Leave it to Kyle Busch to put an exclamation point on the day at a Sprint Cup race. Busch was battling for the lead with Richard Childress Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton in the closing laps on Sunday before finally making the pass. As he took the lead he was overheard saying to his team on the radio, “Say good night, Gracie!”
A bold statement for any driver but Busch may be the hardest driver to pass once he has the lead in the closing laps of a race. He had to hold off the rest of the field for two restarts after a couple of late race cautions, but he was never really challenged as he went on for the 13th win of his career.
The win was made all the more special by the fact Busch is a Las Vegas native and spent his teen years racing at the bullring located just outside the speedway. He actually won two season championships on the bullring that propelled him to make the move eastward and start working his way toward a career in the Cup series.
This win will also go down as one of the more unusual ones on his resume¿ as he will be officially listed as the first driver to ever sit on the pole and win the race. Even though he was the fastest during qualifying on Friday to earn the pole position, he didn’t get to start the race from the number one position. Engine problems before qualifying forced his Joe Gibbs Racing team to have to trade engines, which by NASCAR rules made him start the race from the rear of the field.
The move to the back of the field wasn’t much of a problem for Busch as he quickly began his way up through the field, thanks to some great driving on his part and a pit crew that made the car better every time he pulled down on pit road. By starting at the rear of the field he also became the first driver in the history of the speedway to win a race from starting in the 43rd position.
Winning from the pole or from the final starting position probably matters little to Busch, but what does matter is the jump in the points the win gave him on Sunday. His 41st-place finish at Daytona had him having to dig out of a hole as the schedule headed west for stops at California and Las Vegas. He rebounded last week with a third-place finish in the Auto Club 500 at California, which moved him up to 18th with his win on Sunday bumping him up 12 additional spots to sixth. He now trails Jeff Gordon in first place by 54 points.
PIT NOTES: Toyota may have ended up in victory lane with Busch on Sunday but it definitely wasn’t the kind of race weekend that the manufacturer wanted to have. Toyota began having engine problems the week before in the Auto Club 500 when Toyota polesitter Brian Vickers suffered the same fate as Busch did this week when he had to change engines forcing him to the rear of the field. Fellow Toyota driver Michael Waltrip also had to change engines at the California track, and that sent Toyota Racing Development (TRD) engineers back to the shop to try and pinpoint the problem. TRD officials announced at Vegas on Friday that the problem was a lubricating issue with the cam shaft. Teams were expected to run a heavier lubricant in the engines at Vegas but the problem still existed as five Toyota teams had engine problems that forced teams to replace their engines before the start of the race on Sunday. Red Bull drivers Scott Speed and Brian Vickers both had to replace their engines as well as Marcos Ambrose and David Reutimann. All four of these teams get their engines directly from TRD, while Joe Gibbs Racing makes its own Toyota engines for Kyle Busch. He was the fifth driver to have to replace a motor, but that problem wasn’t related to those of the TRD engines.
ATLANTA NEWS: This Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 will be the 100th race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Ninety-one of those races have been 500-mile events, which is the most for any track that makes up the Sprint Cup schedule. Dale Earnhardt Sr. holds the record for Atlanta wins with nine, but the active driver with the most wins is Bobby Labonte who has visited the Georgia track’s victory lane six times. His last win came in March of 2003 in the Bass Pros Shops MBNA 500.
Race Preview — Event: Kobalt Tools 500. Track: Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval with 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: March 8, 2 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Kyle Busch.