One Team, One Goal or How Kurt Busch Won Atlanta

On most given weekends, Kurt Busch travels back home from the race weekend with his younger brother, a conditional luxury that was put to the test two summers ago when he beat Kyle to the finish line at Kentucky Speedway.

That night, Kyle took off on his own, assuming that the winner of the race could easily find his own way back to North Carolina.

He did.

The elder Busch is good for at least one victory a year and the 2004 Cup Series champion had a contingency plan for this season if it ever came down to it — but he didn’t realize he would have to call on Ross Chastain twice.

Kurt dominated the Quaker State 400 on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway to the tune of leading 144 laps out of 260, but he needed an assist from his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate to close out.

Kyle had taken the lead by undercutting his older brother, pitting one lap before him and capitalizing on the quicker lap time, and assuming the top position with 45 laps remaining.

As is often the case with the low horsepower, high downforce competition package, it can be difficult to complete a pass on a leading car with clean air. To beat said lead car, you have to take away its clean air advantage, and that’s where the first favor from Kurt to Chastain was asked.

Chastain was running 20th at the tail end of the lead lap, and Kurt’s crew chief Matt McCall relayed to spotter Tyler Green a request to take away the line Kyle had been running on both ends of the race track, in the hopes that they could hold the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 up.

Kyle’s spotter, Tony Hirschman, immediately realized what was happening and told his driver that the Ganassi cars were about to play the ‘team card’ and to be mindful of it.

What a [email protected] passes his brother for the lead! TV: NBCSN // #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/wlBDnF5itJ

It made no difference, Chastain taking the top side away in Turns 3 and 4 and moving to the bottom just as they both came across a slower Quinn Houff, allow Kurt to pass them both. No longer with a clean air advantage, and with a No. 18 car that struggles to turn deep in a run on 550bhp tracks this season, Kyle was resigned to finishing second.

Was Chastain ultimately the difference in Kyle losing to his older brother on Sunday?

“No question, man,” Kurt said. “He turned right in order to get dead right in front of me.

“For a whole two laps, I just killed the tires trying to get turned underneath him. You can’t just change direction, and when I tried to change direction, he watched his mirror and changed direction with me. So, he just stomped on the brake and air blocked. It’s pathetic.”

The perceived block netted Kurt and Chip Ganassi Racing the win but was Chastain acting in ethical good faith?

“It’s racing, man,” Kyle said. “You can do whatever the hell you want, it’s just going to come back on you.”

It wasn’t lost on Kurt how pivotal of a role his teammate played in the outcome. The 20-year veteran thanked Chip Ganassi first and foremost, and then his teammate just after crossing the line. Kurt lined-up next to Chastain on the cool down lap for something he referred to as ‘some shake and bake action’ before parking in victory lane.

During his post-race winner’s press conference, Kurt conceded that he was having to drive home on Sunday or maybe ask to tag along with his teammate.

“Oh, I already knew to find another ride, especially with Ross Chastain coming in off the top rope and throwing down a good block,” Kurt said. “That helped us get back by Kyle.

“And yes, me and my little brother were supposed to share a ride home. It’s only about four hours back to Charlotte, so it’s not too big of a deal tonight. But I’m pretty sure Kyle has already taken off. We’ve got the trophy, I ain’t worried about it.”

“Brothers gotta hug!” – Tommy Boy pic.twitter.com/vPZhEoTJZD

Chastain isn’t worried about anything either.

Kyle might have targeted the 28-year-old in the moment, but Chastain said it has been a one team, one goal philosophy at Chip Ganassi Racing, while maintaining a cover story of just allowing Kurt to run his preferred line.

“He can say what he wants,” Chastain said. “I don’t really care. I mean, yeah, he lost the race, he’s going to be mad. I’m mad, I finished (21st) a lap down with a teammate winning. That’s not what I want, either. He wanted to win, I wanted to run better.

“Do I care that Kyle Busch just lost a race and got out of the car and when the microphone went to his face, he said he owes me one? No, that’s heat of the moment. We’re really hot in there, and if he’s going to spout off and we need to talk about it, we can talk about it. Probably with Kurt being the mediator.”

“He lost the race. He’s mad. I’d be mad. I finished 20th a lap down when my teammate won. I’m mad too.”

Ross Chastain said Kurt asked for the bottom and he acquiesced. Simple as that.

“One team. One goal. To hang banners at the shop.” pic.twitter.com/jpVHq73rDu

There is nothing in the NASCAR rule book to prevent a driver from blocking for his teammate, and it’s up to the individual driver to articulate their own ethics when faced with that scenario. In fact, the driver on the tail end of the lead lap has every right to race the leader for position to remain on the lead lap

“Everyone has their own code,” Chastain said. “We have a huge banner at CGR that says One Team, One Goal and Kurt asked for the bottom, he’s my teammate and I’m going to give it to him. If the guy that loses is mad, okay.

“I’m doing everything I can to stay in this sport and driving as hard as I can to stay on the lead lap as long as I can is part of that.”

Prior to his big break with Ganassi, Chastain was routinely in underfunded equipment and racing to stay on the lead lap was the norm rather than the rare exception.

“Now it’s been a few months since I’ve even faced that scenario to go a lap down,” Chastain said, “and it wasn’t the best day to do that.”

Kurt says this was the perfect storm of circumstances that lined up to give him that opportunity to pass his brother back and that Kyle would be more understanding beyond the heat of the moment.

“What happened on track was the perfect scenario for a teammate to do the work that he needed to do,” Kurt said. “Ross did that in a way that gave me a sense of pride on the education and the mentorship that I have helped Ross with this year. It was a perfect give-back. Can we do that in the playoffs? No. Can you do that in a regular season where one guy has won and one guy is trying to run hard? Today was a perfect scenario for that to unfold, and Kyle will get over it pretty quick.”

It was a block.

It can be debated if it was an especially egregious block or whatever the ethics are, but Ganassi pays Chastain to win races, and he played a part in getting his organization to victory lane for the first time this season.

For a free agent to be this season, Chastain showed self-awareness and selflessness, while also helping a teammate who has become a friend and a mentor this season.

“He’s incredible,” Chastain said. “I really can’t even describe it because he’s not just a pat on the back guy. I’ve had those before that will pat you on the back but then not say anything when they see something’s wrong. And he’s literally called me, pulled me aside in the shop, pulled me aside at the track and been like ‘You are doing this wrong. This is not how you talk to people. This is not how you approach this person. It’s not how you race this person.’

“He’s been in it for 20 something years. And he’s literally, like, grabbed me and been like, ‘Listen to me. I promise you this will be better if you do it this way.’ I like that. It’s not easy in the moment, but it’s a lot easy after the fact that I actually learned something.”

For both Kurt and Chastain, the One Team, One Goalmantra has taken extra importance this summer in the aftermath of Chip Ganassi selling his charter, shop and equipment to Trackhouse Racing at the end of the season.

For Kurt, it’s always extra sweet beating his brother, and every win after two decades in the sport takes on extra significance because it could always be the last one.

“It’s a huge win to lock yourself in the playoffs, to overcome the adversity of our team and its ownership sale, to have GearWrench, a sponsor that’s been with Chip Ganassi Racing for easily five, six years before I got here,” Kurt said.

“All of that. It’s rewarding and why we do it. This is why we push hard. They had a suite today filled up with 30 people from all over the southeast. That’s how a sponsor gets return on their investment, and I’m happy to do my job to win for them.

It’s a special win. … I feel like the older I get, the younger I get, and I just keep plugging away and using all the Mark Martin skills that I have in the back of my mind.”


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