Kyle Busch gives Toyota first Sprint Cup win
By Bruce Martin
PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor
HAMPTON, Georgia (Ticker) - The so-called All American sport of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing now has a Japanese nameplate in victory lane after Kyle Busch drove a Toyota Camry to victory in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It’s the first time since 1954 that a car whose heritage comes from outside of the United States has won in NASCAR’s top division. That’s when All Keller drove a Jaguar to victory at Linden, New Jersey.
Busch’s Toyota defeated Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart by 2.066 seconds with Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Chevrolet third, followed by Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle’s Ford and Jeff Gordon’s Chevrolet.
“It’s pretty special but it wasn’t all that important to me,” said Busch of giving Toyota its first win. “To me, I’m fortunate to have Toyota on our side and for me to go out there and win, it doesn’t matter what I’m driving.
“I’d drive a milk crate which is pretty much what this thing drives like. For me to win the first race for Toyota was fun. It took them their fourth race in their second year. I’m sure they wanted it sooner, but glad I was able to do it for them.”
It was Busch’s first top 10 finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The 22-year-old from Las Vegas was also the youngest ever to win at AMS.
And in true Busch style he even nudged fellow Toyota driver Dale Jarrett out of the way on the final lap.
“He was slowing me down so finally I drove up in there underneath, made him get loose and out of the way,” Busch said. “I was either going to move him out of the way or he was going to get out of the way.”
Busch also won Friday night’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Atlanta and was running away with Saturday’s Nationwide race before a right-front tire blew out while he was leading late in the race.
“Overall, a great day for Joe Gibbs Racing,” Busch said. “I just drove the thing to the best of my ability. I’m flattered and fortunate enough to have the abilities that I do and everybody talk about it the way they do. All I can do is go out there and drive my best and do what I’m paid to do and that’s win races and to contend for championships week in and week out and drive the way I drive.”
Stewart was surprised with his second-place finish and took some major verbal shots at the horrible performance by the Goodyear tires, which has an exclusive contract to serve as the tire supplier to the Sprint Cup Series that runs through 2012.
“That’s the most pathetic racing tire I’ve ever been on in my racing career,” Stewart said. “They exited out of Formula One, they exited out of the IRL, they exited out of CART, they excited out of the World of Outlaws and there is a reason for that because Goodyear can’t build a tire that is worth a crap. If I were Goodyear I’d be really embarrassed about this weekend and what they brought us here.
“How we got to second, I don’t know. It was ridiculous to have to race on a tire like this today. Not at this form of racing. If they can’t do any better than that they ought to pull out of this sport and save us a bunch of headaches because I guarantee you Hoosier or Firestone could come in and do a lot better job than this today. I wouldn’t bolt them on a passenger car.”
Busch had one of the dominant cars in the race but waited until the end to exert his dominance to close out the victory.
Carl Edwards took the lead when he passed Busch on lap 239 using the high-line of the race track.
Elliott Sadler spun out for the third time in a row when he lost control of his Dodge on the backstretch on lap 262, which erased Edwards’ large lead and sent the field back to pit road for four fresh tires.
Edwards drove away from the field before his tires started to smoke and that allowed Busch to pull ahead briefly before Edwards pulled away once again.
Edwards’ Ford continued to smoke leading to concern from the driver. Edwards was black-flagged by NASCAR officials with car smoking heavily and sent into the pits to inspect the cause of the problem with 50 laps to go.
That gave Busch the lead as he battled Earnhardt and Stewart.
Edwards, who had been under tremendous scrutiny this week after his team was nailed for cheating last Sunday, was working with Matt Kenseth’s former crew chief, Robbie Reiser. He was filling in for Edwards’ crew chief Bob Osborne after he was suspended for six weeks for the Vegas infraction.
“Something is bleeding heavily from the engine,” Edwards said. “I was just cruising along. That car was really, really good. I think we were going to win that race. We were having a blast. Robbie Reiser kept calling me Matt and I kept calling him Bob.”
Another yellow flag set up another pit stop with 41 laps to go. Earnhardt wanted his crew to tighten up the car so it would be closer to the setup he had at the beginning of the race, when he enjoyed two long periods in front of the field.
When the green flag waved with 37 to go, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Busch and Stewart were first and second followed by Biffle’s Ford and Earnhardt’s Chevrolet. Busch pulled ahead from Stewart.
Busch’s victory kept him atop the Sprint Cup standings. He leads Greg Biffle by 73 points and Kevin Harvick by 91 after four races.
“It was a battle out there, that’s for sure because these cars are pretty tough to drive,” Busch said. “We kept working on it, kept making it better, we were all over the board there for a little bit but we babied it around the race track all day today. I rode around the bottom.”
His bottom-feeder strategy paid off as that was the right line to victory for Busch.
“It means a lot to be able to win any race any time but especially here at Atlanta where I had never had a top 10 finish before today,” Busch said. “I was able to bring that 18 car back up front and run here like it should.”
Busch’s fearless driving style has changed the game for his fellow Cup competitors. He’s not afraid to put the car where other drivers won’t and that has increased the stakes in this year’s championship after he left Hendrick Motorsports and joined Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I’m just doing my deal,” Busch said. “Everybody always said I’ve been the aggressive driver and used to cause wrecks and used to be out of control; I don’t feel I’m driving any different than I used to. I’ve tamed my style, per se and now it looks like I’m a professional at it.
“It seems to be working to my advantage right now. That’s all that matters to go out there and win races.”
Busch contends that Edwards had the best car in the race before the car broke down and that allowed him a chance to capitalize.
It was Busch’s first win for team owner Joe Gibbs and the first win for Toyota which gave team owner Joe Gibbs reason to celebrate the decision to bring Busch to the team when he announced he was leaving Hendrick at the end of last season.
“There was a huge amount of change that we went through,” Gibbs said. “This made it all worthwhile.”
Busch led 173 laps, by far the most of any driver in the race. But it’s not the fact he leads laps, it’s the way he leads those laps that makes his performance impressive.
“We had the longevity in the car that made it go 500 miles,” Busch said.