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Kyle Busch the best in NASCAR today

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Whether you like him or not, Kyle Busch is NASCAR's star driver right now.

Busch celebrated his birthday Saturday by winning the Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond. He also won Friday's Nationwide Series event to record a weekend sweep at the three-quarter-mile track.

At age 24, Busch became the youngest driver to notch the first 15 victories in his Cup career. He has also won 24 times in Nationwide competition and 11 in the Truck Series, bringing his total victories in NASCAR's three national touring divisions to 50 so far.

Twenty nine of his wins have come since the start of the 2008 season.

"I like winning, period," Busch said. "Doesn't matter how you beat them."

Currently fifth in Sprint Cup points, Busch is coming off a four-race drought with finishes outside the top-10 at Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Talladega.

"We didn't like it at all," he said. "At least just not finishing well. I don't think the fact of not winning, that wasn't what made us so down. It was just the fact of not finishing."

Kyle Busch became the youngest driver to notch the first 15 victories in his Cup career.
Jimmie Johnson has won the last three Sprint Cup championship, but Busch could be the one who prevents Johnson from capturing his record fourth consecutive title.

After accumulating eight wins in the regular season, Busch entered the 2008 "Chase for the Sprint Cup" as the top seed in the 12-driver field. His title hopes quickly went up in smoke after he suffered engine failure in first two races of the Chase. Busch ended the year 10th in points.

Busch spent his first four years in Sprint Cup driving the No.5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, but the two sides mutually agreed to part ways at the end of the 2007 season.

NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. replaced Busch at the mighty Hendrick organization, while Busch joined Joe Gibbs Racing and took over JJ Yeley's seat in the No.18 Toyota in '08.

Despite Busch's arrogance and cockiness on and off the track, team owner and former Washington Redskins Head Coach Joe Gibbs has seen his primo driver mature in the past 15 months.

"Kyle is pretty much his own man," Gibbs said. "He's a leader in our group."

Busch said last year he wanted 200 total wins in NASCAR, and he's already a quarter of the way there.

But is his monumental goal achievable?

"It would be sure nice to get that," Busch said. "I know it's not 200 Cup victories like Richard Petty has. It will still be a phenomenal mark for me. I don't know how long I'll be in the Truck Series or Nationwide Series, but hopefully for as long as Joe will let me in the Truck Series, and as long as there's a Nationwide car at Joe Gibbs that we can run, I'll be there running races and fulfilling some duties and deals there."

Despite his winning record, Busch has never been a fan favorite. He has taken on the part as NASCAR's villain since a year ago when he spun out Earnhardt Jr. at Richmond.

Busch has handled the character role well, and his celebratory bow in front of the crowd after each victory continues to generate more boos than cheers.

Richmond was a different story, however, as Busch garnered more approval from the crowd than he has in the past.

"Pretty cool," he said when asked about it.

Maybe the fans at Richmond were more receptive towards Busch since it was his birthday.

Who knows.

One thing is for sure though. Busch is on his way to becoming one of the best in NASCAR, and the fans are beginning to realize it.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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