The closing laps at Sonoma were dual between predator and prey, the wily lion pursuing the swift gazelle the defending race winner versus the rising upstart. Kurt Busch bore down on Clint Bowyer Sunday locked and loaded, ready to pounce. All Busch needed from Kansas Clint was one little slip, one little wiggle. Just when Bowyer seemed to pull away on the straights, Kurt would catch, on some laps with a perfect opportunity to punt Bowyer on the tight right at Turn 11.
Who would blink? The one-time champion seeking redemption or the challenger seeking to make his mark? In the closing laps, it was Busch, hitting his tires, breaking the front suspension and the rear panel bar, giving way to Bowyer, who picked up his first road course victory and his first career win with Michael Waltrip Racing.
Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. It was not all for naught, as Busch wrestled his crippled car home to a third place finish. Tony Stewart, who had the best view of what Busch was fighting after the mishap “I was watching him, and it was honestly, I don’t know how he kept it on the racetrack with how much the rear end was moving around on that car. I thought he did a really phenomenal job of just hanging on to what he had.”
Watching this battle unfold, it is then easier to understand why Phoenix Racing owner James Finch sticks with the mercurial Busch, in spite of the baggage he carries with him. The driver showed a phenomenal skill, stalking the race winner lap after lap. Except for one mistake, the conversation today would be completely different.
Besides the fine driving, the burning Busch showed he could complimentary as well, choking up as he expressed his desire to deliver his 51 team the win. In his post race press conference, Busch said he felt a kinship to his new team unlike any other bond he’s felt outside his family. When given credit for the fin driving performance, the driver who has one at least one race every year after his rookie season in 2001, was quick to defer to his team.
Busch also “manned up” when it came to owning his mistake on the track. There was no dressing down of his crew, his owner or his opponent, just a simple admission that he let a chance for victory slip through his hands.
Even more remarkable was his display of self-control. Watching the final showdown one couldn’t help but think”Will he or won’t he?” when it came to any use of his bumper. On this day, Busch showed a restraint and self-control he would do well to employ more often.
On this day, the better angels of Kurt Busch’s nature prevailed with crew chief Nick Harrison praising his driver for his passion to win. Bowyer was impressed by the veteran racer’s congratulatory visit to victory lane. Sunday’s race on the road course provided a reminder of what CAN be, and what IS that complex human being known as Kurt Thomas Busch. He’s no angel: however, he is human with positive and some negative qualities, bringing to mind an old Bruce Springsteen song “Two Faces”:
Sometimes mister I feel sunny and wild
Lord I love to see my baby smile
Then dark clouds come rolling by
Two faces have I
One that laughs one that cries
One says hello one says goodbye
One does things I don’t understand
Makes me feel like half a man
At night I get down on my knees and pray
Our love will make that other man go away
But he’ll never say goodbye
Two faces have I
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Jim McCoy is a TV and radio sports anchor living in Oregon with his wife and three kids. Jim also moonlights as a radio play-by-play man and writes about his true sports passion: NASCAR. To paraphrase, racing is a sport, the others are just games.