He stood confidently on pit lane, laden in shades, donning his dark Mopar cap on Friday afternoon during the qualifying session for the Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.
As usual, he carried his usual cool demeanor, almost as if he knew that he had a quick bullet that would negotiate the sweeping two-mile speedway for his pivotal time trial laps.
These days, life's been good for Kurt Busch, as he's compiled some excellent performances and finishes in recent races. With finishes of 18th, third, 19th, first, and sixth, the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team appears to be on the right track to challenge for another Sprint Cup title, in spite of the fact that they're running a relatively endangered specie with a Dodge.
"With the odds stacked up against you, you always feel like you're running an uphill battle," Busch said per AP sportswriter Will Graves' article .
Those words couldn't have been more true for the 31-year-old Las Vegas native, whose stock value in NASCAR looked quite shaky following his magical championship season in 2004. The world of auto racing turned upside down for the former Ford prospect, whose attitude got the best of him during the heat of the moment.
Fumed out of the Roush-Fenway Racing collective prior to the season finale in 2005, Busch bolted for Penske Racing South, taking over the famous No. 2 ride that was piloted by '89 Cup champ Rusty Wallace, who also knows a thing or two about blowing a fuse in terms of his personality.
Fiery and outspoken prior to his arrival at Penske's operation, the young gun was harnessed over the years. In the words of the late T. Wayne Robinson's thoughts on Jimmy Spencer (yep, that guy who Busch called a "decrepit old has been"), Busch had to "go a little slower to go a little faster."
For a vast majority of his career, Busch was praised for his willingness to race to the front, often winning his fair share of races with his aggressive driving style. However, that kind of racing also landed him on the hot seat at times, often finding himself embroiled in post-race altercations with crew members from other teams as well as his colleagues on the track.
Of course, he still has that flare and glint of a champion who refuses to take any prisoners, driving the wheels off his Dodge. Rest assured, he's going to give you 110 percent in terms of going for the win rather than stroking for a conservative finish.
It doesn't matter if you're his crew chief, in this case Steve Addington, or car owner and boss Roger Penkse, a multi-millionaire business mogul. When it's the heat of the moment, in talking to Busch, he's about as cagey and willed up in that machine, he's going to muscle the Miller Lite machine to the lead, even if he has to call you "dude" out of slight disrespect.
That said, when he's got a bullet under him, he'll give proper acknowledgment to the team that prepares those fast Dodges. Such was the case on Friday afternoon, grabbing the pole for Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400.
"I give all the credit to the crew and Steve Addington for making the sharp decision that it takes to set a car on the pole and stay on top of changing track conditions," said Busch following his successful pole run.
Busch added, "You've got to have the horsepower...aerodynamics...(and) you've got to have the handling."
Those are just some of the aspects that have been on all eight cylinders for the veteran racer, all this despite the fact that his Penske team is the only one on the circuit under the Dodge racing banner.
Often overlooked by his younger and feistier brother Kyle, who has also compiled quite the season in 2010, it's Kurt who has earned the praises and respect of his fellow peers and critics on the Sprint Cup tour, as it appears that the champion has honed his style on and off-the-track.
It's been paying off big time for Busch, sweeping both races at Charlotte, which included the All-Star race and the grueling Coca-Cola 600. Winning a race at NASCAR's backyard is quite the morale boost, so just imagine the emotional highs that the No. 2 unit had following their triumphant homecoming.
In cases where he recognizes that he may not have a winning car under him, he'll bring home a good finish, although the taste of victory's much sweeter for the 11th year driver.
Thus far in 2010, he's logged a pair of wins at Atlanta and Charlotte, three more top five finishes, and an additional trio of top 10 performances. At the end of the day, those look like numbers that are more than enough to carry Busch and the No. 2 team back into the playoffs for a third time.
But before thoughts of the Chase can be conceived, it's the race to September that the Penske operation have to think about. Depending on where they'll be down the stretch, they could play the conservative strategy if they're atop the points race or go all out for victories if they're on the brink of elimination come post-Labor Day weekend.
Following the winding turns of Infineon Raceway later this month, the circuit will pay its annual second visits to a majority of tracks in the second half of the season, including Daytona, Fontana, Atlanta, Bristol, Richmond, Pocono, and Michigan.
At those tracks, he placed 23rd, sixth, first, third, 18th, and sixth, averaging a 9.5 place finish during the first trips at those facilities. While the variables will differ greatly in terms of competitiveness, rules changes, and weather conditions, it can't be ignored that Busch and Addington will be serving up some heat to the competition, looking to score additional wins to collect pivotal bonus points for a higher Chase seed.
Now it's possible Busch may crumble down the finish, which is a scenario that all the Chase contenders fear most as the postseason lies less than two months away. This season may be the best opportunity for Busch to silence those notions and critics who may feel that the encouraging start to his season is all but a fluke and stroke of luck.
When all's said and done in the 2010 season, while the storylines often preside with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Tony Stewart, it may be Kurt Busch who'll be the man who came out of nowhere to capture his second championship—this time, in the right way, with dominance and cool.
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