Wednesday January 16th, 2019 7:27PM

Busch -- that's Kurt, not Kyle -- dominates Atlanta

By The Associated Press
  Contact Editor
HAMPTON -- Kurt Busch can enjoy his off week. He won't have to answer any questions like, "Hey, when are you going to beat your little brother?"

He took care of that on Sunday.

With a dominating win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the "other" Busch showed that he's not just going to concede the spotlight to kid brother Kyle. In fact, Kurt earned bragging rights for the next two weeks in their sibling rivalry.

"I just felt like I needed to hold up my end of the bargain with Kyle winning all the time," the elder Busch said after running away with the Kobalt Tools 500.

You remember Kurt? Former NASCAR Cup champion. Was supposed to be the sport's next big star. Then along came Kyle, seven years his junior.

Last year, Kurt managed one lone win in a rain-shortened race at Loudon, N.H., his triumph due more to strategy than skill. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Kyle became a full-blown star, winning eight races before struggling in the championship playoff.

Last week in the family's hometown of Las Vegas, Kyle was on top again, racing from the back of the field for his first victory of the season while Kurt was a disappointing 23rd. And the youngster won again Saturday in a truck race at Atlanta. His talent is so immense that he's been mentioned as a leading candidate to drive for an American-based Formula One team that's trying to get off the ground, even though he has no open-wheel experience.

But Sunday was Kurt's time to shine.


"We're back in business," team owner Roger Penske said. "His brother is a great driver, but there's not many people out there who can hold a candle to Kurt."

They certainly can't match his victory lap. Busch grabbed the checkered flag, shifted his car into reverse and headed off backward around the 1.54-mile quad-oval.

Too bad for everyone else he didn't drive that way during the race. It's probably the only way he could have lost.

How dominating was Busch? He led more laps in one afternoon than he did all of last season (164). Not even a couple of heavy scrapes with the wall and a late caution that knocked him out of the lead could deny the victory. He blew by Carl Edwards on the restart and beat Jeff Gordon to the line for a 0.332-second victory that really wasn't that close.

"This car was unbelievable," Busch said. "I guess good things come to those who wait."

Kyle pulled up beside his big brother after the race and gave him a congratulatory wave. The kid finished 18th, three laps behind.

Gordon is still in search of his first win since 2007. But the four-time Sprint Cup champion remained on top of the standings after another strong run, heading to the next race at Bristol, Tenn., in two weeks with a 43-point lead over Clint Bowyer.

"We're getting close," said Gordon, who's gone 44 races without a win but savored his second runner-up finish of the season. "We're going to keep knocking on the door until we get to Victory Lane."

With four laps to go, Robby Gordon shredded a tire to bring out the final caution flag of the race. Edwards gambled as all the leaders ducked into the pits, changing only two tires so he got back on the track first.

Busch and Jeff Gordon both went with four new tires, coming out second and third behind Edwards. But the leader had no chance of holding off Busch on the two-lap finish, watching him blow by on the backstretch and cruise to his 19th career victory. Gordon also got by Edwards, who settled for third.

"That was the hand we were dealt," Edwards said. "I just wish we had four tires. Kurt did a good job. He was the fastest car all day."

Mark Martin was the fastest in qualifying, becoming the second-oldest driver in Cup history to start from the pole. But it was another rough day for the 50-year-old after blowing engines the two previous weeks. He apparently cut a tire, smashed the wall and finished 31st, 14 laps down.

Martin returned to full-time racing this season with Hendrick Motorsports in hopes of contending for his first Cup championship. But he's off to a terrible start with one of NASCAR's strongest teams, leaving Atlanta 34th in the standings.

There were huge sections of empty seats along the front stretch of the track south of Atlanta, which was no more than two-thirds filled on a warm, sunny day. Clearly, the economy is taking its toll on NASCAR's fan base.

"I'm kind of baffled by it," Gordon said. "This place should be packed."

Until the final shootout, the most dramatic moment came on the 67th lap when a tire rolled away from Marcus Ambrose's pit box, and gas man Jimmy Watts took off after it. He ran halfway onto the grass in the quad-oval to retrieve it, a dangerous move that prompted NASCAR officials to throw a yellow flag and toss Watts out of the pits for the rest of the race.

The lack of grip in the tires led to a yawner of a race for the most part. The drivers looked as though they were more concerned with avoiding crashes than dueling each other, the 43-car field quickly spreading out all over the high-banked track. At one point, there were only nine cars on the lead lap and just 12 were there at the end.

"It reminds me of Darlington," Busch said, referring to the track that's been dubbed "too tough to tame."

"This place just chews you up and spits you out."

Everyone except Busch, that is.

And we're talking about Kurt, not Kyle.
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