MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Kurt Busch's Sunday at Martinsville Speedway was like his career wrapped into one afternoon.
It started with a pit road confrontation with Brad Keselowski, with Busch threatening over his radio to rearrange Keselowski's face when the race was finished, and ended with Busch ending an 83-race victory drought.
The STP 500 victory was his first for Stewart-Haas Racing, in their sixth race together, suggesting that it will be a productive partnership and one that Busch said he has learned to approach with a more mature attitude.
"I ran a lot of my early part of my career as an individual and I didn't respect my team, my team owners," Busch said, adding that having Tony Stewart as an owner has helped him learn the value of better team communication.
Celebrating in Victory Lane also was emotional, too, because he got to do it for the first time with his son, Houston.
"It was pretty emotional. To see him starry eyed and not knowing what he needed to do and I was directing him where he needed to stand and where he could see it all better and put him up on stage,'" Busch said, his voice cracking. "And to have him break down in tears, it got me crossed up because I've been trying to deliver for him … It kind of took it to a new level."
Busch passed Martinsville master Jimmie Johnson for the lead with 10 laps to go to win at the track for the first time since October 2002. It was his 25th career Cup-level victory, and that it came in the most unlikely of places suggested to Busch, 35, that he's finally in the right place, team-wise and personally.
"You've got to put life in perspective, and you have to learn from your mistakes and you can't just sit there and try to muscle your way individually through certain situations," he said. "This is a great day."
Johnson, with eight wins in 25 starts on the 0.526-mile oval, took the lead from Busch with 17 laps remaining. Busch ducked underneath Johnson seven laps later.
"That's all I had," Johnson said. "Man, I ran the rear tires off the car. I flipped every switch and knob I could in there to get front brake and turns fans off and try to help bring my balance back."
Busch wasn't sure he could hang on. He hadn't finished in the top 10 in his last 16 starts here.
"The 48 car is king here, him or the 24," he said in Victory Lane, referring to Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, who also has eight Martinsville victories.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. took over the points lead.
Busch brushed aside talk about his feud with Keselowski, who said Busch "just drove right through me and ruined my day" on pit road, causing Keselowski to lose 30 laps. After making repairs, Keselowski returned and slammed into Busch's car several times in retaliation.
Busch attributed the incident to the tight quarters of Martinsville's pit road.
"He tried to flatten all four of my tires," Busch said of his former teammate with Roger Penske Racing. "That's a no fly zone. … He will get what he gets back when I decide to give it back."
The race featured an event-record 33 lead changes, and Johnson expected there would be one more, but on a slippery day on the smallest circuit in NASCAR's premier series, the cars at the end weren't conducive to typical short-track racing.