HAMPTON, Ga. - It was like the good old days for Joe Gibbs Racing yesterday at Atlanta Motor Speedway when newcomer Kyle Busch put the No. 18 in the Winner's Circle.
But there was a new twist - it was the first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory for
It was the first win in 40 Cup starts for Toyota and it confirmed that the company's signing of the powerhouse Gibbs team over the winter will make its Camrys, which struggled in their 2007 debut, competitive with the other top teams.
"We were all apprehensive at the start of the year," said team owner Gibbs, who returned to racing full-time after retiring late last year as coach of the Washington Redskins. "There was a huge amount of work we had to go through."
The win put the No. 18 back on top at Atlanta, where former Gibbs driver Bobby Labonte won six races in that car and was a perennial contender.
The significance was not lost on Busch.
"The 18! The 18! The 18 is back at Atlanta," Busch screamed on the radio after crossing the finish line ahead of Stewart. "Congratulations, [crew chief Steve] Addington, it's your first one."
Former crew chief Jimmy Makar, the first person hired by Joe Gibbs when he decided to go into NASCAR racing, radioed the winner, "Kyle Busch, this is Jimmy. Thank you for bringing the 18 back."
Busch, winning for the first time since last March 25 at Bristol, took the lead for good with 50 laps to go when Carl Edwards, trying for a third straight victory, went out with a broken transmission.
The first win for the Japanese automaker in NASCAR's top series is the first NASCAR victory by a foreign manufacturer since Al Keller drove a Jaguar to a road course win in Linden, N.J., in June 1954.
It was the fifth Cup victory for the 22-year-old Busch.
"It means a lot to go out and win any race any time, but especially here in Atlanta," Busch said. "This place has been such a struggle for me; I haven't had a top 10 finish here. I remember the years watching Bobby Labonte race around this place kicking everybody's butt. It sort of reminded me a little bit about it today, being able to race like that, run like that, bring that 18 car back up front and run here the way it used to and the way it should."
Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both passed Greg Biffle in the final laps to take second and third, with pole-winner Jeff Gordon fifth.
Stewart, who complained about the Goodyear tires after blowing a right front and hitting the wall hard the previous week in Las Vegas, was even more upset after yesterday's race.
"Most pathetic racing tire in my career," he said after climbing out of his Toyota.
Stewart added, "If I were Goodyear, I'd be really embarrassed about this weekend and what they brought us here. It didn't keep us from winning the race, but how we got to second, I don't know."
The suspect tires, plus the Atlanta debut of NASCAR's bigger, bulkier Car of Tomorrow, which is harder to drive than the old car, made it a tough day for everyone.
"It's really hard to drive these things because 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."
Edwards, still smarting from being knocked out of the points lead earlier this week when NASCAR docked his team 100 points for a missing oil tank lid at Las Vegas a week ago, appeared to be pulling away on Lap 268, but smoke began to spew from the car. It became thicker as the laps went on and Edwards finally pitted on Lap 275, his race over.