Kyle Busch grabbed a souvenir for the victory lap he’d perfected 99 times before: A white “100” flag that rippled out the window of the No. 18 Toyota, one special number and a giant slice of NASCAR history.
Whether purists like it or not, Busch joined an elite list in auto racing history, becoming the third NASCAR driver to win 100 races.
Busch’s victory Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway also tied him with Mark Martin for first place in career Nationwide Series victories with 49. Busch has 22 wins in Sprint Cup and 29 in the Trucks Series.
“It will stick out for a long time because it is No. 100,” Busch said. “But I’m not going to say it’s the biggest one. This is certainly a special day.”
It might not even be his biggest win this weekend if Busch can win the Sprint Cup race Sunday.
It might be hard to remember if Busch reaches his eventual goal of winning 200 races.
Only “The King” has hit that whopping number.
Richard Petty is NASCAR’s career leader with 200 wins and David Pearson is second with 106. Petty won all of his races at the Cup level. Pearson won 105 races in Cup and one in Nationwide. Busch has 100 wins spread over NASCAR’s top three national series.
“You set your goals high and get out there and try and do it,” Busch said. “It’s down the road, but hopefully one day we get to 200.”
Busch, the 2009 Nationwide champion, won for the sixth time this season.
Asked how many of his 99 victories he remembered, Busch said this week he only thinks about the next one.
Busch, only 26 years old, took a victory ride around the track holding the “100” flag out the window.
One of the most polarizing drivers in the sport, even the milestone cause a stir, with old-school fans feeling Busch’s total shouldn’t be lumped with Petty and Pearson.
Petty’s son, and former driver, Kyle, posted on Twitter he felt it was an unfair comparison.
Busch understood those feelings. But 100 wins is 100 wins.
“Certainly, mine’s a little bit different,” Busch said. “But it feels good.”
He has 22 wins in 240 career Cup starts; 49 for 217 in Nationwide; 29 for 93 in Trucks.
Martin, who has 96 career NASCAR wins, was one of the first to shake Busch’s hand and offer congratulations.
Martin races only a few times in Nationwide each year, but did win a race in Las Vegas this year. Martin recalled the first time he saw Busch turn some practice laps, and feeling like the teen had been racing “forever.”
“He was a natural from the first time he slipped into one of those big stock cars,” Martin said. “It’s been amazing to watch. It’s hard for me to get my arms around where is he at his age.”
Kevin Harvick was second and Kasey Kahne third. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Aric Almirola rounded out the top five. Carl Edwards completed barely 60 laps into the race with a bad engine. He finished the race in ESPN’s broadcast booth.
Busch led the final 33 laps and blew past the field on restarts to win on a green-white checkered finish.
One of the drivers left behind was Harvick.
Harvick has been embroiled in a feud with Busch and the pair was placed on probation earlier this year for a pit road dust-up at Darlington. Late in the race, Harvick said over the radio that NASCAR president Mike Helton told him “not to touch” Busch. Harvick was unhappy with NASCAR’s decision.
“I was told a few weeks ago if we touched the 18 car, we’d be parked,” Harvick said. “It would have been a lot easier to win if you didn’t have handcuffs put on you.”
Busch said he had no problems with Harvick.
“I raced him as clean as he raced me,” Busch said. “If he got a warning, I’m sorry he got a warning. I did not get a warning. I raced hard, I raced clean and I am where I am.”
Busch’s first win came only 12 days after his 19th birthday in the 2004 Nationwide race at Richmond International Raceway. He’s won at 25 different tracks and had NASCAR’s first three-race weekend sweep last year at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch has won Nationwide races in eight straight seasons, including a record 13 times in 2010.
With sunglasses parked on his cap, and a smile, Busch listened in the news conference as a list of his accomplishments was rattled off.
“I think we get it,” he said.
The list will only grow.