Commentary

Kyle Busch trying to get used to this winning thing

Humble is not a word that's been used often where Kyle Busch is concerned. After his seventh Sprint Cup victory of the season Saturday night, even he's starting to wonder just how good it can get, writes David Newton.

Updated: July 13, 2008, 3:41 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

JOLIET, Ill. -- Kyle Busch knew he had lost a shot at his seventh Sprint Cup victory of the season when Jimmie Johnson passed him with 16 laps remaining.

"Race over," he said.

Not quite.

Caution came out with six laps remaining when David Gilliland blew an engine. That allowed Busch back on the rear bumper of the two-time defending Cup champion when the race went back to green, and it gave spotter Jeff Dickerson time for a motivation speech.

"You've worked real hard to get that point lead," Dickerson said on the in-car radio. "You ain't got a hair on your [butt] if you ain't hung out two lanes up passing that guy.

"Let's get him."

Busch did.

He blew past his former teammate at Hendrick Motorsports to capture that seventh win of the season and third in the past four races. He left Johnson uttering expletives as he watched what seemed like a certain victory slip away.

It was so impressive that even Busch seemed surprised.

"I don't believe it," he said almost apologetically over his radio.

"Why not?" crew chief Steve Addington replied. "All year, buddy. All year."

It's certainly looking like this is Busch's year. He already has three more Cup wins than he had during his first four seasons before coming to Joe Gibbs Racing. He also has five Nationwide Series victories, including one on Friday night, and two Craftsman Truck Series wins.

The 23-year-old has been so dominant that people are running out of adjectives to describe him and his season.

"Winning seven races, that's just crazy," Addington said. "It's awesome. It's a dream season for everybody on this 18 car."

It's been such a magical ride that he's actually sounding humble.

"I appreciate you guys sticking with me," Busch said after taking the checkered flag. "I know I'm a pain in the [butt] sometimes. That's what you get with a punk."

Busch was anything but a punk on this night. Perhaps that's because he knew this was one of those races he probably shouldn't have won despite leading a race-high 165 of 267 laps.

Carl Edwards passed him on Lap 204 and was pulling away when a vibration made him think he had a flat. He pitted only to find out later a bracket on the splitter had come loose, and finished a lap down in 32nd.

Johnson had a big lead before the final caution and thought he was strong enough to hold Busch off on the inside lane.

That was all Busch needed. He got on the outside of Johnson's rear bumper going into Turn 2 and went around him between Turns 3 and 4.

Race over.

"When I heard the spotter, I knew I was in trouble," Johnson said. "For a two-lap shootout, the outside always wins."

Johnson knows that because he's won so many races that way. But his car seemed so good that he became a bit overconfident and forgot to play defense.

"As soon as he broke the plane in my bumper I knew I was in trouble, and sure enough, I was," Johnson said.

But it didn't take Dickerson's motivational speech for Busch to take advantage.

"It doesn't take a whole lot of motivation for me to get going," Busch said. "I'm always going as hard as I can. [But] Dickerson gave one whale of a speech."

And Johnson made one whale of a mistake giving Busch the high lane.

"Typically last year and the year before whenever we saw Jimmie Johnson coming with 100 to go, 80 to go, 50 to go and he would take the lead I was always, 'Race over,' and he would go on to win," Busch said. "This is the first time I said, 'Race over,' and Jimmie Johnson didn't win.

"You know, sometimes things change."

Kyle Busch

I don't know how to put it. It's just so different, I guess. With being able to win one race a year or two races a year, you know, you try so hard and yet get so down on yourself because you can't [win more], and now this year it's just like, 'Wow!'

-- Kyle Busch

They certainly have for Busch. The punk-like things he said earlier in the year about his former organization have lessened with each trip to Victory Lane. The appreciation he has for this special season has softened him to the point that some fans who booed him so harshly are coming to his side.

Or at least the boos aren't as loud.

Not that Busch isn't as hungry as ever. He's just hungry without an attitude.

"I don't know how to put it," Busch said. "It's just so different, I guess. With being able to win one race a year or two races a year, you know, you try so hard and yet get so down on yourself because you can't [win more], and now this year it's just like, 'Wow!'

"This is something that's crazy. I know Jimmie won 10 races [last year] and Jeff [Gordon's] done it in the past. This to me, I never dreamed of it for myself."

But Busch isn't reserving a shelf for the championship trophy. He understands everything that has made this season so incredible could go the other way once the 10-race Chase begins.

He recalled how last season Jeff Gordon was dominant through the first 26 races but finished second to Johnson for the final 10.

"I'm hoping we don't lose it," Busch said. "There's definitely been some luck in this first part of the season. You know, you've got to have some of that to win some of these races."

In other words, the season's not over.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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