RICHMOND, Va. — At the end of the 2011 season, brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch both had mountains to climb, and doubtless they drew strength from each other as they began the ascent together.
Driving relentlessly for two heart-stopping laps at the end of Friday night’s Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond International Raceway, Kurt Busch held off charging Denny Hamlin in a milestone victory for the driver and his car owner, Kyle Busch.
The win was the first for Kyle Busch Motorsports, which made its entry into the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season with one car, the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota, shared by the two brothers.
The collaboration has brought Kurt and Kyle closer together. In previous years, with Kyle running extensive schedules in all three of NASCAR’s top series, their lives had less chance to intersect, even at the racetrack.
As Kurt and Kyle recover from missteps that waylaid their careers last season, they have begun the journey together.
Last November, in a fit of pique, Kyle wrecked Camping World Truck Series title contender Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution at Texas. Kyle was parked for the rest of the weekend, but the consequences were more far-reaching than that.
At the behest of his sponsor, M&M’s, and Sprint Cup employer, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle is embargoed from racing trucks, even though he owns his own NCWTS team, and even though his cash flow would be demonstrably better if he were behind the wheel.
Kyle no longer drives the No. 18 Gibbs Toyota in the Nationwide Series — the car in which he won 38 of his series-record 51 races. To maintain his Nationwide presence, Kyle expanded his own team to that series and hired his brother as co-driver.
Kurt’s career needed a boost, too. After one of the seemingly omnipresent amateur cameras caught his rant against TV pit reporter Jerry Punch in the garage during the season finale at Homestead, Kurt parted with Penske Racing by mutual agreement at the end of the 2011 season, giving up a Chase-worthy ride in the No. 22 Dodge.
But there was an upside to the adversity. The brothers had a chance to work together for the first time in their respective careers, and on Friday night, their collaboration bore fruit.
After the race, Kyle leaned into the car and spoke emotionally to his brother. They hugged — more than once.
“He just couldn’t believe that we got this car to victory lane,” Kurt said. “You could just feel his hand trembling (thinking), ‘I’m an owner — I don’t know what to think,’ but he knows he could have drove this car today as well . . .
“It’s an interesting family feeling right now, because I’ve raced for guys like (Roger) Penske, guys like (Jack) Roush. A guy named Busch owns this racecar, and it’s a little bit different feel.”