Excuse Kyle Busch if he's a little cranky these days.
A disastrous opening race in the Chase for the championship eliminated his cushy lead in the standings, and Busch is rather irritated about his current position. He finished 34th last week in New Hampshire, dropping him from first in the standings to eighth.
"I am highly frustrated," Busch admitted. "Everything in the regular season is now a waste. All that work we put in to win races and have an advantage in the Chase is just gone and now we've got to play catch up."
Busch's day went awry early Sunday, when a bolt became loose on his sway bar moments after the race began. It caused the suspension to fail on Busch's Toyota and it was all he could do to keep his car off the wall as he tried to nurse it to the mandatory lap 35 caution.
"It was harder running the top groove and trying to stay out of everyone's way," he said of the trying 35 laps. "The bottom groove was slow, but easy to drive. So it was a little hard to figure out where I needed to be and how to stay out of everyone's way. Once I figured it out, it wasn't too bad."
But the time it took to repair the broken part, plus a pit-road penalty, dropped Busch two laps off the pace and guaranteed him a terrible finish. A later wreck compounded the problem, and Busch was stuck running at the back of the field all day.
Riding around counting laps is not an easy task for the aggressive 23-year-old, who has won a series-high eight Cup races this season and has grown accustomed to setting the pace.
"It's awful. You pretty much know that you are going to have to count on attrition, hope some other guys fall out, to gain as many points as you can," Busch said. "So you are driving around, pretty much taking your lumps and it sucks pretty bad because you want to win and run well, and you know you ain't got a chance in flying hell to do anything like that.
"So you are stuck out there all day just riding it out, knowing for the rest of the Chase you have to play catch-up."
The first step toward getting over the disappointment is getting back in a race car, which Busch did Tuesday during a Goodyear tire test at Atlanta. It was there that his Joe Gibbs Racing crew showed him what happened with the sway bar, and the group began to move past New Hampshire.
"The mood was fine. Everybody was there working and doing their jobs," he said. "They showed me what happened and told me they were working on the things that happened so that it won't happen again."
Now the focus turns to Sunday's race in Dover, Del., where Busch won the Cup race in June. He expects his mood will be sour all weekend, possibly even past the checkered flag.
"I know I need to have the mind-set to forget about it and try to concentrate on the task at hand, and we're going to a place where we won last time," he said. "But we were so much further ahead over most of the competition, and we had a great shot at getting way ahead, and now it's gone.
"The pain will be easily erased with success, but I've got to find that success first."