Kyle Busch wins first NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville

Kyle Busch races during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Kyle Busch races during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Getty Images

Kyle Busch came to Martinsville Speedway last week having never won on any level at NASCAR’s shortest track.

When he left late Sunday afternoon, he had not one, but two weekend victories on Martinsville’s half-mile layout that’s shaped like a paper clip. After winning Saturday’s Truck series race, he turned around and won Sunday’s STP 500 in convincing style.

Martinsville was a significant hole in Busch’s resume, one that includes the 2015 Cup championship and, now, 35 career victories. In fact, Busch has now won at every track on the Cup circuit except Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

“It’s certainly neat to be able to show your diversity and being able to go out there and win at any single style of racetrack that there is,” said Busch. “That shows talent and obviously, too, you’ve got great people behind you.”

No driver in NASCAR history has won at every Cup track that currently holds a race. Jeff Gordon, who retired after last season, won at each track except Kentucky Speedway.

With Saturday’s Truck victory at Martinsville, Busch has now won at every track in that series where he has competed. He has also won at all but one Xfinity track where he has run.

But the Cup list is what he really wants to complete.

“When we get down on the checklist, whether it comes all this year or whether it takes a few more years to get it all, hopefully I can be here for a little while longer, and we can accomplish that,” said Busch.

Crew chief Adam Stevens hasn’t been concentrating on Busch’s checklist of tracks-won-at but wants to keep working at it.

“It’s not something that we really have discussions about,” Stevens said. “We intend to win every time we unload, and we work our guts out to make that possible. We’ve been able to win at a lot of goofy places and just continue to scratch them off the list as they come – and win at a bunch of other ones in between now and then.”

On Sunday, Busch led 352 of 500 laps and finished 0.663 of a second ahead of AJ Allmendinger, who had muscled his way past the rest of the field to finish second. It was Allmendinger’s first top-five finish since he won at Watkins Glen in 2014, the only victory of his career. Kyle Larson was third, his best finish of the season, and Austin Dillon was fourth.

Although Kevin Harvick (72 laps led) and Matt Kenseth (45) also led for significant portions of the race, Busch was in control for most of it. He held off the field after a final caution forced a restart on Lap 490.

“It was a really good car,” Busch said of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “Leading as many laps as we did was really good for us.”

The victory, of course, all but assures Busch a spot in the postseason Chase. Busch didn’t qualify until late last season after missing the first 11 races with severe injuries suffered in the season-opening Xfinity race at Daytona.

“You’re certainly able to take an unusual amount of risk now that you have a win and you’re in,” said Stevens of how he will prepare the car and call the races. “So if there’s a quirky pit strategy that maybe is a 10 percent chance of working out, but it’s the only way that you’re going to have a chance to win, you might take it, even if it risks a 15th-place finish.

“If you’re trying to score points, you just can’t do that. That was a lot of the situation last year, (where) we had to be a little more conservative because we really needed the points after we missed those 11 races. But now we’re freed up, and it’s really going to open the playbook.”

For now, Busch will concentrate on winning this week at Texas, a track at which he has won once. He’ll keep Charlotte, Kansas and Pocono – those tracks where he is winless – in the back of his mind.

“It’s a pretty good problem to have,” Busch said. “There’s not very many left on the list. I’m pumped when I’m able to do that. I look forward to trying to complete that feat.”

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