|Busch (41) and Keselowski battled...|
Kurt Busch broke a 12-year Martinsville Speedway winless streak in the STP 500 Sunday, returning to Victory Lane for the first time in 83 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts and authoring the latest chapter in his ongoing story of personal redemption.
Busch’s victory did not come without its challenges. Nothing ever does for the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. He and Brad Keselowski tangled on pit road in the race’s early laps, after Keselowski ran into the back of Kasey Kahne’s slowing Chevrolet.
“I started to check up and just barely got in the back of (Kahne),” said an angry Keselowski afterward. “Kurt just accelerated and drove through us, absolutely drove through us. (He) tore the whole suspension off the car, so it won’t turn, it won’t do anything.
“I’m about tired of his recklessness,” he said. “If you're going to be aggressive, wreck yourself, don't wreck me. I'll remember that when it's Lap 50 and he needs a break. He'll find his ass turned around in the wall, just like he tore my car up.”
|...before Kurt prevailed.|
Keselowski and Busch have seldom seen eye-to-eye, even as teammates during Keselowski’s 2010 rookie season at Penske Racing. Busch criticized his teammate at the time, calling him “rough edged” and accusing him of not providing feedback the team needed to improve. Those comments echoed long after Busch left the team in a maelstrom of controversy the following season, and Sunday, Keselowski reacted angrily to what some viewed as a run-of-the-mill case of pit road contact. He returned to the track after lengthy repairs and immediately went after Busch, leaving the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet with tire marks down its entire right side.
“I can't believe he overreacted and he's as upset as he is," said Busch after the race. "The 5 car was trying to pull into his box and Brad ran into the back of him. I steered right to go around Brad and then he clobbered our left-side door. (I’m) like, `OK, accidents happen on pit road. It's congested.’
“It's not a place to race, because of all the pit crew guys down there. I didn't think much of it, (but) once we were back running, he targeted us. He was aiming for us. He tried to flatten all four of my tires.”
In the past, those altercations would have derailed Busch mentally and ended his chances of winning the racer. Sunday, however, the Stewart Haas Racing driver kept his cool and maintained his competitive focus, displaying what longtime girlfriend Patricia Driscoll later termed “clarity of mind.” There was no lengthy, obscenity-laced radio tirade -- though Busch did promise to "go #@$%& that dude's face up" -- no temper tantrum and no time wasted on thoughts of revenge.
|Busch passed Johnson with 10 laps to go.|
Displaying none of his former petulance, Busch kept his eyes on the prize, working with his team to fine-tune his race car and beginning a climb back through the pack that ended with an unlikely trip to Victory Lane.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” said Busch after claiming a .263-second victory over eight-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson. “To get back to Victory Lane after this tour that I’ve been on, to find this opportunity with Stewart-Haas and to win, it means the world to me.”
Only after victory was secured did Busch allow himself to think about – and comment on – his clash with Keselowski, calling the on-track contact “a punk-ass move" before vowing, “He will get back what he gets back when I decide to give it back.”
Keselowski responded in kind, saying Busch “does awesome things for charity and he's probably the most talented race car driver.
“He's also one of the dumbest."
Post-race posturing notwithstanding, however, Busch displayed a level of maturity and restraint at Martinsville Speedway yesterday that has not often been seen during the 14 Sprint Cup Series seasons that preceded it.
Apparently, two years spent rebuilding his competitive stock and resurrecting his off-track reputation at Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing have been time well spent.