NASCAR & Auto Racing

Former champion Kurt Busch facing an even-steeper climb

Kurt Busch won the inaugural NASCAR Chase for the Nextel Cup with consistency.

In 2004, Busch started the 10-race postseason with a victory at New Hampshire and went on to post eight more top-10 finishes as he held on to beat Jimmie Johnson by just eight points for the title.

His only slip-up down the stretch came at Atlanta in the seventh race of the Chase, with an engine failure relegating the then-Roush Racing driver to a 42nd-place finish.

Busch, who now drives for Penske Racing, has been one of the hottest drivers in the Cup series since July, when Pat Tryson became his crew chief.

Busch began this year’s Chase as one of the favorites, but a pedestrian 25th-place finish at New Hampshire and a 29th-place run last Sunday at Dover have left the former champ 11th among the 12 title contenders heading into Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

Worse, Busch’s slow start in the Chase has been almost entirely due to bad luck.

At New Hampshire, his Dodge lost a cylinder and he struggled with carburetor problems resulting in the worst finish of all the Chase drivers.

Last Sunday at Dover, Busch was running fourth with just 14 laps remaining when a flat tire sent him hard into the wall. Had he gone on to finish fourth, Busch would be eighth, only 67 points behind leader Jeff Gordon. Instead, he trails Gordon by 151 points.

“I guess woulda, coulda, shouldas may work to help keep the morale up in times like these because we did have a great car and Kurt drove the wheels off it,” Tryson said.

“But, just like I told them on the radio there on Sunday, it’s not a good idea to talk about points at all until that checkered flag falls.”

Busch is frustrated by the slow start to the Chase.

“We had cars strong enough in both races to be up there with the (points) leaders,” he said. “A broken fifty-cent part got us at New Hampshire and the tire cost us at Dover. ...What’s so frustrating is that at worst we had top-five cars in both races.

“If we could have just managed that, we’d be sitting there only 10 points out of the lead right now without even leading a single lap.”

Instead, the No. 2 team is in a pretty deep hole that has Tryson calling on all his noted morale-boosting powers to keep everybody’s heads up.

“I was at the shop (Monday) and talked with Pat,” Busch said. “He’s the best in the business at keeping the team morale going and keeping me pumped up, too. We agreed that all we can do now is go into each of the remaining eight races looking to get everything we can out of them.

“We’ll be trying to win poles in order to get good spots on pit road. We’ll be after every bonus point we can get. We’ll be doing everything we can to win all of the remaining races. We have to look at it as, ‘Let’s stay focused and do everything we possibly can. Then, as far as the points go, let the chips fall where they may.’ That’s all you can do.”