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Friday, March 29, 2013
While Joey Logano's issues with Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin stole the headlines, it was Kyle Busch (above) who took the checkers and a bow after his win at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday Photo: Getty Images

He led 125 laps. He had the best car all day. He was the leader on the last restart and used a huge run on the outside on the final turn of the final lap to end a 31-race winless drought. 

So, what was the first question posed to Kyle Busch in the post-race presser?

What happened in front of you between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin?

The truth be told, Busch likely would have passed both Logano and Hamlin on the final lap even if they hadn't done their best Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns impersonations. Busch had the high line - the fastest speeds were high all day - and zoomed by the 22 and 11 cars as they banged doors, quarter panels and bumpers. The result was a devastating injury to Hamlin, a fortunate third-place finish for Logano and a checkered-flag bow for Rowdy Busch.

"Those guys went to racing each other really hard, which is what this sport is all about and what's great about NASCAR," said Busch, whose last victory came on April 28 of last year at Richmond. "I did win the race today, by the way, so that might be a story. But I'm sure it's not."

The pacifying laughter following Busch's shot at the media was felt throughout the press conference room. Rowdy himself even shed a smile, but you could tell that the competitor in him was seething.

Busch has fully embraced Ricky Bobby's "If you're not first, you're last" mantra. Busch loves to lead races. Busch has ranked in the top three of laps led each season since 2008, including last year when he finished second in laps led with 1,436 despite winning only one race. Jimmie Johnson ranked first with 1,744, but he also won five times.

"We finally had a little bit of luck on our side that we didn't have all last year and it seemed like we weren't quite having this year," Busch said. "But we've had some good runs and some strong runs, it's just you've got to keep working, you've got to keep digging in ... and put our program on the map where we're a bigger force to be reckoned with."

No one can question that now. With three straight top fives, Busch has raced himself all the way up to sixth in the points standings - the highest he's been since Week 32 in 2011. (this doesn’t transition smoothly) He never seemed to recover, though, even struggling to gain any longstanding momentum after his win at Richmond last year. It wasn't until he missed the Chase for the championship that Busch began to wake up and start racing like the pilot so many love to hate.

"We missed the Chase but we performed really well. We strung off a lot of top-fives, we contended for wins, we just didn't capitalize on them," said crew chief Dave Rogers. "But we picked up right where we left off. We're running top-five week in, week out. Unfortunately we picked up right where we left off, were running top five and not capitalizing. We finally capitalized on it due to some great driving by Kyle."

And that should put the rest of the series on notice. After all, the boys are officially having at it - just ask Logano, who not only had to contend with Hamlin on the track, but a fisticuffs with Tony Stewart off of it. That kind of on-track racing and off-track verbal/physical confrontation suits Rowdy just fine.

"I'll tell you, there was some really hard racing (Sunday), some good racing. I felt like the 22 and I put on a great show for the lead most of the day," Busch said. "And of course there at the end there's one hell of a battle through 3 and 4 and then again on pit road another battle after the race. But that's part of racing sometimes. That's what this sport was built on. Just ask Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison."