A top ten finish at Kansas this weekend, could make the difference for Kurt Busch and his 2010 Championship hopes.
In its brief nine year history of hosting a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, Kansas Speedway hasn't exactly been kind to Kurt Busch. For Busch to have any hopes of becoming a two time Champion, that is a trend that needs to end.
Kurt Busch will be the first to admit that Kansas has been tough for him. In his nine starts at the mile and a half tri-oval, Busch has recorded only two top 10 finishes, with a best career finish of sixth coming in 2004, his championship season. In the past five trips to Kansas, Busch has failed to record a single top ten while finishing outside the top 20 in two of those races.
When asked what the key would be in turning around his fortunes at Kansas, Busch was quick to point out that the team needs to find the right balance to make the car turn better in the corners. He compared Kansas Speedway with Chicagoland Speedway, which the series visited in July, where unfortunately for Busch, the team struggled there as well, only managing a twenty sixth place finish.
While Busch comes into this weekends race fourth in points, only 59 markers behind series leader Denny Hamlin, this could be the make or break race for the driver of the Miller Lite Dodge.
If Busch can leave this weekend within eyesight of the points lead, he could instantly become a favorite to claim the Sprint Cup Series Championship.
After Kansas, the rest of the tracks on the schedule have been very kind to Busch. Six of his 22 career wins have come at the remaining seven tracks, having won once at each of them with the exception of Talladega. And more impressively, 27 of Busch's career 80 top 5 finishes have come on the final seven tracks of the season.
The even better news for Busch fans, however, is that this is not unfamiliar territory for the elder Busch brother. Kurt is a former NASCAR champion, so he has dealt with the pressure that comes from the Chase.
When asked about those pressures, Kurt replied "It's an amazing 10 weeks. The excitement level is at an all time high, and the stress level is at an all time high." He added "I like the competition, the chance to go out there and beat the best. You have to be bringing your "A" game every week."
Kansas marks just the third race of the Chase, but it is the first of four mile and a half tracks that are in the Chase schedule. On the whole, Busch has been historically good at this type of track, but he is quick to point out that two of them provide a unique challenge.
"There's two tracks in the Chase, we race only once a year, Kansas and Homestead. There's a little bit of an uneasy feeling going there if you don't have a solid notebook, because it makes it hard to find the speed" Busch said.
And although Kansas itself has been the worst mile and a halfer for Busch over his career, there is still reason for optimism. Busch has scored the most points of any chase driver at the six mile and a half race tracks that have been run thus far this season, bringing some much needed momentum to a place where he needs it.
He has out gained current point leader Denny Hamlin by 152 points on those particular tracks (Atlanta twice, Chicago, Texas, Las Vegas, and Charlotte). And he has posted 31 more points than four time defending Sprint Cup Champion, Jimmie Johnson. In fact, the only chase driver within 20 points of Busch on mile and a half tracks this year is Matt Kenseth, who has struggled through the first two chase races.
So, while the Chase still has eight races left to be run, there may be none that is more important to Kurt Busch and his title hopes than this weekends event in Kansas. While winning the race is the goal of every driver that puts on a helmet, sometimes surviving a race, and coming away with a nice solid top ten can be just as important in the long run.
If Busch can overcome a racetrack that his been one of his nemesis' this weekend, and escape with a good points day, he may want to start clearing an extra space on the mantle. Because with numerous tracks on the horizon that play to his strengths, championship number two in the career of Kurt Busch may only be eight weeks away.