Busch in midst of breakout season

Published 10:22 am Monday, July 14, 2008

By By RICK GANO, AP Sports Writer
JOLIET, Ill. — The only place Kyle Busch got stuck was in the infield grass, his tires spinning as he celebrated his seventh — and perhaps most impressive — victory of the season in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
After Busch led most of Saturday night’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson went by him on the 251st lap.
The confident 23-year-old Busch was nearly ready to concede. ‘‘Race over,’’ he was heard saying over his radio after Johnson, his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate, went in front.
But a ninth and final yellow caution flag led to a restart with two laps remaining. And just like that, Busch had one last chance for his second consecutive victory.
Staying on Johnson’s bumper at the restart, he went high on Turn 4 and back into the lead on the next-to-lap. He then led the most important lap of the night, the 267th and final one.
Busch got rolling Friday night by winning the Nationwide Series on the same track, a much easier victory but one that gave him a feel for the track which hosted night racing in a major competition for the first time.
He now has 14 victories this season when you count all three of NASCAR’s divisions. And he leads the Sprint Cup Series by 262 points over second-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
With Busch in the No. 18 car, Joe Gibbs Racing’s future is very bright, despite the loss of Tony Stewart next season.
Stewart announced earlier this week that he would leave JGR at the end of the season to become part owner and driver with a team that will be called Stewart-Haas Racing next season. Stewart drove his No. 5 car to a fifth place finish Saturday night and is still winless this season.
The way Busch pulled out his latest victory surprised third-place finisher Kevin Harvick, who had a great vantage point over the final two laps.
His aggressiveness in setting up the pass was just as important for Busch as the actual move that got him the lead back.
He wasn’t really sure he could do it.
Johnson apologized to his team for what he said was faulty strategy after the final restart.