Kurt Busch roars back into Sprint Cup prominence

Posted Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Duck Commander 500

2 p.m. Sunday

Texas Motor Speedway

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“Done.”

That’s the word Kurt Busch used on the radio Sunday, driving around with a banged-up back fender.

It was the wrong word.

The veteran driver shook off discouragement, stayed out of a grudge match with Brad Keselowski and then outraced Martinsville ace Jimmie Johnson to win the STP 500 on Sunday — becoming the sixth driver in six races with a potential Chase-qualifying win before the Sprint Cup series comes to Fort Worth next.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling, you know, to have a shot at winning and, when it comes across you, you want to deliver for your team,” he said. “I’m going to soak this in.”

“Done” is how you could have described Busch’s career two years ago.

He was in NASCAR’s Siberia, kicked out of his seat at Penske and left to take scraps for a ride. He spent two years with the likes of Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing, a pair of lower-rung teams.

But the former series champ showed his talent — taking Furniture Row’s No. 78 Chevy to the Chase last year — and Stewart-Haas Racing owner Gene Haas jumped at the chance to hire him and create a fourth team for him.

Now, he’s a NASCAR winner again.

He is far from done.

“This is an unbelievable feeling, to get back to Victory Lane after this tour that I’ve been on, to find this opportunity with Stewart-Haas,” he said. “And to win, it means the world to me. That’s what I’ve always driven for, was just going for the W’s and you let the rough edges drag on the other side.”

The victory was Busch’s first in 84 starts, a streak going back to 2011, his last year with Penske Racing, when the hot-tempered driver disrespected his boss, venerable owner Roger Penske, in a radio conversation during a race and wound up out of a job at the end of the season.

His fiery personality, which has earned him the nickname “The Outlaw,” could have gotten him in trouble Sunday.

He had to manage his emotions to stay out of an on-track fight with Keselowski, who was angered that his car was damaged in a pit-road collision with Busch’s 41. Keselowski called Busch a “dumb” driver, and after the race, with the win nice and secure, Busch said the pit-road contact was to be expected in such congestion and Keselowski’s targeting of him on the track was a “punk---- move.”

“He will get back what he gets back when I decide to give it back,” Busch said.

Busch also had to control his emotions with the driver he was chasing down, Johnson. He and Johnson have feuded. Busch once said he’d be fine losing to any of 41 cars if Johnson wasn’t one of them.

But he and Johnson raced each other cleanly over the final 20 laps, and afterward, Busch acknowledged the chassis and engines that Stewart-Haas buys from Johnson’s organization, Hendrick Motorsports.

It was one of the reasons Johnson appreciated Busch’s victory. He said he and Busch put their differences behind them after some long talks.

“Through some of the struggles he’s had the last couple years before he landed at Stewart-Haas, I’ve been there and kind of advised — not necessarily advised — but had conversations with him, gave him my opinion,” Johnson said. “I was happy to see him go to Stewart-Haas. He’s a fantastic driver, and with the way we share information, we can learn from him and learn from that.

“We’re definitely in a good place, that’s for sure. I think today was very representative of that.”

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @calexmendez

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