Byline: Nate Ryan
HAMPTON, Ga. -- As blindingly fast as Kurt Busch was going forward Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the indelible memory will be his No. 2 Dodge cruising backward.
Busch punctuated a dominant Sprint Cup victory in the Kobalt Tools 500 -- leading 234 of 330 laps -- by spinning his Charger around, slamming into reverse gear and touring the 1.54-mile oval with the rear bumper leading the way.
Busch, who aborted a brief flirtation with making snow angels on pavement after NASCAR wins earlier in his career, debated nicknaming the celebratory lap "Hot Rod," or "The Don Johnson" because he "flopped a 180 Miami Vice-style" as the star of the 1980s TV show might have done. "That was something me and my buddies brewed up after a few too many Miller Lites one night," said the 2004 champion, pausing to joke, "Can I say that?" to team owner Roger Penske.
"It's like cooling down a horse after a good Kentucky Derby run. I'm looking forward to many more of those."
Unlike his low-speed, wrong-way victory lap, Busch, 30, appears headed in the right direction after missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup last season.
With his third top-10 in four starts and the 19th win of his career, the 2004 champion jumped four spots to third in the standings.
He also grabbed the spotlight away from younger brother Kyle, who finished 18th after winning last weekend in Las Vegas. It's the third time the Busch brothers have notched back-to-back wins (in Fontana, Calif., and Richmond, Va., in 2005 and in Sonoma, Calif., and Loudon, N.H., last year).
"A guy like Kurt could drive for any team out there," said Penske, whose team ended a 22-race winless streak in Cup. "His brother is a great driver, but there's not many people out there who can hold a candle to Kurt, and that's why we hired him."
It was a flawless day statistically for Busch, who posted a perfect 150 in driver rating (a compilation of several performance categories such as fastest laps and laps in the top 10) for the fourth time, but the 500-plus miles weren't stress-free.
During a race in which several drivers struggled to hang on to their cars, Busch scuffed the right side of his blue-and-white paint scheme by scraping the wall a few times while running the high line.
He led 75 of the final 80 laps but was second on the final restart after Carl Edwards beat him out of the pits by taking two tires on the last stop.
On the green-white-checkered overtime finish (the race was extended three laps by a late debris caution), Busch, whose car was shod with four fresh tires, zoomed past Edwards and held on for a 0.332-second triumph over Jeff Gordon, who maintained the points lead with his second runner-up finish of 2009.
"They were strong all weekend and certainly the car to beat today," Gordon said of Busch, who qualified second. "They found some things that worked really well for them, and they can build on that."
Other drivers are searching for steadier footing after three consecutive races at the 1.5- to 2-mile circuits that make up nearly 40% of the schedule.
Mark Martin (31st after starting from the pole) is in danger of falling outside the top 35 in owner points (which guarantees a spot in the field) following his third consecutive finish outside the top 30. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th) is 24th in points after finishing outside the top 10 for the third time.
"We are doing about as miserable as we can do without being too upset about it," Earnhardt said. "The only thing you can do is keep working and show up next week with a new attitude."
PHOTO, B/W, Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images