last weekend in the Busch family’s hometown of Las Vegas, Kyle drove from the back of the field to victory while Kurt finished a disappointing 23rd.
Sunday was Kurt’s time to shine.
The older Busch really made his mark on the victory lap, which was apparently dreamed up over a few beers with his buddies. It was his own take on the “Polish Victory Lap” conceived by the late Cup champion Alan Kulwicki.
Mark Martin was the fastest in qualifying, becoming the second-oldest driver in Cup history to start from the pole. But it was another rough day for the 50-year-old after blowing engines the two previous weeks. He apparently cut a tire, smashed the wall and finished 31st, 14 laps down.
There were huge sections of empty seats along the front stretch of the track south of Atlanta, which was no more than two-thirds filled on a warm, sunny day. Clearly, the economy is taking its toll on NASCAR’s fan base.
“I’m kind of baffled by it,” Gordon said.