HAMPTON, Ga. - Kyle Busch hit the wall and knocked the rear end of his Toyota out of kilter during the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"It just made me so loose ... I just babied it around the bottom of the race track all day," Busch said afterward. "I just had to make sure to his my marks and run smooth and slow right around the bottom."
The 22-year-old driver held the steering wheel so tightly Sunday that, 45 minutes after the race, he could still barely make a fist. He said it felt like he'd broken his pinky finger because of how he holds the wheel and how hard it was for him to turn his car.
"It was a challenge," he said. "That's the worst I've ever felt in a race car."
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By the way, did we mention that Busch won?
In a race that was as much about coping with difficult conditions as it was about competing against the likes of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards, Busch emerged with his fifth career Cup victory and made history in the bargain.
He gave Toyota its first Cup victory in the manufacturer's 40th race in the series, taking a foreign nameplate to a win in the history of NASCAR's top series. Al Keller won a race in a Jaguar at Linden, N.J., in 1954.
Busch also supplanted Jeff Gordon as the youngest Cup driver to win a race at this 1.54-mile track, and became the first driver to win a Craftsman Truck Series race and a Cup race on the same weekend.
If not for a problem with a shock absorber mount on his Nationwide Series car that took him out while he was running away with that race Saturday, he might well have scored a three-race weekend sweep.
Busch said all the racing he did here helped him learn what it took to deal with a tire combination that threw even some of those who ran well on Sunday into conniptions.
Tony Stewart, Busch's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, wound up second but led a postrace chorus criticizing the tire combination provided by Goodyear.
"If that's what we have to look forward to for the rest of the year there will be a lot of drivers looking at early retirement," Stewart warned.
Earnhardt Jr. led 58 of the first 59 laps and Clint Bowyer enjoyed 52 laps up front in the middle of the race.
But the only driver who really looked like he might have what it took to beat Busch on Sunday was Edwards, who was trying for a third straight victory in the Cup Series.
Edwards was, in fact, leading the race when his car started smoking badly and then went out with an engine problem while leading on Lap 275. He finished 42nd.
Busch wasn't in love with the tires and the way they made his car drive, especially after he slapped the wall early.
"But we all had the same tire," said Busch, who led 173 of 325 laps. "They were going to pay somebody to win the race, so that's what I focused on. I just drove the thing to the best of my ability."
Busch's considerable driving abilities are the talk of NASCAR. When asked about Sunday's winner, Stewart and the third-place finisher Earnhardt Jr. had a telling exchange.
"He just has great seat-of-the-pants feel for a car," Earnhardt Jr. said. "He can drive them pretty sideways.
"That and we've crashed a lot more, too," Stewart said. "We know what it's like if we make that mistake.
"Yeah, we have hit harder," Earnhardt Jr. agreed. "That will slow you down a bit."
"It is fun to watch him," Stewart said. "He will drive the car far beyond what it's capable of."
Busch said he appreciates the kind words, from those two and others lately.
"I'm just doing my deal," said Busch, who now leads the Sprint Cup standings by 73 points over Greg Biffle. He also leads the Truck Series standings and is third in the Nationwide Series points.
"Everybody has always said I've been an aggressive driver, that I used to cause wrecks, be out of control, this and that.
" I don't feel I am driving any differently than I used to. I've sort of tamed my style, per se. Now it looks like I am a professional or something. But, you know, it seems to be working."