Penske power: Busch dominates to win in Atlanta

HAMPTON — Kurt Busch hadn’t celebrated a victory in the Sprint Cup Series since June. So Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, he had some fun celebrating his dominant win.

Busch won the Kobalt Tools 500 after leading 234 laps, getting past Carl Edwards and holding off Jeff Gordon in a green-white-checkered finish. After the win, Busch took a victory lap around the track, driving his car in reverse the entire time.

“I just kept focus like Don Johnson would coming around the start-finish line, flopped a 180, did a little Miami Vice action,” Busch said. “It was a blast. I’m real happy to be able to do something like that.”

Busch said that he and his friends came up with the idea of a backwards victory lap.

“I think we had a good hot rod (Sunday), and Rusty Wallace would say that,” Busch said. “We’re going to nickname this car hot rod. Maybe we’ll nickname our reverse victory lap, ‘Hot rod.’ ”

Gordon finished second ahead of Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers. Gordon now leads the points standings by 43 points ahead of Clint Bowyer.

Busch didn’t rely heavily pit strategy to pick up Sunday’s win. He overpowered the rest of the field with his strong Dodge engine powering the way to the win.

“Things were going our way (Sunday),” Busch said. “We fought hard. We had everything we needed: strong pit stops, a good handling-car, a strong motor and a great assistant spotter on top of the box with Roger Penske.”

It’s the first win for a Dodge on a track longer than a mile since June when Kasey Kahne won at Pocono. Busch won in a form he didn’t show all of last season, when he led a combined 164 laps, fewer than the 234 he led Sunday.

His only win in 2008 came at New Hampshire by way of pit strategy in a race that was cut short by rain. Sunday, Busch appeared to have the best car.

“We put it all together. We had a great driver from the day he jumped on the team, but I’m not sure we’ve given him the horse he needed,” Penske said.

Although Busch was dominant, he did have to survive some late-race drama. He was leading Brian Vickers by less then seven hundredths of a second when a caution came out with three laps remaining for debris.

That’s when Edwards’ crew chief, Bob Osborne gambled, electing to change just two tires as many of the leaders took on four fresh tires. The strategy put Edwards in the lead for the final sprint to the finish ahead of Busch, Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. and Harvick. A slow pit stop dropped Vickers four positions to sixth place, greatly damaging his chances at his first victory since 2006 at Talladega.

“We obviously had the better car there at the end. Kurt and I were running the same line, so it wasn’t going to be easy to pass him,” Vickers said. “On the last lap, you can stick it off in there wide open to run it against the wall and hope for the best. You can’t do that until then.”

Once the field took the green flag, Busch and Gordon quickly got around Edwards, with Busch hanging on to a spot that he had spent most of the race — the lead. He turned away a few stabs at the lead by Gordon to take the win by a margin of .332 seconds.

“We kind of had to settle for second, but it was a great day for us,” Gordon said. “We were just driving to the front, battling up front, leading laps and battling for the lead at times.

The call to change two tires was forced in a way on Edwards since he, Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were pitting next to one another. That forced Edwards’ team try to gain track position on pit road.

“We just had two tires because we had a bad pit stall there. I think we were the only three guys together, so we took two tires and did our best,” Edwards said. “I think that’s all we could do. If we took four and got boxed in back there, that was going to be very frustrating, so I think that pit box put us in that position to take two.”