Kyle Busch wins the Coca-Cola 600
How could this celebration — fireworks erupting over sprawling campers and shirtless, beer-drinking fans; sticky-hot rubber streaks painted all over the track; a fountain of colorful energy drink splashing and spraying all over the crowd — have felt so ... understated?
Listen, Kyle Busch was incredible on Sunday during the Coca-Cola 600. Incredible. Heck, he probably deserves a more dynamic, impressive adjective than that.
En route to winning his first points-paying Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch led 377 of a possible 400 laps, never had to pass anyone for the lead and ran the last 70 laps of the race only as a formality.
He was that dominant.
"You know you have a decent-sized lead and you just want to hold that," Busch said of the end of the race. "When you have a lead like that, you just have to take care of your car.
"I don't know that I've ever had a car that good at Charlotte. ... I could pretty much go anywhere I wanted."
But as Busch was sliding across the finish line, his pit crew was ... fine. Excited, sure, but calm. After past victories, they've hurdled the pit road wall and high-fived and shouted and — well, done all the typical celebration-y things you'd expect after a win.
Especially one of this magnitude. With Sunday's victory, Kyle Busch became the first NASCAR driver in history — not Richard Petty, not Dale Earnhardt, not Jimmie Johnson, not anyone else — to have won a Cup Series race at every active track. Again, incredible.
And still, it was not an extraordinary celebration. Just some light cheering, then a casual walk to Victory Lane. Even as fans blurted out their own congratulatory exclamations, the pit crew remained somewhat subdued.
The celebration question
Why? Why no big, orchestrated, over-the-top ordeal?
Because although Busch was dominant, and although this win was historic, and although he now stands alone in NASCAR's record books, this is something this team has come to expect. Certainly it was expected this night.
"Well, I don't really know how to do cartwheels or backflips, but on the inside I was," said Adam Stevens, Busch's crew chief. "Part of it was we were so good all day, you're constantly thinking of what could go wrong.
"A lot of times when you're that strong, it's more a sense of relief than it is celebration. ... We'll do some celebrating later."
As far as recapping the race, what is there to tell? Busch won the pole on Thursday in dominant fashion, and if he'd sat on his hands and done nothing since then, he likely still would have pulled away as he did. In the first five laps, he'd jumped out to an impressive-enough lead that the fans and his fellow drivers had to sense it could be a fight for second.
There were moments where other drivers, a rotating group of Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski, threatened Busch, but none was ever seriously capable of passing him. Truex started slowly snipping off bits of Busch's lead over the last 40 laps, but even if the race had dragged out another 40 laps into overtime, Truex still didn't have enough pure speed to overtake the No. 18.
Dominating, then waiting
Not only did Busch win the race Sunday, he also collected the first three stage wins for good measure. Take that all together, and Busch's already-massive lead in the points standings only expanded further.
By the time Busch's pit crew had wandered into Victory Lane, Busch was slowly rolling his car in after them. He unsnapped his gloves and threw them on the dash, the physical expression of a relieved sigh if ever there was one, and then went to collect his bounty.
Or maybe this was the reason Busch's pit crew was somewhat subdued, somewhat calm in their initial celebration: They were waiting. Just being courteous, not controlled. Because the second Busch got the clear from his people in Victory Lane, he kicked himself out of the driver's side window — and then, boom, the celebration.
“This one’s very special. I don’t think there’s anything that can top Homestead, just with the meaning of what the championship is, but the Coca-Cola 600 — I’ve dreamt of this race since I was a kid," Busch said. "Being able to come out here and now win the Coca-Cola 600 is just phenomenal.
"It’s a little boy’s dreams come true."
Energy drink, everywhere. Confetti. That huuuuuuge grin that only comes around every once in a blue moon when there's history being made.
That's because Sunday, there was.