HAMPTON, Ga. — Kurt Busch grabbed the checkered flag, shifted his car into reverse and headed off on a unique victory lap.
Backward. Too bad for everyone else he didn't drive that way during the race. It's probably the only way he could have lost.
Busch, a former NASCAR Cup champion who has been overshadowed lately by younger brother Kyle, drove to a dominating victory Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kurt, 30, led 234 of 330 laps in the Kobalt Tools 500, surviving a couple of scrapes with the wall and a late caution to pull away for a 0.332-second victory over Jeff Gordon.
"I've got to thank my guys," said Busch, who started on the outside of the front row. "This car was unbelievable. I guess good things come to those who wait."
How dominating was Busch? He led more laps in one afternoon than he did all of last season (164), when his only victory came in a rain-shortened race at Loudon, N.H.
"I just drove (against) the track, not the competition," Busch said. "We had strong pit stops, a great-handling car, a strong motor and a great assistant spotter."
That would be team owner Roger Penske, who helped keep an eye on the race from above the main stands.
"We're back in business," Penske said. "His brother is a great driver, but there's not many people out there who can hold a candle to Kurt."
Last year, Busch's lone win was due more to strategy than skill. Meanwhile, Kyle, 23, became a star, winning eight races before struggling in the Chase for the Championship.
Then, last weekend in the Busch family's hometown of Las Vegas, Kyle drove from the back of the field to victory while Kurt finished 23rd after starting on the outside of the front row. Even so, Kurt kept insisting he wasn't jealous of his younger brother's success, even stopping by Victory Lane to give Kyle a big hug.
This was Kurt's time to shine.
"I needed to hold up my end of the bargain with Kyle winning all the time," he said. "The kid has been dominant."
Kyle pulled up beside his big brother after the race and gave him a congratulatory wave. He finished 18th, three laps behind.
Meanwhile, Kurt's performance left Gordon still in search of his first win since 2007. But the four-time Cup champion remained on top of the standings after another strong run.
"We're getting close," Gordon said after his second runnerup finish of the season. "We're going to keep knocking on the door until we get to Victory Lane."
With four laps to go, Robby Gordon shredded a tire to bring out the final caution flag of the race. Carl Edwards gambled as all the leaders ducked into the pits, changing only two tires, so he got back on the track first.
Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon went with four new tires, coming out second and third behind Edwards. But the leader had no chance of holding off Busch on the two-lap finish, watching him cruise to his 19th career win. Gordon got by as well.
Mark Martin, 50, was the fastest in qualifying, becoming the second-oldest driver in Cup history to start from the pole. But he apparently cut a tire, smashed the wall and finished 31st. And Martin Truex, who spent Saturday at a hospital passing a kidney stone, started 23rd and finished 10th.
The lack of grip in the tires led to a yawner of a race for the most part. The drivers looked as though they were more concerned with avoiding crashes than dueling, the 43-car field quickly spreading out all over the high-banked track. At one point, there were only nine cars on the lead lap, and just 12 were there at the end.
"It reminds me of Darlington," Busch said, referring to the track dubbed "too tough to tame."
"This place just chews you up and spits you out."
But he managed to tame it.