CONCORD, N.C. – It’s not that common for siblings to reach the highest level of a professional sport, and when it happens, one typically toils in the shadow of the superstar.
That’s been the case the past five years in NASCAR, where the Busch brothers were never in the same league.
Big brother Kurt hit his peak in 2004, when he won his only NASCAR championship, but his results were up-and-down after that banner season. Then along came Kyle, seven years his junior and a headline maker from the very beginning.
When Kyle raised his game in 2008 to become a title contender, Kurt was off the pace, searching for solutions. When Kurt climbed back into the Chase for the Sprint Cup last year, Kyle was in a slump that led to the late-season firing of his crew chief.
After five years competing against each other in NASCAR’s elite division, the early hopes of a bitter championship battle between brothers had faded.
My, how things have changed. They are finally running at the same level, setting up a potential sizzling showdown over the long summer stretch of racing.
Kurt Busch completed a two-week sweep of Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday night, closing out the first win for team owner Roger Penske in the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 eight days after claiming the $1 million prize in the annual All-Star race.
Kyle Busch, meanwhile, won the Nationwide and Trucks Series races at CMS over the last two weeks, plus the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races at Dover earlier in May.
All told, the Busch brothers have won the last six races spanning NASCAR’s top three series.
“That’s kind of cool,” Kyle Busch said of the family domination.
Indeed it is, particularly considering how combustible they are – particularly when racing each other.
Nobody has forgotten the 2007 All-Star race, when hard racing between the two led to an accident that knocked two of the strongest cars out of the event. They were furious with each other following that May accident, and it wasn’t until their grandmother insisted they make peace or risk ruining Thanksgiving dinner that the hardheaded racers resolved their dispute.
That’s right, brothers who passed each other regularly in the garage, the motorhome lot and the track went six months without speaking over an incident in a non-points event.
That was three years ago, and while not much has changed with either Busch’s style – they are both still aggressive, highly focused and often hot-tempered in a race car – they have gotten smarter.
Kurt, now 31, is showing the wisdom that compliments his talent level.
Although there were flashes of growth over the past few years, it was punctuated late last season when he hung strong in the Chase even after crew chief Pat Tryson announced he was leaving at the end of the season. He admitted after Sunday night’s win that his personal progress was made after realizing the mistakes of his youth.
“I’m not one to go out there with a big flash and a big flare,” Kurt said. “I used to early on. I’d run my head up against the wall. I’d run my race car up against the wall. Reviews came in negative. For me, that’s not how I wanted to be remembered.”
And he didn’t hesitate in choosing Steve Addington, who was fired in October by Kyle Busch, as his new crew chief. Since taking over the No. 2 Dodge this season, Addington has guided Busch to two points wins, the All-Star race victory, and seven top-10s in 13 races.
Kyle, who just turned 25, is still a work in progress. His raw talent has never been questioned, but his decision- making isn’t always the best, particularly when he can smell victory. He wrecked out of last week’s All-Star race when he and teammate Denny Hamlin raced each other hard in the closing laps, and a furious Jeff Burton confronted him following the 600 to discuss how aggressive Kyle had been on the final restart.
“These are the kind of races that make a championship,” Kyle said after the 600.