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Kyle Busch wins first race with new team

HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) - Just a few laps from victory and comfortably out front, Kyle Busch had no thoughts of taking his foot off the accelerator. The team that fired him was back there somewhere, lurking in the rearview mirror, as was the guy who replaced him.

Even when he got hemmed in behind the lapped car of Dale Jarrett, a former champion soon to be retired, Busch refused to back off. He pulled right up on graying driver's rear bumper, leaving about enough room to slide a sheet of notebook paper, and surely would have given him a blast of the horn if only stock cars came with one.

The message was clear: The old guard would have to move aside. The future of NASCAR was coming through.

'He was slowing me down a tremendous amount,' Busch said, a tinge of disdain in his voice. 'I was either going to move him out of the way or he was going to get out of the way.'

Once Jarrett was out of the way, Busch finished off a dominating romp around Atlanta Motor Speedway for the first win with his new team - and he brought along Toyota for the ride.

The Japanese automaker became the first foreign winner in stock car racing's top series since Jaguar in 1954, when NASCAR was still just a regional attraction not too far removed from its moonshining roots. Tony Stewart crossed the line second in another Camry to give the ferners a 1-2 finish in the most red, white and blue of American sports.

Konichiwa, Victory Lane!

'To have Kyle come in and take this one and Tony finish second, wow!' said Jim Aust, president of Toyota Racing Development. 'Finishing one-two for our first Cup win - I don't know how you improve on that.'

While it was a day of triumph for one company, another of NASCAR's myriad business partners found itself getting blasted from all sides. There was more talk about Goodyear's tires than Toyota's landmark win, and no one was more ticked off than the runner-up.

Feeling like he had just driven 500 miles on a sheet of ice, Stewart would like to say sayonara to Sprint Cup's exclusive tire provider.

'That was the most pathetic racing tire I've ever been on in my professional career,' he said. 'Goodyear can't build a tire that is worth a crap.'

Others were a bit more diplomatic, but Stewart's view was hardly in minority. Busch and third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. also griped about their rubber. Pole winner Jeff Gordon managed to finish fifth but fretted that every lap might be his lap because of those slip-slidin' tires.

'I'm exhausted right now,' Gordon said. 'I feel like I've run a thousand miles. That's the hardest day I've ever had at Atlanta, especially for a top-five finish.'

The Atlanta debut of NASCAR's bigger, bulkier Car of Tomorrow, which is harder to tame than the old car, didn't help matters.

'You're always on the edge out there,' Busch said. 'It's the worst I've ever felt in a race car, and I won the race.'

He handled the trying conditions better than anyone, which isn't too surprising. No one drives their car so close to the edge, or cares less about what others might think. Busch's brazen, impetuous nature led some to wonder if the 22-year-old would ever realize his full potential.

Despite his obvious talent, Busch was fired by Hendrick Motorsports when the powerful team had a chance to sign Earnhardt last year. The deposed driver landed at Joe Gibbs Racing, which may end up getting the best end of that deal even though Junior moves a lot more merchandise at the souvenir stands.

There was Busch on Sunday, getting to Victory Lane with his new team before Earnhardt got there with his.

'Everybody's always said that I've been the aggressive driver, used to cause wrecks, used to be out of control, this and that,' Busch said. 'I don't feel I'm driving any different than I used to. I've sort of tamed my style, per se. Now it looks like I'm a professional at it or something.'

Stewart, a teammate of Busch's, marveled at the way he handles a race car for someone so young. He looks as though he could wreck at any moment, but that just means he's pushing a little harder than everyone else.

'He got everything that car is capable of,' Stewart said. 'That's what you want out of a guy.'

Even Earnhardt had to give props to his predecessor at Hendrick.

'I never really worked with him as closely as Tony and my teammates that I have now,' Junior said. 'But they all say he's an amazing talent. He's just got a great seat-of-the-pants feel for a car, and he can drive 'em pretty sideways. We get sideways, too, but we just ain't leading when we're doing it.'

It was quite a weekend for Busch, who won the Craftsman Truck Series race Friday night and was dominating the Nationwide event on Saturday before a blown tire sent him careening into the wall. In fact, it's been quite a season for the young driver.

Busch finished fourth in the season-opening Daytona 500 after teaming with Stewart to dominate much of the race. He followed with another fourth-place showing at California, then claimed the pole in his hometown of Las Vegas (though problems with adjustments left him 11th at the end).

At the 1.54-mile Atlanta oval, Busch finally finished the deal. He led more than half the race - 173 of the 325 laps - for his first win in nearly a year and fifth of his career. His last victory had come on March 25, 2007, at Bristol.

Carl Edwards made a strong run at his third straight win, only to have the car let him down. He built a lead of more than 7 seconds before a caution flag came out on lap 262, and he was pulling away again after the restart when smoke began to spew from his Ford.

Edwards headed for the pits on lap 275, his race over. He wound up next-to-last in the 43-car field but felt he earned some redemption.

The week before, NASCAR discovered the oil tank lid on Edwards' car was missing after the win at Las Vegas, possibly creating an aerodynamic advantage. The victory was allowed to stand, but the winner was docked 100 points in the overall standings and lost his crew chief, Bob Osborne, to a six-week suspension.

'It's been a long week with a lot of stuff said, but I think we showed them here today,' Edwards said. 'Other than something coming apart in the engine, I believe we had the car that was the class of the field.'