Kyle Busch could give you 100 reasons why his weekend in Sparta, Ky., was more than he ever expected and an unbelievable experience. He could, but it really would all come down to one. The number "1," that is.
The 26-year-old NASCAR driver for Joe Gibbs Racing and younger brother of fellow NASCAR driver Kurt, finished the race Saturday night in the Quaker State 400 exactly as he had started, ahead of the 43-car field, in the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway.
If you conclude from the above brief summary that the younger Busch dominated the race, you would be correct. Starting from the pole, Busch led the field for the first 31 laps before the first caution came out following a collision between Greg Biffle and Busch's Gibbs teammate Joey Logano. Busch relinquished the lead temporarily on the restart, but had it back within one lap and continued to run out front for 113 of the first 141 laps in the 267-lap race.
At one point in the race, the NASCAR official who was doing the lap-by-lap recap wrote, "Kyle Busch has the No. 18 running smooth as bourbon through the turns at Kentucky and continues to put space between himself and the rest of the field."
A little less than a quarter of the way through the Quaker State 400, the leaderboard showed Kyle and Kurt Busch running one and two. Brad Keselowski, in what folks around NASCAR refer to as the Blue Deuce (the No. 2 Dodge Charger owned by Penske Racing), took the lead for the first time on lap 141 and would stay there, except for a few brief intervals, for 76 laps before Kyle Busch recaptured the lead on lap 242.
Dale Earnhardt Jr blew a tire leaving pit road on lap 254, bringing out the fifth caution of the night. Kyle Busch regained the No. 1 position when David Reutimann, Keselowski and brother Kurt took the opportunity to pit for four tires and fuel. Columbia, Mo.'s, Carl Edwards, who had been up among the leaders for a good portion of the race, was starting to regain lost track position at this stage, moving into ninth with the No. 99 Roush-Fenway Ford Fusion.
Kansas native son Clint Bowyer, from Emporia, spent the entire race in heavy traffic, well back in the pack with a loose and struggling race car, but that wasn't the worst of it. Bowyer's No. 33 Chevrolet Impala hit the wall with under 10 laps to go, which brought out the sixth and final caution of the night and ended the Richard Childress Racing driver's less-than-stellar night.
Kyle Busch outgunned five-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on the final restart with just two laps remaining and then held off a charging Reutimann to take the checkered flag. Johnson finished third, Ryan Newman fourth and Edwards was fifth, his 13th top-10 finish in 18 races, the most of any Cup driver.
It was the fourth win of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing, tying them with Roush-Fenway Racing.
The win was the younger Busch's third of the year in the Sprint Cup Series, which ties him with Kevin Harvick for the most victories this season and all but clinches a qualifying spot for both drivers in the 10-race Chase for the Cup to end the season. It also capped a special weekend at the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway oval in which Kyle won two of the three NASCAR races. He was victorious in the Camping World trucks race on Thursday night. It was Busch's 22nd career win in the Sprint Cup Series and left him one shy of becoming the third driver in history to collect 100 victories across all three NASCAR series (trucks, Nationwide and Sprint Cup). In addition to his 22 Sprint Cup wins in 240 starts, Busch has 48 wins in the Nationwide Series and 29 in the truck series.
In addition to checkered-flag finishes in trucks and Sprint Cup at Kentucky Speedway, which is owned by International Speedway Corporation, the same company that owns Kansas Speedway, Busch also was party to several other firsts as a result of his racing success over the weekend. His win Saturday was in the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky, which was added to the Sprint Cup schedule for the first time this season. It is the first new venue to be added to the schedule since Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway, both ISC facilities, were opened and added to the Cup circuit in 2001.
Another first: Busch becomes the first driver to win from the pole in 2011. But the most important No. 1 earned by Busch over the weekend was the leader's rung in the race for the Chase points standings. The Kentucky win enabled the youngest of the Busch brothers to move ahead of Edwards by a slim four points and into first place in the standings. Harvick, the previous leader, fell to third, 10 points off the pace.
Next week the scene shifts to the Northeast and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., for the Sprint Cup Lenox Industrial Tools 301 on Sunday.