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Kyle Busch returns to where it all began -- Atlanta...and fresh off an emotional win at hometown Vegas


When Joe Gibbs (R) talks, Kyle Busch listens (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   This is where it all began, one year ago, for Kyle Busch.
   Spurned by Chevrolet's Rick Hendrick, and quickly picked up by Toyota's Joe Gibbs, Busch shined at Daytona, losing his opener in a thriller, and then kicked off a heck of a run right here with a sparkling performance – winning the Atlanta 500 on rock-hard tires that had drivers roundly criticizing Goodyear for being too conservative.
   Busch not only won but he dominated, leading 173 of the 325 laps.
   Since that win, Busch has now won nine Sprint Cup events, including last Sunday's Las Vegas 427.
   What to expect here this weekend….after last spring's tire debacle?
   Goodyear has new tires, of course, after extensive testing. And if Las Vegas is an example of what to expect, tires won't be an issue here (even though this track tends to eat up tires, particularly when the track is green, without much rubber in the groove.)
   "Atlanta definitely doesn't have much grip, but I still seem to like it," Busch says. "There are so many lines -- You can run anywhere on the track, and I love that.
   "Coming off turn two, if you’re running the low line and start to slide up, you have a tendency to get sideways. But otherwise it's a really fun track.
   "It's really a driver's track because when you get about 40 laps (60 miles) on your tires, you really start to slide around, and that can be a handful."
   Almost lost in Busch's run has been the breakout by crew chief Steve Addington, who has meshed so well with his new driver.
   Some trivia here: Busch, just 23, has an easy shot at stealing Jeff Gordon's record for most tour wins by 25. Gordon won 15 times before he turned 25; Busch, with 13 career victories, doesn't turn 24 until May.
   Busch has matured smartly over the past year and a half. And his fan base in hometown Las Vegas loved the win, the first big one for a Busch in that town.
   "I think I probably take the bad days a little easier now," Busch admits. "But I hate bad days – I'm still not going take them as easy as some should."
   Saturday's Nationwide race in Las Vegas was one such downer. And Friday's engine issues too; he was the fastest qualifier but had to start at the rear of the field because of some major problems with Toyota engines.
   "Friday I could have thrown my helmet down and stomped away….but I told the guys 'Great job,' and I went in the hauler and let those guys go to work," Busch said. "I sat there and cooled off….and watched the rest of practice to see if I could learn anything from watching guys practice, watching different lines.
   "Last fall, yeah, we had some bad races. It's unfortunate we weren't able to capitalize on our great (2008) season (with eight wins) and run in the chase the way we wanted.
    "Hopefully we can build that back up here. We've done a great job of that since Daytona."
    Daytona – Ouch!
   Busch dominated, then got caught up in a crash triggered by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
   "But we didn't let Daytona haunt us," Busch points out.
   "We went to California, ran a smart race, and finished third. We went to Las Vegas, ran a smart race, won the race. We weren't the best car at either place."

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