BRISTOL, Tenn. – Joe Gibbs knows champions, having coached the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl titles.
He has another champion on his hands, in a different sport.
Kyle Busch, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, continues to dominate the NASCAR circuit, capturing the Food City 500 on Sunday, his eighth win on Bristol’s high banks, despite admittedly not having the best car in the field.
“This was probably about the worst car I gave him to go race with this year,” said Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief for the No. 18 Credit One Bank Chevrolet.
It didn’t matter. Busch faced early adversity after getting spun in the opening three laps, but simply continued to work his way back to the pack. He eventually would pass Joey Logano on a late caution and then held off his brother, Kurt, to claim his third win of the season.
“I think obviously the caution at the end there really helped us,” Gibbs said. “I think we were a short run type of car at the end. It just shows you how hard Bristol is.”
By earning his eighth top-10 finish through eight races into the season, Busch became the first driver to reach those figures since Terry Labonte did it 27 years ago.
“That’s pretty cool. Any time Kyle can scratch his name in the record book, he likes to do that, for sure,” Stevens said. “[That is] just a testament to the preparation and execution of the whole team and a little bit of luck too. Anything can go wrong and take you out of a race.”
Not to Busch, at least not so far this season.
“That streak will come to an end, hopefully not next week, it definitely will at some point,” Stevens said.
Busch’s perseverance in the face of adversity on Sunday did not surprise Gibbs. It was expected.
“I just admire Adam and the team and Kyle,” Gibbs said. “As everybody knows, we had to overcome a lot today…I think Adam and Kyle, they have a way of fighting through adversity, doing a great job.”
With three wins in the books, Busch could take it easy for a few weeks and still be part of the NASCAR playoffs that don’t begin for several months. That isn’t going to happen.
“Well, I don’t see Kyle or Adam being complacent, I really don’t. I think they are driven,” said Gibbs, who is in favor of the current system that races run in stages. “It’s a big deal for us. I think our guys, they’ll continue to fight. Everybody knows how competitive it is up here. It’s hard to win.
“Each one of these [wins] you really cherish. I think the point thing is huge for our now that we have segment racing. I think it keeps everybody up on the wheel.”
The same goes for Stevens, who will never be defined as satisfied. Neither will anyone else on his team, or they might not have a job.
“I don’t think complacency is in my vocabulary or Kyle’s vocabulary or anybody on this team that I’ve hired,” Stevens said. “If there’s a trophy and a checkered flag, we’re working 80 or 90 hours a week, away from our families for three or four days a week.
“We don’t come to ride around. We get paid to win. Coach gives us the equipment to win. We have Kyle Busch driving our car. That’s what we intend to do.”
Gibbs has been around athletes his entire life, and some will voice their opinion, even in the face of authority. Busch is no different.
“He has a way about him. He does not get complacent at any time,” Gibbs said. “He gets mad. I think Friday he was kind of upset some. I normally call him and talk to him. I tried to stay as far away from him as I can because he will vent to me too. I get called names from time to time.
“I think it’s his competitive spirit. He’s one of those athletes that when he’s around the race track, things don’t go well, he gets upset.”
So, don’t expect Busch to slow down anytime soon. He recently passed the 200-win mark in the three series of NASCAR. Gibbs expects him to add more, and soon.
“I just think you never get complacent in pro sports,” said Gibbs, who won Super Bowls with the Redskins in 1983, ‘88 and ‘92. “Certainly we don’t, I know, around our place. That’s the hardest thing in pro sports. It was the hardest thing in the NFL. It’s the hardest thing over here.
“These race teams here are the most competitive racing teams in the world…I think this thing runs in cycles. Kyle has kind of defied things because he’s won so much. Hopefully we can keep that going.”