NASCAR & Auto Racing

Why Busch hasn't given up, no matter what he said

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Jimmie Johnson knows how Kyle Busch feels.

In 2006, Johnson was half of a lap away from no worse than a third-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway before he was bumped by then-teammate Brian Vickers and crashed along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the backstretch.

When the dust settled, Johnson was 156 behind the leader in eighth place in the standings four races into the championship Chase.

"We were sawed off at the legs," Johnson recalled. "I thought I was done. I knew it was out of my control, for sure. I thought we were over."

Busch had the same feeling last weekend at Dover after a blown engine doomed him to a 43rd-place finish. Combined with his 34th at New Hampshire in this year's Chase opener, Busch dropped from the top of the standings after his eight-win regular season to 12th, 210 points behind leader Carl Edwards.

"We're out of the title hunt," Busch said at Dover. "That's for sure."

A week later, as he prepared for Sunday's Camping World RV 400 at Kansas Speedway, Busch's outlook on this year's Chase has not brightened much.

"Here's how I look at it," said Busch, who'll start 27th Sunday. "You can't count on anybody else having a bad race."

Sure, just about everybody in the Chase usually does have at least one bad race - except for Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon in last year's trend-busting playoff - but let's hear Busch out.

"Realistically, yes, we're out of it," he said. "If they do have a bad race, then it depends on who had the bad race and how bad it is for us to get back in it. ...We can't win eight races in a row and have Carl (Edwards) or Greg (Biffle) finish fifth through 10th in every single one of those and still win the deal.

"That ain't going to happen."

The odds are that Busch is right. The hole he's in two races into the 10-race Chase is deep and it would take a monumental comeback for him to climb out of it.

Johnson's experience in 2006, however, offers at least some solace for Busch and his fans. Johnson was down 156 points and behind seven other drivers with just six races to go but then rallied to win his first title.

"I certainly can relate to Kyle. I understand where he's at," said Johnson, who's tied with Greg Biffle 10 points behind Edwards in this year's standings. "And from being in that position before I know we can't count him out.

"But I don't think it's in his control. If the rest of the field has problems he'll be back in it."

Johnson did get "help" in his 2006 comeback as some of the drivers who were ahead of him faltered. But that would not have mattered in the ultimate outcome if Johnson and his team hadn't surged to four second-place finishes along with a victory at Martinsville in a five-race stretch that followed the Talladega disappointment.

Any kind of Busch comeback from his 210-point hole would have to include problems for Edwards, Johnson and Biffle somewhere along the way, but it would also have to begin with Busch and his team putting the past two weeks behind them and returning to the form that made them the dominant force they were in the season's first 26 races.

"I'm going to do the same thing I've done all year long," Busch said. "I am still going out there to run as hard as I can every single lap."

That doesn't sound like quitting, does it? Yet there are those who felt that Busch's frank if pessimistic assessment of his team's title hopes after the Dover disappointment sounded like surrender.

"My team knows I haven't given up on them," Busch said. "They haven't given up on me either."

But even if no miracle comeback emerges for Busch and his team, what's happened over the past two weeks provides a valuable lesson.

Kansas Speedway is a track where in three of the four years there has been a Chase the race winner was not among the championship contenders. One year ago here, two big wrecks following rain caught so many Chase drivers that the championship battle was basically reduced to a three-way fight among Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer for the balance of the season.

Edwards starts a dangerously deep 34th in Sunday's field in which only two Chase drivers - Johnson, the pole winner, and Matt Kenseth, who starts third - qualified in the top 10. What has happened to Busch is something that he certainly has in mind.

"You can bet everyone in this garage looks at that and goes, 'That's how tough this sport is and how quick things can change,' " Edwards said. "That's why you just have to take it week to week and race to race."

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