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Race to the Chase: like him or not, there’s no quit in Kyle Busch

 Kyle Busch started off this season like he was going to roar straight into the Chase, just like last year. He racked up three wins in the first nine races. But suddenly we’re heading for September and Busch hadn’t won a race since May.

Kyle Busch went into last Saturday night’s Sharpie 500 at Bristol in 15th place in the standings, his lowest points position since the second race of the season. Things went south for Busch at Chicagoland Speedway on July 11, where a 33rd place finish knocked him from eighth in the standings to 10th.
A 38th place run the following week at Indianapolis booted Busch from the top 12 altogether and he has yet to return. But it was at Chicagoland where the tailspin began. The difference pre- and post-Chicagoland is statistically eye opening. In the season’s first 18 races, Busch had an average finish of 16.1, an average running position of 11.1, 253 fastest laps run a pass differential (passes minus times passed) of plus 50 and 809 laps led.
Since then his stats had fallen dramatically. In the last five races leading up to Bristol, where he fell from eighth to 15th in the standings Kyle had an average finish of 22.
He went into Bristol 70 points out of the 12th and final position that qualifies for the Chase. Making this year's Chase is not undoable, but it won’t be easy. Matt Kenseth was 104 points outside with three races remaining in 2005 and made the Chase, and at that time it was just a 10-driver field.
Busch took the first step Saturday night by winning the Sharpie 500, moving him up to 13th place in the standings, just 34 points behind Matt Kenseth for the 12th and final position in this year’s Chase.
In the post race press conference Busch praised Mark Martin for not taking him out as they battled down to the wire saying, “We got track position when it mattered most there on the last pit stop. It really set up a tight battle between myself and Mark Martin, who had the best car all night. Man, what an honorable racecar driver Mark Martin is. Such an honor to race him. To give him the room that he needed, for him to give me the room I needed was awesome. I can’t thank him enough. He didn’t let me win the race, but he certainly didn’t take it away from us. I know how bad Alan wants to win and how bad Mark wants to win.”
Team owner Joe Gibbs had the following comments, “Yeah, I echo what Kyle said about Mark. I mean, I thought that was a heck of a race. Classy guy. Obviously he could have chosen to go at it a little differently there at the end. I think everybody was giving everything they had. I thought it was a great race.”
Asked if he would rather have a young Kyle Busch or a young Tony Stewart, Gibbs laughed and responded, “You’re not going to lure me in to that one.”
 Mark Martin’s runner up finish Saturday night moved him off the 12th place bubble position up to 10th place, with a razor thin 26 point cushion over the 12th and final place driver heading into the Pep Boys Auto 500 a week from Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Asked to comment on his performance that moved him off the 12th and final place in the Chase, Martin commented: “It’s not enough. But it’s much better than last week. I really, really would be a lot more comfortable with a 150-point cushion, and we had that leaving Indy. Everything turned upside down. You know, I don’t have the greatest confidence that the things we can’t control are going to be kind to us because we haven’t had an average year for those things.”
With two races to go to determine which 12 drivers will qualify for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, just 69 points separate Juan Pablo Montoya in ninth place from Brian Vickers in 14th place.

 

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