Busch in party mood at Richmond
RICHMOND, Va. -- Kyle Busch was the best 23-year-old driver in NASCAR entering this weekend.
Now he's the best 24-year-old.
Maybe one day we'll say the best, period.
Busch celebrated his birthday with a win in Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway, taking the lead from Jeff Gordon with 49 laps remaining and holding on to complete the weekend sweep.
He also won Friday night's Nationwide Series race and Thursday night's charity late-model race put on by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin at nearby Southside Speedway.
Had there been a Truck race, he likely would have won that, too.
The guy is that good.
His 15 career Cup wins tie Gordon for most victories before the age of 25. Gordon didn't win his 15th until a few weeks shy of turning 25.
Busch may have 25 wins by then.
Again, he's that good.
"He's pretty good," third-place finisher Jeff Burton said. "You are what your record says you are. Everything he sits in he goes fast in. He's real aggressive. He's driving good equipment.
"Nonetheless, everything he sits in goes fast. That's a sign of a really good race car driver. I don't want to compare him to anybody else. That's not fair. But he's awfully good."
Busch's No. 18 car wasn't the fastest when he started the race, which began under caution as the track was still drying from afternoon showers. He had a top-10, maybe top-5 ride.
Hamlin appeared to have the best car, leading a race-high 148 laps before a lug nut problem on pit road put him back in the field. But Busch and crew chief Steve Addington kept chipping away until they finally got it right, and once they had it right nobody could deny Busch.
That's another sign of a very good driver.
"I don't know," Busch said. "You've got to give feedback. I just tell the guys what's wrong with it."
They fix it most of the time. But what's most important here is Busch is that good.
He already has 50 wins in the top three series, including eight this season. He says he'd like to get to 200, which isn't out of the question if he can maintain this kind of pace.
Greedy? Yes. That's one of the things that make him so good.
When told he was only the second Cup driver to win on his birthday -- something Cale Yarborough did twice in his career -- he immediately asked how old Yarborough was. Busch didn't say so, but one could only guess he wanted to be the first to do it before the age of 25.
Yarborough, for the record, was 38 and 44.
Busch is driven to be the best. Three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said earlier in the week that his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate drives with a chip on his shoulder. Others said he drives with a very big chip.
Nobody did anything this weekend to knock it off.
"I like winning, period," Busch said. "It doesn't matter how you beat them."
Busch is happy when he wins. He's entertaining. He's funny, making jokes about his role as the sport's villain.
When team owner Joe Gibbs talked about feeling at home at Richmond because there are so many Washington Redskins fans, Busch interrupted and said, "I wish there were as many Busch fans as there are Redskins fans."
Busch is not happy when he doesn't win. Try to talk to him after a bad race and you better have on your running shoes.
That made this weekend particularly special for him. Busch hadn't won in four weeks in any series. His best finish in Cup during that span was 17th.
"Four or five weeks feels like an eternity," Busch said. "That was bad."
It wouldn't surprise anyone if Busch ran off several wins in a row now. He's the defending champion for next week's race at Darlington Raceway, so we know he can win there. "Momentum is everything," second-place finisher Tony Stewart said. "When you get in a string like he's on you've got so much confidence and momentum on your side. That means so much in this series."
Busch's momentum overshadowed some pretty good momentum by Stewart's teammate. Ryan Newman finished fourth, his second straight top-5 and sixth finish of 16th or better over the past six weeks.
He's improved from 32nd in points to 10th, giving upstart Stewart-Haas Racing two teams in the top 10. Stewart is third after his fourth top-5 in five weeks. "It's been impressive to watch the change, the mentality that Tony has brought in there about not being there just to be there, but there to win," Burton said. "I'm not sure I remember seeing a team changing possession ... and the turnaround being what it's been.
"He's making other people want to go and own their own cars. That's probably not a good ting, but it's been real impressive to watch."
But little if anything has been as impressive as watching Busch grow into a superstar. And the fact that he has done it without feeling the pressure to be something he's not is refreshing -- even if he sometimes rubs reporters the wrong way.
"To be an idiot at times?" Busch said with a laugh.
He paused and added, "I'm trying to understand what you're asking, but I think I know what you're asking. I'm here to be myself, man. I am who I am."
Right now he's the best 24-year-old driver on the planet.
One day he may be the best ever.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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