LOUDON, N.H. — It’s no secret that Kyle Busch has struggled during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup the five times he’s previously qualified for NASCAR’s postseason.
It is something he’s fully aware of, and a misconception he could change over the final 10 races of 2013. He started the Chase on the right foot, finishing second to teammate and points leader Matt Kenseth.
“Yeah, I think so. I think that’s fair to say. We certainly have run really well this year,” Busch said in response to a question about whether he’s in his best position to win a championship since 2008. “The new Gen-6 car has been great for our organization. I think we stepped up and worked on a lot of great things over the winter and throughout the year and we’ve shown that we have speed continually.”
Of the 50 Chase races in which he’s as a Chase contender — he missed the eighth race of the 2011 playoffs at Texas — he’s never visited Victory Lane. He’s finished second three times and has 11 top-five finishes. His best ranking in the final points standings came in 2007 when he was fifth.
With the type of season and strong start to the Chase he’s having, Busch could shed that shroud Sunday in the SYLVANIA 300 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He’s won four times so far this season (Bristol, Texas, Watkins Glen, Atlanta) and has finished runner-up three times.
He entered the Chase seeded third and tied with Jimmie Johnson, three points behind Kenseth. After Chicagoland he jumped Johnson, who finished the race fifth, in the standings and is now eight markers behind Kenseth.
In 17 career starts at the New England 1.058-mile oval, Busch has five top-five and seven top-10 finishes to go along with a victory that came in a green-white-checkered finish in the July 2006 race. The win was the third in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.
Busch finished second to Brian Vickers in the first New Hampshire race of the season, leading 53 laps. In the fall race in Loudon last season, Busch started second but finished 28th.
If there’s one aspect of racing at New Hampshire that Busch feels is the most important factor in putting together a winning run, it’s a solid pit road strategy … especially when it comes to the final round of pit stops.
“Essentially, at Loudon, you’re looking at how good your fuel mileage is and you have to look at when you have to make your last pit stop, since that’s what everyone looks at,” Busch said. “You end up running it almost like a road-course race because you do want to be the first guy on the last round of pit stops to pit. You want to get in there, get your tires and fuel, and then stay out the rest of the race and keep your track position since it’s so important there.”
With nine races left in the season a victory this weekend doesn’t guarantee Busch, or any driver for that matter, a clear path to the championship, but it would sure make the path a little sweeter and easier. In the previous nine years of the Chase only two drivers have won the second race in the postseason and gone on to win that year’s championship. Johnson accomplished the feat twice — in 2009 and 2010 — and Tony Stewart followed in 2011.
Busch summed the situation up perfectly: “There’s still nine more weeks - nine long weeks to go. … We just have to make sure we balance out the highs and the lows throughout the next nine weeks. It’s not going to be easy — it never is.”
Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Kentucky 300 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS) at Kentucky Speedway is just what Austin Dillon needs.
Dillon is 17 points behind leader Sam Hornish Jr. in the standings and is in need of a win to rein Hornish in or overtake him and the lead. Kentucky is the best place for that to happen having scored his only two career victories in the series at the 1.5-mile speedway when he swept both races in 2012, both of which he won from the pole.
“This battle has been really tight this year and it’s really anyone’s championship to win,” Dillon said. “I’ve really enjoyed battling with Sam Hornish Jr. all year, along with the other competitors. I’ve had some success at Kentucky Speedway in the past, so I hope I can capitalize this weekend and gain some points.”
With no NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers entered in the race, there hasn’t been a better time all season for Dillon to strike.
In addition to his two wins last season, he has one other start — this June — where he finished sixth. In Loop Data categories, he’s leads all other NASCAR Nationwide drivers at Kentucky in average finish (2.7), average running position (2.9), percentage of laps led (48.2) and driver rating (133.4). In the June 2012 race, he scored a perfect rating of 150.0.
Regardless of whether Dillon finds his way to Victory Lane or not this weekend, it would surprise no one to see him have a strong showing … and perhaps whittle away at Hornish’s lead.