Flat Spot On – Older Busch Enjoys His Day at AMS 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 12 2021

Kurt Busch leads his brother Kyle in the final laps at Atlanta on Sunday. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

HAMPTON, Ga. – As the laps wound down under threatening skies in the Quaker State 400, a couple of ancient factors came into play beyond the weather—the pavement at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and sibling rivalry. In the first case, a special epoxy repaired holes in the track in Turn 1 under a late red flag. Kurt Busch, meanwhile, says a few days off will patch up his relationship with younger brother Kyle after beating him to the checkers.

Never mind that Kyle once again ditched him after getting beat and Kurt had to find his own ride back to North Carolina. The main thing, noted Kurt, is that he has the Atlanta trophy and the one-two finishes among the brothers are now equally divided with two wins apiece. 

“The adrenaline gets going, the childhood memories come back,” he said of contesting the lead with a brother who is seven years younger over the final stage of the 400-mile race. “The best of the best in this business is in my mirror, and yet I can giggle to myself sometimes and go, ‘Yeah, I taught him everything he knows.’

“It’s an awesome genuine battle between the two of us,” he continued. “We’ve had some friction over the years, but as we get older, we’ve gotten slightly a bit wiser and we’ve raced each other with a ton of respect on track to almost be teammates, even though we race for different organizations. With COVID and the process last year and sharing a lot of flights and a lot of time together with (nephew) Brexton, the two of us have gotten really close.” 

After resolving anger issues that have gotten him into trouble with team owners, police and NASCAR, Kurt now finds himself more at peace with himself and is better able to throw out one-liners about competition conflicts with the more accomplished brother, who grudgingly visited him in Victory Lane. “With Kyle, just let it ride. We’ll see. This shouldn’t carry over but a week or two, but we’ll see what happens when I ask for another plane ride.”

Kurt Busch celebrates his playoff-securing win at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

As farewell parties go, there couldn’t have been a better sendoff for the old track surface at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, even though some of it went home in a bucket after several pot holes popped open in the closing stages. The racing was splendid on the high banks at high speed, challenging the respective skills of the two contending drivers who make up one of professional sports’ more unique rivalries.

Before it was over, team rivalry also entered the equation. As requested through their respective spotters, Ross Chastain of Chip Ganassi’s Chevrolet team gave his teammate Kurt the lower lane in Turn 4 in what ordinarily might have been as harmless as an Alphonse and Gaston routine. But by moving up one lane to allow the leading Ganassi Chevy through, Chastain’s Chevy sent a pile of dirty air up the track and into the high groove, where Kyle Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was trying to make up enough ground to regain the lead. No wonder Kyle, who never returned to close contention, was not short on damning words for Chastain, who was in the right place at the right time for his team. 

This three-car closing act exemplified the storied history of the unique wide banking at AMS that has supplied its share of close finishes. The subject was much ballyhooed before the race due to an announcement by track owners Speedway Motorsports Inc. that a narrow, two-lane blacktop will replace the current much wider devil’s playground when repaving begins in the coming weeks, a concept to which most drivers have objected. The goal is more high-speed action—as if dodge ’em cars at 180 mph and achingly close side drafting for the lead by the older Busch—what all-time Atlanta race victory leader Dale Earnhardt Sr. called “raking”—is not enough.

Entering the second 2021 visit by Cup teams to Atlanta, Busch as well as the AMS pavement was under a lot of scrutiny. He was last in the standings for playoff eligibility, 25 points ahead of 17th place. He had yet to continue his streak of at least one victory every season since 2014. After Ganassi recently announced he has sold his team and will leave NASCAR behind at the end of the 2021 season, Busch suddenly finds himself in a different situation with contract talks. A new contract will enable him to race the Next-Gen cars next year, which he says is one of his top goals. 

Yet, in an informal session with media before the mid-afternoon race, Busch seemed relaxed and all but suggested he was the right guy to win the last race on a driver’s track, where hustling a car can still get the job done. Afterward, he acknowledged that one of the oldest variables in racing—the weather—fell in his favor. The Ganassi entries seem to work better under cool conditions, which helped make the worn Atlanta surface less slippery, and also enabled the team to use more tape on the radiator grill to provide downforce. 

Now that the older Busch has sustained eight straight seasons with a victory and won a fourth race in Atlanta with a fourth different car owner, it’s on to the next project. Ironically, this one involves a partnership of sorts with his younger brother. The Busch brothers’ combined victory total is 92 (59 for Kyle and now 33 for Kurt). They need to score two more victories between them to catch Bobby and Donnie Allison as the winningest brothers in Cup racing with a combined 94 victories. Meanwhile, with both in the playoffs, there’s a chance for the Busch brothers to add a fourth Cup championship between them later this year.

In any event, there’s nothing like a happy ending when it comes to brotherhood. On this day, just ask Kurt Busch.

(Editor’s note: Jonathan Ingram and Bill Lester are co-authors of the 2021 release from Pegasus Books titled “Winning In Reverse.”  Ingram’s book “CRASH! From Senna to Earnhardt – How the HANS Helped Save Racing” includes a comprehensive account of Dale Earnhardt’s last-lap crash at Daytona in 2001. Published by RJP Books, signed copies of “CRASH!” are available at www.jingrambooks.com.)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 12 2021
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