It was a story that had everything -- the winning driver kissing the historic brick start/finish line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a crew chief fighting back emotions after the checkered flag, even a direct tie to the Hoosier State. And this was all before Ryan Newman won at the Brickyard.
No, the above scene unfolded a day earlier, after Kyle Busch had passed Brian Scott with three laps remaining to complete a dominant effort in the second annual Nationwide Series event at Indianapolis. It was soon overshadowed by Newman, an Indiana native without a ride for next season, who held off the greatest driver of his generation to score one of the sport's crown jewels. But Busch's victory was also significant -- especially since it probably ranks among the biggest NASCAR wins of his career.
Now, on the surface, that sounds crazy. After all, Busch is a driver with 26 victories in the Sprint Cup Series, where races are longer, feature deeper and more competitive fields, and are unquestionably more difficult to win. This is a guy brimming with innate talent who has a technical knowledge to rival that of some crew chiefs, and wins in bunches across the sport's national level. He's claimed Sprint Cup events at Darlington, Daytona, Talladega, Bristol and Watkins Glen, all of them shrines to motorsport.
And yet, it's probably not unfair to argue that Busch's already illustrious career lacks a kind of signature moment, a defining snapshot that springs immediately into the mind's eye whenever the driver's name is mentioned. Busch wins so often, in so many different types of vehicles, that all those Victory Lane celebrations can blur together. That's a great problem to have, of course. But Sunday provided a convenient contrast in Newman, who may be losing his ride after this season, but also now owns Daytona 500 and Brickyard triumphs so overloaded with meaning they're impossible to forget.
Of course, Busch also has nine more career Sprint Cup victories, a stable job for the foreseeable future, and at just 28 years old plenty more time to pursue the really big fish that have evaded him to this point. But when we think of Kyle Busch, which moment immediately springs to mind? The bow, of course, but where? At Watkins Glen, in what would become the last hurrah in his glorious summer of 2008? At Las Vegas, after winning in his hometown in 2009? At Bristol, after capping the sport's first ever tripleheader sweep in 2010?
It's tough to find one that stands out. His victory at Darlington in 2008 came before the track restored the Southern 500 name to the event, and well after the race had moved off Labor Day weekend. His victory at Daytona in 2008 came in the summertime, not in the 500. His lone triumph in a Chase for the Sprint Cup event came at Phoenix in his rookie season of 2005, and in a year when he wasn't eligible for the championship. That Busch hasn't won a playoff race since stands as perhaps the most unexplainable drought in modern NASCAR.
Which brings us back to Saturday at Indianapolis, and that now-famous pose of a driver kneeling down to kiss the start-finish line, a tradition started by Dale Jarrett's team after his victory at the Brickyard in 1996. Beginning with last season's inaugural event at the famed 2.5-mile oval, the Nationwide winners started following suit. It may be a Nationwide race, but it still carries the cachet of Indianapolis -- certainly in the opinion of Roger Penske, a car owner who ought to know given that he's won more at the Brickyard than anyone else.
"I knew it was a big deal when they hung banners up in the shop for it," said Brad Keselowski, who last year gave the 15-time Indianapolis 500 winner his first NASCAR victory at the track. "I knew it was great, don't get me wrong. But I didn't realize how big a deal it was to Roger, and he certainly showed me."
As it was this past weekend for Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens, the latter of whom struggled to contain his emotions in a television interview immediately following the race. There was even a Hoosier connection -- Busch's wife Samantha is from northwest Indiana near Chicago and went to college at Purdue, which she and her husband visited the Thursday before Brickyard weekend. They even ate at McGraw's, a steakhouse in West Lafayette where the former Samantha Sarcinella once worked.
It was another former Boilermaker, Newman, who carted away the big prize Sunday in the form of a trophy topped with a golden brick -- for a free-agent driver, a perfectly-timed addition to the r�sum� if there ever was one. Beating Jimmie Johnson at Indianapolis, a place where only few have been better, is no small feat. Just don't try convincing Busch that his victory a day earlier was devoid of any significance just because it came in a Nationwide race.
"A victory here ranks pretty high," Busch said afterward. "Just the history and prestige of this place, and what it carries itself as. Whether it's a Sprint Cup Series win here, a Nationwide win, F1, MotoGP, Grand-Am, whatever it might be, it's always really, really cool to win here at Indy. For as many automobiles have been on this surface and surfaces prior, I think the yard of bricks is pretty cool."
Now, would he have traded it for another trip to Victory Lane on Sunday? Probably. One this weekend at Pocono? Hard to imagine. The setting, the reaction, those intangibles that make Indianapolis mean so much to so many drivers -- they were all still present, just as they would be again the next day, just as they've always been after every motorsports event at the most famous race track in the world. No question, Busch has Sprint Cup victories at Las Vegas, Bristol, and elsewhere that overflow with personal meaning. Saturday it all coalesced into a moment. After all, if your crew chief is crying, you've clearly achieved something.
Which is why, yes, a Nationwide Series victory at Indianapolis probably indeed does rank among the biggest career triumphs for a driver whose win totals spin like the odometer on a Ferrari. No question, given his youth Busch still has ample opportunity to record that signature victory, to do that little bow after the Brickyard proper, or after the Daytona 500, or even on the big stage after the season finale at Homestead.
But for now? Kissing the bricks is hard to beat -- even if it happens on a Saturday.
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