Kyle Busch ends Charlotte Cup curse, but has one more box to check
CONCORD, N.C. -- The Charlotte Cup Curse, such as it was, is over for Kyle Busch.
Well, there is one more box that still needs checked before it's completely, officially, squashed. But we'll get to that later and, no doubt, so will Busch.
First, let's make it clear that Busch was absolutely correct when he stated that "it's time to celebrate and celebrate big" after winning Saturday night's Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch, or at least his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team, took home a cool $1 million for scoring the non-points win.
Remarkably, it was Busch's first victory in a NASCAR Cup Series car at his 1.5-mile home track -- where he has racked up the staggering total of 15 wins in NASCAR's two other national touring series, the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series. That includes the record seventh he recorded just one night before Saturday's All-Star win, when he won the N.C. Education Lottery 200 truck race at Charlotte.
Asked why he thought it had taken Busch so long to win a Cup event at CMS, car owner Joe Gibbs seemed surprised by the question.
"To tell you the truth, I thought he had won here," said Gibbs, smiling. "I'm so used to him winning races. I know this is a huge deal for him."
Crew chief Adam Stevens also seemed at a loss for any really viable explanation.
"I have no earthly idea," Stevens replied at first when asked the same question.
Then Stevens quickly added: "This place is tough. This place changes probably more with track temperature than about anyplace we go. And it doesn't necessarily reward driving hard. Maybe it does certain times of the day or certain laps on your tires or certain aero packages that we bring here, or certain tire combinations, and sometimes it doesn't.
"You really have to move around, and you really have to change the way that you drive the car. Kyle has gotten better and better at that through the years obviously. Now I would say he's probably one of the best."
Still, Stevens had more insight.
"You have to catch the setup, too," Stevens said. "I think in years past, at least him and I, we haven't had the winning setup here. We've been fast on occasion, but to put that together for a whole race, it's tough.
"Another wrench in the works, too, is that we generally practice in the heat of the day, and then we don't always race in those conditions. I think it's just been a matter of time of him figuring it out. It's no different than Kansas, or some of these other places he's struggled at in the past. I wouldn't say here has been a struggle, but it's just been hard to finish it off."
Busch finished it off in grand style Saturday night.
On the restart of the final 10-lap shootout stage of the four-stage, 70-lap race, Busch lined up in third behind the leader, Brad Keselowski, who was vulnerable because he was on older tires. But the formidable Jimmie Johnson was lined up to Keselowski's outside and he, like Busch, had fresh rubber on his car.
But when the split-second moment came for Busch to mash the gas pedal, he immediately did so and dove low to Keselowski's inside -- just as Johnson tried to do the same in an attempt to pass on Keselowski's outside.
Busch got the jump, though, and passed both Keselowski and Johnson in one smooth move.
From there, he was literally off to the races -- or more accurately, Victory Lane -- in clean air that proved beneficial to whomever was leading the race all night.
Busch conceded afterward that it was a good move. But he refrained from calling it anything more, even suggesting that it was more of candidate for his "top 15" of all time rather than top five.
"I think my move here a few years ago was probably a little bit more crazy when I restarted fourth, got through the middle of the front row," Busch said. "I don't remember what happened after that. I probably wrecked. That's most times what I do in this race.
"I think I went between Jeff Gordon and somebody else. It was kind of a three -- wide thing. I thought that was exciting. But it wasn't a winning move. Tonight's kind of was."
There was nothing "kind of" about it.
It is what it was, and it enabled Busch to put an end, at least in theory, to his strange Charlotte Cup Curse.
He is well aware, however, that there is one more big Charlotte Cup box left for him to check. He's still 0-for-26 in points races at CMS, despite having won two poles, led a total of 908 laps, and registered 10 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes.
He'll get his next shot at that in the Coca-Cola 600 next Sunday.
"What would it mean to win a points race here? It would mean a lot still," Busch said. "It would certainly kind of I guess close the next chapter about getting that next victory here. Hopefully we can sweep it. It would be nice to be added to that list of drivers that have been able to do that.
"We've got a little bit of work to do in order to get ourselves in position to be able to do that."