Kyle Busch has always won at Texas Motor Speedway. But never the big one.
Never the one that counts.
Never when it counts.
Until Saturday night in the NRA 500, when his pit crew delivered its stop of the year — a lightning-quick in and out that sent the No. 18 Toyota off pit road ahead of the leader, Martin Truex Jr., and into Victory Lane just 19 laps later.
“Go, go, go, yeah boys!” Busch said on his radio as he exited the box. “That’s the way you do it. Way to step up when the money’s on the line, boys! Good job.”
Truex, trying to end a stretch of more than 200 races without a win, knew it, too.
“Shoulda, woulda, coulda — the race was lost when we got beat out of the pits,” Truex said in a television interview moments after he got out of the car.
No matter where the race was won or lost, it was the capper to a tremendous weekend for the 27-year-old Busch, who won the Nationwide Series race on Friday night, set a track record in winning the pole for Saturday night’s race and picked up his first Sprint Cup win at the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track.
“He’s the fastest man in Texas,” said Busch’s crew chief, Dave Rogers. “No one’s ever been around the track faster in a stock car here.”
After the qualifying record Friday, that’s certainly true. But Busch has been fast at Texas for a long time. He’s won twice in the Camping World Truck Series here and six times in Nationwide, including Friday night. But he had not won in the Cup series at TMS before Saturday, although he had more than 500 laps led.
“Man, this is cool — we’re in Victory Lane in Texas finally in the Cup series,” Busch said.
The win gave Busch a chance to shake off an unpleasant memory about Texas. In November 2011, he was parked for the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races after he was judged to have intentionally wrecked a driver in the truck series race.
It ended his long-shot chance at the Sprint Cup championship.
He might not have to worry about long-shot chances this year. The victory continued a big turnaround to his season, which began with finishes of 34th at Daytona and 23rd at Phoenix that had him 33rd in the point standings.
Since then, he’s reeled off finishes of fourth at Las Vegas, second at Bristol, first at Fontana, fifth at Martinsville and now first at TMS — vaulting him to third in the point standings and tying him with Jimmie Johnson for wins this year.
Busch started from the pole after his record 196.299 mph qualifying lap on Friday, and his car showed every bit of that speed from the start. He jack-rabbited to a four-second lead in the first laps of the race, and he stayed at the top or in striking distance the whole way — even after a brush with the wall with 120 laps to go.
Not that there wasn’t competition. Jeff Gordon had enough speed in his No. 24 Chevrolet to keep up with Busch, even passing him for the lead at Lap 189, and Truex matched lap times with Busch all night.
Joey Logano, Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle all could get enough of a run to see Busch’s bumper.
But Busch was never in trouble. If he got in front, he wasn’t going to be caught.
And the final stop got him in front.
“Truex put up a whale of a fight tonight,” Busch said. “What a race by him. I feel bad for the guy, but by the same token, you don’t feel bad because you have to win. This sport is all about winning. I’m glad to be in Victory Lane here.”