By Kelly Crandall (MARTINSVILLE, Va.) – @KurtBusch can now cross one off the list.
A list that’s been hanging over his head for a few months. Then eight-year-old Houston had a summer to-do list and like every kid it was filled with things to keep busy from sunup to sundown. Ride his go-kart, go swimming and fishing, play video games. But there was something on there that only Busch could make happen.
Be in victory lane was the fifth thing Houston, now 9, wanted to do.
Houston is the son of Patricia Driscoll, Busch’s longtime girlfriend. As Busch failed to win a race last year he was never able to fulfill the summer promise, the closest thing Houston got was being a part of the celebration in Richmond for the Chase field. But Busch hadn’t forgotten about Houston’s wish, so Sunday after he outdueled Jimmie Johnson late at Martinsville, there was finally that long awaited moment.
“It’s pretty emotional. To see him starry eyed and not knowing what he needed to do and I was directing him where he needed to stand and where he could see it all better and put him up on stage,” Busch said of the Victory Lane celebration.
After the TV interviews, radio spots and congratulations from others, Busch finally got ahold of Houston. Grabbing him in a big hug, Houston’s head lying on Busch’s shoulder they soaked everything in. Later he got to carry the STP 500 trophy – and his huge smile – into the media center while Busch continued his post-race obligations.
Perhaps the only thing Houston didn’t get that day was for mom to allow him a victory treat of Mountain Dew. After bouncing around and waiting nearly an hour, it was back outside for more of the celebration. After leaving the speedway Driscoll tweeted a picture of the two, Houston and Busch, sitting outside a Papa John’s eating pizza. Straight out of the movie Big Daddy she said. Which is quite fitting as Busch has happily taken on the role of an adopted stepdad.
Just glance at his Twitter page, where it’s a mix between racing and pictures from adventures with Driscoll and Houston. From Christmas to taking him to school, Busch has easily fallen into that responsibility. Of course he’s also rubbed the racing off on the little boy, teaching him how to drive that go-kart.
“To have him break down in tears, it got me crossed up because I’ve been trying to deliver for him, and when you deliver for your team and everybody that’s on this Stewart-Haas, Haas Automation team, we’re all adults, but when the kids get involved and he gets to soak it in, it just kind of took it to a new level,” Busch revealed. “He busted out crying, and tears of joy from a nine-year-old are probably the heaviest tears of all.”
Since Driscoll and Houston came into Busch’s life back in 2011, the driver who had built a reputation for being the brash and hardened veteran, began to soften. Suddenly much more aware of the little eyes who were watching him and whom he didn’t want to have to explain to why he was saying and acting the way he was.
Following his blowup in Homestead in 2011, Busch was all but down and out of the sport, as he spent the next two years with two underfunded teams. But in the process he found himself and developed great relationships with those around him. Houston now wears his own fire suit on the weekends, goes to driver introductions and has picked up the “mini outlaw” nickname.
Now, after all that, it made a place – Martinsville – Busch never expected special. The full circle Houston told Busch about when he was signed by SHR last year, which puts the 35-year-old back on top in his life and on the track, where he’s returned to a top-tier organization and repaired his reputation with the fans. The consistent shower of boos was replaced with congratulatory cheers late Sunday evening.
“It’s a moment of self-satisfaction and enjoyment of all the hard work that I’ve put in and all the people that have been around me to help me, and to have a guy like Gene Haas believe in you and give you a shot with a brand new team and a brand new car,” Busch said about winning after so long.
A win with a constant chiming reminder of a more than two-year journey of personal battles, public blowups with reporters and a suspension from NASCAR that’s all been washed away. And Houston can work on a new list for this summer.
“You’ve got to put life in perspective, and you have to sit there and try to muscle your way individually through certain situations,” said Busch. “And so you rely on your experience level, you rely on your team, and this is a great day for me to be able to lift the trophy in Victory Lane for Stewart-Haas Racing.”
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