SONOMA, Calif. - Joe Gibbs Racing officials knew adding Kyle Busch to their organization could be a special pairing.
They had no idea, though, how quickly they'd see a return on their investment.
Busch won his fifth Sprint Cup Series race of the season Sunday when he rolled to victory at Infineon Raceway. With his first road course win, the newcomer and crew chief Steve Addington have grabbed as many victories as teammates Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart have combined for since the start of the 2007 season.
'When you look at it in the way that switching teams and coming to a new organization and working with Steve ... it's come a long way, our chemistry,' Busch said.
A long way in a mere 16 races that have thrusted Busch into stardom and made him the favorite to win the championship. He's already earned 50 bonus points to use in seeding for the Chase, and his victory Sunday proved he can rally when his momentum starts to slide.
A two-week slump sent Kyle Busch spiraling into crankiness despite his hold atop the points standings. But he snapped it with the win, which came in a Toyota that was so bad during practice he was certain he'd wreck.
A poor qualifying run gave him the 30th starting position, and he steadily moved through the field and grabbed the lead from defending race winner Juan Pablo Montoya on an early restart. Nobody came close to taking the lead from him the rest of the way, but he did have to hold off a pair of challenges on two late restarts.
It was Busch's 11th overall victory this season spanning all three of NASCAR's top series. It also was his second road course victory of the year, following a Nationwide Series win in Mexico City in April.
Busch celebrated with his traditional smoky burnout, then climbed from his car for his customary bow to the crowd. For once, the fans were cheering the driver they so famously love to hate.
'I am really impressed with Kyle,' said third-place finisher Jeff Gordon, his former teammate. 'I've been around him, and I didn't think he's a really good road racer. So I think you've got to give that guy a lot of credit for his talent. To be able to get their car up front and maintain the position ... I would not have bet on that.
'Obviously, he's maturing and learning and that's what it's going to take for him to maintain that points lead.'
Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing crew had to wrestle with his Toyota to make it comfortable for Busch. The team made a slew of changes following Friday and Saturday's practice sessions, but Busch still wasn't pleased as the start of the race approached.
'I'm not a very happy person right now,' he said as he walked into the pre-race driver meeting.
That obviously changed as he charged through the field, settling down enough to inquire while leading what kind of food there would be on the plane ride home.
'We unloaded here and we were absolutely junk,' Busch said. 'When we were here Friday, I just thought it was going to be a dismal weekend and I was wondering what tire barrier we were going to put it in. It was a bad feeling, but these guys worked so hard.
'It's just phenomenal that we're able to be here in Victory Lane - never before on a road course, in the Cup Series, so this is definitely really, really special. We came a long ways with this thing.'
It was the remedy Busch needed after a frustrating two weeks. He won earlier this month at Dover, then embarked on his historic 'triple' of three races at three different tracks in three days.
Although he finished second in the Truck Series race, the first leg of his journey, he wrecked his Cup car in practice the next day before jetting off to the Nationwide Series race. He wrecked in that event and finished 32nd, then wrecked in the Cup race and finished 43rd.
He wrecked in last week's Nationwide race, as well, and decided after not to hop all over the country this weekend to compete in the lower series' events in Milwaukee.
Team president J.D. Gibbs said all that extra racing didn't contribute to the slump.
'He can go run long and hard, he's still young and strong,' Gibbs said of the 23-year-old.
David Gilliland finished a career-best second and was followed by Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Casey Mears. Montoya was sixth, followed by Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Stewart.
The race was fairly clean until the closing laps.
David Reuitmann brought out a late caution when a flat tire caused him to run off course and into a wall of tires. That set up a restart with six laps to go, and Stewart quickly passed Jamie McMurray for second. But a spin by Kevin Harvick as they entered Turn 4 started a chain-reaction crash that took Stewart out of contention for challenging his teammate for the win.
'I haven't seen it, so it's not fair to comment on that,' Stewart said.