There amidst the smoky remnants of his celebratory burnout on the front straightaway at California‘s Auto Club Speedway last weekend, Kyle Busch stood tall, checkered flag in hand beside his winning Chevrolet race car. The finishing touch: a grand bow to the excited crowd. And another bow for good measure.
That bow has been the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion‘s signature winning denouement for decades; a thank you to his loyal supporters and a subtle “maybe next time” to those upset in the moment that this 61-time Cup Series winner had beaten their favorite driver — yet again.
Truth be told either reaction is satisfying to Busch, although the 37-year-old conceded that certain bows are indeed a little deeper, a little more emotional. That was the case last weekend in California where Busch earned his first win — in only his second points-paying race — driving the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet after moving to the team this season after a 15-year tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing.
The grandstand approval rating even seemed a little louder.
“I think it’s just phenomenal,” Busch said of the moment and earning his first win — 61st overall — with his new team.
“There‘s nothing more rewarding than being able to go to Victory Lane,” he added.
With an all-time best 225 combined victories in NASCAR‘s three national series, Busch has had a lot of opportunity to celebrate and take in the moment, but surprisingly he said, he doesn’t recall the precise moment “the bow” became his sort of winning trademark — the expectation after a “Rowdy” win.
“I don’t really remember exactly how it started, but I just kind of came up with the idea of when I would do a burnout and one of the biggest burnouts I ever did — that I can recall — was actually early on in my career at Charlotte after winning an Xfinity Series race,” Busch explained.
“I think I won my third or fourth race. When I did a burnout afterwards there was so much smoke that when I got out of the car, you couldn‘t see the grandstands. So, I was just standing there, waiting for the smoke to dissipate so I could see the crowd.
“I was like, ‘Heeeeey, I‘m here.’ So I thought of it as, I’m appearing out of the smoke, like I’m a magician. And being from Vegas and being a showman with the background of being from there, I was like, ‘OK, what do great performers do every time they have a great performance for the crowd?’ They come out and bow for the crowd and are getting applause for the end of the show, so that was kind of my idea.
“Do a big burnout, appear out of the smoke and do a big bow.”
There have been other occasional post-race celebratory moves — from Darrell Waltrip‘s “Ickey Shuffle” after winning the Daytona 500 to Tony Stewart climbing the fence after winning at Indianapolis.
The late driver Alan Kulwicki did the reverse victory lap after his wins, driving his car in the opposite direction around the track. It was so iconic and different that even after the former NASCAR Cup Series champion Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash in 1993, his competitors often imitated the move in honor of him.
When it comes to pure athletic exclamation points, Carl Edwards set a high standard. The driver from the “Show Me” state of Missouri would do a backflip off his car [or truck] after a victory. In a career spanning from 2002-2016, he won 28 times in the NASCAR Cup Series, 38 times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series (as well as claiming the 2007 Xfinity Series title) and another six times in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. That‘s a lot of acrobatics.
Edwards said Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith inspired his own victory flips — and that he practiced his form on a trampoline before trying it trackside.
“I didn’t know anything about baseball, but his backflip stood out when I was a kid,” Edwards told ESPN in 2011.
Edwards debuted the flip at short tracks as he was working his way up to NASCAR‘s premier series. At first, he performed the move flipping from car to race track, but through the years, team owners were able to convince him to move “the landing” to the grass infield. And Edwards conceded, if he failed to do a flip after a win, fans would be mad.
Busch said he‘s experienced a similar situation. However, he explained there have been times when he purposely did not take a bow because of how the race may have ended.
“There have been races when there were wins and I’ve forgotten to do it,” Busch said. “I don’t know how you forget to do it, but you just do, there’s so much running through your mind. And if I steal one [a win] I don’t typically a do a bow because it‘s like, ‘OK, I stole one, I didn’t really deserve it.’ But hey, if you have a good performance, do a great job, bow for the crowd.”
And, Busch recalled with a smile, there have been times the television reporter doing a live interview showed up before he got a chance to bow.
“There was one, the start-finish [line] TV interview they do now and they were on me so fast, I didn’t have a chance to do the bow and then I forgot to do it when the interview was over, so I didn‘t do it,” Busch said, adding with a grin. “Then on social media afterwards, there was a whole big deal, ‘Where was your bow?, why didn’t you do your bow?’ and people got mad at the interviewer for getting in my face too fast. I was like, wow.”
Although there’s no official tally of Busch’s bows, with his collection of trophies — the largest in NASCAR history — he’s had plenty of practice and opportunity. They distinguish him and provide a crowd-affecting exclamation point that connects with fans.
Perhaps a grand bow it is truly the only fitting way to close out yet another triumphant race showing for the sport’s all-time winningest driver.
“You try to remember and you try to do it each time and it’s kind of your signature move,” Busch said, adding with a wide grin, “And it’s not nearly as hard as a backflip.”