Kurt Busch tames ornery Martinsville

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Kurt Busch has been so admittedly average at Martinsville Speedway that he didn't mind Gene Haas' rare absence from the track this weekend.

The driver and the team owner who had given him his next best chance to rejoin NASCAR's elite winners had texted Busch on Friday, whereupon Busch informed Haas that he was typically uninspiring at the .526-mile track in the Virginia hills.

"How's it going?" Busch said, quoting Haas' text. "I said, 'It's Martinsville.' He goes, 'What does that mean?' I said, 'We're loose, we're sliding all over.' He goes, 'Well, just slow down.' His sarcasm is unbelievable. I love him. He's great.

"He gives us every tool we need to win, and when he hired me he said go for wins. 'If you go out sliding sideways and you wreck, I'm OK with that. Just bring home those trophies.' I said, 'Deal, you're just going to have to carry them out of Victory Lane.' Unfortunately, Gene wasn't here today to carry the trophy out of Victory Lane."

Busch escape the effects of some early race dramatics involving a pit-road incident with Brad Keselowski to pass and hold off Jimmie Johnson in the waning laps on Sunday to win at Martinsville for the first time since 2002 and break an 83-race winless streak.

At one of his most despised tracks on the circuit -- he has just five top-10s in 28 starts -- Busch won a pitched duel with Johnson, whose eight wins here make him the active co-leader.

"I gave it all I had, and it felt good," said Busch, who had raced for small teams at Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row -- where he qualified for the Chase last year -- before joining Stewart-Haas Racing this season. "It felt really good to give it my all and deliver and to win knowing that after this two-year run it can still be done."

Busch and Johnson swapped the lead twice in the final 27 laps, with the 2004 series champion ducking under Johnson first on Lap 473 of 500. Johnson reclaimed the lead on Lap 483, but Busch worked past him in the low line again with 10 laps left and held on as they navigated lapped traffic.

Johnson finished second, .283 seconds behind, followed by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose.

Stewart-Haas Racing has at time struggled mightily this season, with Kevin Harvick 25th in points, Busch 20th, co-owner driver Tony Stewart 15th and Danica Patrick 29th. But even with such travail, SHR became the first team to score multiple wins after six races this season, with Harvick and Busch now virtually assured a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup as race winners.

"We've had our troubles, we've made some mistakes, and we know in this sport it can turn on you tomorrow," said SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli. "You've got to keep working down here because everybody behind you is trying to make faster cars.

"It sure would be nice to have all four of them run real good one day. That's what I want to see."

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