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FORT WORTH, Texas -- No. 18 Toyota pit crew, take a bow.
Kyle Busch, your driver, went to Victory Lane Saturday night at Texas because you guys had a pit stop of perfection when the race was on the line at the end.
It was the first Texas Motor Speedway victory for Busch in a Sprint Cup race and gave him a NASCAR record seventh weekend sweep after winning the Nationwide Series race Friday night.
Busch also becomes the first driver to win in all three NASCAR series at Texas in his career, including the Camping World Truck Series.
Busch shot off the blanks in the Victory Lane pistols -- nothing new at Texas, but maybe watched more closely this time after all the controversy surrounding the new title sponsor in the NRA 500.
The NRA sponsorship brought national scrutiny and was the prevailing topic of the weekend, but Saturday was all about the racing in front of an estimated crowd of 125,000.
The victory also was the first at home for Norm Miller, owner of Dallas-based Interstate Batteries and the original sponsor of Joe Gibbs Racing when Gibbs first started his NASCAR team 22 seasons ago.
"Man, this feels good," Busch said. "For Norm to be in Victory Lane in Texas, there's nothing better. We ran up front all day long, but if it wasn't for this pit crew. It's the most awesome group ever. They pulled out one heck of a stop at the end to give us the lead. It's amazing. I love it."
Busch loved it and Martin Truex Jr. hated it. Busch had the best car most of the night, but Truex was out front and probably going to win the race if not for a caution with 21 laps to go.
Truex was in front of Busch by more than a second when the yellow flag flew before the cars came to pit road for one final stop. The No. 56 Toyota team had a good stop. The No. 18 team had a great one, an incredibly quick 12.0 seconds.
Add to that the fact that Busch had the first pit stall, thanks to him winning the pole Friday, and Truex was doomed. Busch got out first, mashed the gas on the restart and was long gone.
It was the sixth time Truex has finished as the runner-up since his only Cup victory, which came at Dover in 2007. More bad news is coming. His car was too low in the front end on the postrace inspection, which could bring penalties in a few days.
"Man, this finishing second is really getting old," Truex said. "We got beat out of the pits and that was the race. I feel we've been in this boat a bunch of times. It sucks when you're this fast. It just hurts when you give 'em away."
|NRA 500 pole-sitter Kyle Busch swept the weekend at Texas, winning the Nationwide race Friday and the Sprint Cup event Saturday.|
Busch feels like he and his team have given away a few races they should have won the past two years. Now one of his biggest victories comes at the track where his darkest moment occurred.
Busch deliberately wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution (punting Hornaday head-on into the wall) in a Truck race at TMS in 2011.
Penalties ensued and Busch was taken out of the car for a race that weekend. That's where Miller comes in, and Busch hasn't forgotten it.
"I had an issue here and Norm stepped up to the plate to help us finish the season," Busch said. "M&Ms pulled their sponsorship for the final two races [of 2011], but Norm wasn't going to let that car go unsponsored."
Hopes were high for 2012, but Busch missed the Chase after three engine failures over the summer and a disappointing last-lap loss at Watkins Glen.
"Kyle had some of the most bitter disappointments last year that we've ever had in 22 years here," Gibbs said. "At the end of last year, I thought Kyle handled all those things about as good as you could handle them. It set the course for this year."
Things are different now for the drivers and his crew. Of the cars that made at least eight stops Saturday, the No. 18 team was more than a full second faster than any other team for average pit-stop time.
That's the kind of statistic that wins championships, the one thing that has eluded Busch, who's in his ninth season as a full-time Cup driver.
Could this season be the one he has waited for?
After a rough start to 2013 with a blown engine at Daytona and a 23rd-place finish at Phoenix, Busch now has five consecutive top-5s and two victories in the past three races.
Some people saw his win a Fontana last month as a bit of a fluke. He was running third on the last lap before Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano banged into each other in front of him, enabling Busch to zoom by and steal a victory.
Saturday was no fluke. Busch had a fast car, leading 171 of 334 laps. But his super-fast crew was the difference.
In his 300 Cup starts, Busch has 26 victories, tying him with Fred Lorenzen for 23rd on NASCAR's all-time list.
And Busch is only 27. His talent never has been in doubt. But at times, his temperament, and sometimes his team, held him back.
The three T's -- team, temperament and talent -- all are working together now. That might be enough to get Busch where he wants to go.