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Kyle Busch puts another notch in his belt with Martinsville victory

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Joe Gibbs remembers flying to Wisconsin to a small track to watch Kyle Busch race a late model car. Busch was all excited about how the small track would have a packed crowd, even if its capacity was probably seven times smaller than the Martinsville Speedway where Busch raced at Sunday.

The NFL Hall of Fame football coach knew at that time what type of race-car driver he had in Busch.

"He gets excited about that, and for him, he loves every single one of them," Gibbs said. "He can get a win. And then he gets mad, too [when he loses]. ... For drivers, there's the thrill in victory in there, the competitive spirit.

"They used to talk to me about football stuff. Do you remember the losses? I've got to tell you the losses, they hurt. That's probably the thrill of sports -- the thrill of victory and agony of defeat."

Busch sunbathes in that thrill of victory but also grieves in the agony of defeat. That fierce drive, that love of racing pushes Busch every time he gets in a race car. It doesn't matter if it is against mostly a bunch of teenagers or drivers trying to get their footing in a sport on a Saturday or against what many consider some of the best drivers in the world on a Sunday.

Busch completed the first-ever sweep of a Martinsville race weekend as he led 352 laps on the way to winning the STP 500, his first Cup win in 22 starts at the 0.526-mile bullring (actually a bullclip, considering its shape). A day earlier, he had won the Camping World Truck Series race for his first-ever win at the track.

"I try to give everything that I do 100 percent, whether that's driving race cars or owning the race team," Busch said. "Being passionate about the things that I do, all I've ever known is the sport of NASCAR, so I give it all I've got.

"I have great people behind me who have the same beliefs. I wouldn't just run a race to come out here and make laps."

The 30-year-old Busch has 35 Sprint Cup wins with victories at every Sprint Cup track except Kansas, Charlotte and Pocono.

Sure, Busch has a little bit of an ego and has goals such as winning at every track on the circuit. It is something no current driver -- nor Jeff Gordon -- has done.

His crew chief and team owner didn't know the races where he hasn't won until Sunday. It goes back to never going out trying to just make laps. That passion, that drive doesn't change just because he hasn't won at a racetrack.

"The cool thing about Kyle is he's exactly the same, no matter what," crew chief Adam Stevens said. "Just a few weeks ago at Vegas we were just terrible. We were going to finish three or four laps down based off of practice and he had the biggest smile on his face the entire weekend.

"He said, 'Don't worry about it, pal, you always give me the good stuff for the race.' And I'll be darned, but we did."

Busch had led just 487 laps in 21 career starts at Martinsville leading into Sunday. He did finish second in the October 2012 race at the track and posted nine top-5s (but just one finish from sixth-to-10th) in those races.

It was never lost on Busch that he had trouble navigating Martinsville, even though he had won nine Cup races at the sport's other two short tracks, Bristol and Richmond.

"The biggest thing about Martinsville is the amount of off-throttle time that you have here is greater than the amount of time on throttle that you have here," Busch said. "So [it was about] being able to put together lift techniques and braking techniques and how to utilize the speed of the car without trying to go fast.

"You're trying to go fast, but you're trying to do it while slowing down. That's probably one of the biggest things. I've never been very good at slowing down."

While he credits the help of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin with learning Martinsville, Busch had only one top-10 in his past four Cup starts at Martinsville -- a fifth in the race last November.

"His level of feedback really picked up as he really understood what he needed in his car, and that helped us as a team make better adjustments," Stevens said.

"Continuing through the race today, I think we got him dialed in a little bit better than he has been able to in the past because he could really identify what he was looking for."

Busch appeared to have learned how to run Martinsville, considering his 352 laps led in just one day -- the most for any Martinsville race winner since Bobby Hamilton led 378 in April 1998. He led the final 174 laps, surviving three restarts in the process.

He had three drivers with one Cup win among them follow him across the finish line as AJ Allmendinger placed second with Kyle Larson third and Austin Dillon fourth. Brad Keselowski was fifth. Kevin Harvick, who led 72 laps, got caught on the outside on a late restart and lost close to a dozen spots.

The defending Sprint Cup champion had placed in the top five in the first four events of the season and then had a frustrating weekend at Auto Club Speedway in California, one that started with him walking away in a huff after a disappointing second-place Xfinity Series finish.

He was fined $10,000 for skipping media obligations -- although in some ways, it could be seen as a fine for him saying NASCAR was fixed on his in-car radio without NASCAR having to enter the murky waters of fining drivers for what they say to their team over the airwaves.

Obviously, as bad and as much of a downer as California was for Busch, he had a jubilant weekend at Martinsville, his greatest time there ever.

"This was a really good day for me, and being able to accomplish this one -- this one is pretty cool," Busch said. "When we get down on the checklist, we'll further on talk about that, but I'm looking forward to that, and hopefully, whether it comes all this year or whether it takes a few more years to get it all, hopefully I can be here for a little while longer and we can accomplish that."

While Busch talks about it publicly, Gibbs said he doesn't see that inner drive from Busch to win at every track. To him, Busch has only one speed, one focus, one reason to win any race.

"I don't think there is a focus on that," Gibbs said. "Maybe for him, individually, he would know.

"But for the rest of us, we're swinging for the fence every weekend."