By Marty O'Brien
Few have ever questioned Kyle Busch's talent. How could they?
Only 24, Busch has won 45 races in NASCAR's three major series since the start of 2008. The knock on Busch has been patience, or more precisely, his lack of it.
His petulance, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s availability, led to a falling out at Hendrick Motorsports and a move to Joe Gibbs Racing. His brilliance was evident en route to eight wins in his first season at JGR in 2008. But his inconsistency — some would argue impatience — was evident in a failure to qualify for the 2009 Chase despite four more wins.
Busch didn't win any of the final 12 races last season or the first nine this season. And yet his victory in the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday suggests that he might have made his biggest strides toward racing maturity during that stretch.
Busch's night at Richmond International Raceway was tailor-made for a meltdown. Instead, he hung tough and won with a pass of Jeff Gordon on the restart with five laps to go.
"The old Kyle Busch, he would've folded," Busch said. "The new one, he stuck in there. He kept going.
"You know, I mean it was difficult."
Not at first. Crew chief Dave Rogers and the M&M's team hit on something so good Saturday, something no one else seemed to figure out, that at one point Busch had lapped all but eight of the other 42 cars.
He qualified on the pole, and the only laps he failed to lead in the first 229 were the eight during which cars were cycling through green-flag pit stops. Then little puffs of blue smoke appeared from the back of his Toyota as it entered the corners, and the handling went away.
Jeff Burton passed Busch for the lead on Lap 230. By the time Busch had faded to fifth place on Lap 280, Gordon was running in front and looked unbeatable.
"For some reason, we missed the handle on the car in the middle of the race," Busch said.
Rogers added, "[We] probably got a little too far behind on the adjustments. When you're out running that fast, it's hard to keep up with the track.
"[We] probably got a little lazy on it [and] fell behind. Then, at the end, we were making bigger adjustments to get caught back up."
Busch remained composed despite falling back to fifth, and credited Rogers with making a crucial move by calling him to pit road for tires during a caution with 25 laps to go. Busch said the car was immediately better after that on the restarts.
He passed Kevin Harvick for second on one restart, then made the winning pass to the outside of Gordon on the final restart. The victory is the first with Rogers, whom Busch feels is a kindred spirit.
"Dave and I, we have a lot of the same mentality," Busch said. "You know, we're both fiery competitors. We both want to win. We both get upset when we don't [win] or things don't go our way."
But Busch no longer folds amid adversity, a trait that hasn't gone unnoticed by Gibbs.
"[Kyle has] been real patient this year," Gibbs said. "[He] had some races where things didn't go well for us, and stayed after it.
"Had this been last year, with three or four of the things that happened to us in some races, I think you probably would've seen a different reaction. I appreciate the 'New Kyle.' "