Martinsville, Va. • Kurt Busch’s Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, in some ways, was like his career wrapped into one afternoon.
It started with a pit road confrontation with Brad Keselowski, one that had Busch threatening over his radio to rearrange Keselowski’s face when the race was finished, and ended with Busch ending an 83-race victory drought.
The victory was his first for Stewart-Haas Racing, in just their sixth race together, suggesting that it could prove a very productive partnership, and one that a reflective Busch said he has learned to approach with a more mature attitude.
“I ran a lot of my early part of my career as an individual and I didn’t respect my team, my team owners,” Busch said, adding that having Tony Stewart as a team owner has helped him learn the value of better team communication.
Celebrating in Victory Lane also was emotional, too, because he got to do it for the first time with girlfriend Patricia’s son, Houston.
“It was pretty emotional. To see him starry eyed and not knowing what he needed to do and I was directing him where he needed to stand and where he could see it all better and put him up on stage,’” Busch said, his voice cracking. “And to have him break down in tears, it got me crossed up because I’ve been trying to deliver for him ... It kind of took it to a new level.”
Busch did it by passing Martinsville master Jimmie Johnson for the lead with 10 laps to go and holding off the eight-time winner to win at the track for the first time since October 2002. It was his 25th career Cup-level victory, and that it came in the most unlikely of places suggested to Busch that he’s finally in the right place, team-wise and personally.
“You’ve got to put life in perspective, and you have to learn from your mistakes and you can’t just sit there and try to muscle your way individually through certain situations,” he said. “And so you rely on your experience level, you rely on your team, and this is a great day for me to be able to lift the trophy in Victory Lane for Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Johnson, with eight wins in 25 career starts on the 0.526-mile oval, led 11 times for 296 laps. He seemed on his way to another victory when he took the lead from Busch with 17 laps remaining. But Busch ducked underneath Johnson seven laps later and Johnson had nothing left to make a run at the lead.