The race was 500 laps Sunday in Martinsville, but the road to victory lane was actually much longer for Kurt Busch. It’s not quiet Cinderella. Busch is hardly the loveable underdog story. His story is riches to rags and back, and his downfall was of his own making. And the road back has been bumpy.

“I kept trying to find little stones to uncover and rocks to overturn to try to make teams better for the way that I knew how to make them,” said Busch.

And last season, Busch took a huge step forward, getting the underfunded single car Furniture Row team into the Chase for the Championship. This victory at Martinsville is the next step.

“You know, it was a process.  It was a challenge to work with those Furniture Row guys.  I thought we were knocking on the door about the 10th race in last year, and we couldn't win,” said Busch. “It's amazing how many things have to fall into place, and so I never doubted myself.  I never gave up.”

He’s not charming, but he is persistent. It’s hard to put out of my head the video of him berating Dr. Jerry Punch or flipping of a VIP convoy keeping him out of his garage stall or one I saw in person, Busch beating his car with his HANS device after finishing second to Jimmie Johnson at Bristol. That’s the same Jimmie Johnson that finished second to Busch this weekend. Busch once famously quipped he would rather lose to any of the other 41 cars then lose to Johnson.

“You know, a few years back when we were battling, I was speaking for the fans,” said Busch. “Anybody but the 48, when you have the same winner time and time again, it can get stale, and I wasn't doing my job well enough on that team to challenge Jimmie for the win and to knock him off the top.  When you win as much as he has, he has that target, and you want to go there and knock him off his podium.”

Johnson says he believes Busch has grown since those incidents.

“Through some of the struggles he's had the last couple years before he landed at Stewart-Haas, I've been there and kind of advised -- not necessarily advised, but had conversations with him, gave him my opinion,” said Johnson. “I was happy to see him go to Stewart-Haas.  He's a fantastic driver, and with the way we share information, we can learn from him and learn from that.”

There was never any doubt that Busch could drive. Just how much he’s learned and grown off the race track remains to be seen in my opinion.

If he hasn’t the clock may strike midnight on his cup career.