Kyle Busch is leaving Martinsville Speedway with a grandfather clock, a golden ticket and for once, a clean record.
A few explanations. First: the clock, an ornate wooden masterpiece, is a tradition in NASCAR, given annually to the winner at Martinsville, which Busch was by the end of the afternoon Sunday. So he stood with his new gift in Victory Lane, swigging from a bottle of champagne, and everyone looked on at Busch’s two new trophies, one for his case and one for his living room.
As for the golden ticket, that’s just a figure of speech, but a fitting one since Busch’s win at Martinsville officially sends him to Homestead to race for a Cup Series championship. It’s the third year in a row that he’s made it to Homestead, and he’ll be hoping to have more of the same luck that he had in 2015, when he won his first and only title.
“Really anxious, I guess, to race for a championship again, and excited about that,” Busch said, “and being able to go to Homestead now and not necessarily have to fret over the next two weeks.”
The differences between that championship year and this current one are clear though, so how much he can truly glean from the former remains to be seen. Two years ago, Busch barely scraped through each of the first two rounds before making it to Homestead. That’s dramatically different from this year, when Busch has been considered one of the championship favorites all season. After all, Martinsville is his third win so far in the playoffs and fifth overall this season.
And then there’s the matter of the clean record, which historically hasn’t been Kyle Busch’s strong suit. He even acknowledged as much after the race when he was joking with reporters.
“That’s not the norm for me, or what?” Busch said, laughing. “We kept our nose clean all day long.”
Busch’s not-so-sterling reputation dates back a long way, including once in 2011 when he was black-flagged for an entire weekend for intentionally wrecking another driver and his championship hopes in the Camping World Truck Series. He’s been fined for the same thing, accused of being a dirty driver, been viewed as disrespectful or rude or whatever other negative adjective you care to use ... but not on Sunday. Not at all, actually.
The drama Sunday instead centered on Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott, two playoff drivers both vying for the same golden ticket Kyle Busch ended up with. Elliott was leading with four laps to go (not to mention it would have been his first-ever Cup Series win, too) when Hamlin crept up and hit Elliott’s bumper. That sent Elliott into the wall, ending his evening – and also potentially his championship hopes – in a manner that wouldn’t at all be foreign to Kyle Busch.
But the eventual winner didn’t need any dirty racing or intentional wrecks to win on Sunday. He took advantage of the caution after Elliott’s crash and slipped past Hamlin and into the lead at just the perfect moment. Then, when another giant wreck happened on the last lap, Kyle Busch only watched it ... from his rearview mirror.
Instead of conjuring up memories of Busch’s past misdoings, Sunday’s win evoked an entirely different one, more focused on what it means to win at Martinsville and then have two weeks to prepare for Homestead.
“You saw the guy that did it last year went and won the championship,” Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief, said. “I don’t know if that bore any fruit, but that’s what happened.”
Stevens is referring to Jimmie Johnson, who went from a Martinsville win to his record-tying seventh championship win last year. Now Busch will be hoping he can do the same in three weeks time.
And considering the haul he’s leaving Martinsville with, it wouldn’t be ridiculous if that exact thing happened.