|Kyle Busch takes aim on Kenseth for points lead|
|Saturday, September 28, 2013 12:26 AM|
By DAN GELSTON
DOVER, Del. — Kyle Busch would take a winless Chase if it pays off with a championship.
At 28, Busch is on a mission to win the Cup championship that would truly stamp him as one of the sport’s greats.
He already has a resume few in the garage can match. Busch wins races in all three national NASCAR series like no other driver, including a whopping 18 this season.
But all those checkered flags haven’t helped him win a championship. Busch has finished higher than 10th only once in the last five seasons and he’s never been better than fifth (2007) in the final standings. He lost out to Jeff Gordon for the final Chase spot last season at Richmond.
Busch has put those past disappointments behind him with a sizzling start to this season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Busch is 2 for 2 in runner-up finishes at Chicagoland in the opener and last week at New Hampshire. While Busch said he doesn’t pay attention to the standings, he knows his pair of seconds is good enough to put him in second place.
Problem is, the driver in front of him hasn’t been in the mood to lose.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth leads the standings after storming his way to the Chase lead with wins the last two weeks to boost his series-best total to seven.
Busch and 5-time champion Jimmie Johnson are the only drivers truly threatening Kenseth for the lead as the Chase shifts to Dover for Sunday’s race.
Kenseth holds a 14-point lead over Busch and an 18-point edge over Johnson. While certainly not out of it with eight races remaining, Carl Edwards is 36 points back of Kenseth in fourth.
Busch is proud he can be part of the 1-2 combination for JGR and Toyota. He just wouldn’t mind flipping the order.
“It may take a couple of wins in this deal to win it,” Busch said Friday. “I’ve also felt all along that if you finish second every Chase race, then you could have a really good shot at winning a championship that way. I would certainly take that over a Chase win and then following that up with a DNF.”
Busch has four Cup victories this season, including two in the last seven. Has last failure to finish came in May at Charlotte.
Tony Stewart in 2005 is the only driver to win a championship without winning a Chase race.
JGR, with Busch, in the past has dominated the regular season, but dropped off considerably once the Chase began. Now they’ve carried their success into the Chase and are a credible 1-2 threat to give Toyota its first Sprint Cup title.
“I really feel like Matt and the relationship that he and his crew chief have and what they have been able to bring to the table has helped elevate Joe Gibbs to the next level,” Johnson said. “The experience that Matt brings in, the smarts, the knowledge, the consistent driving that is a nice kind of rock within that organization that without a doubt has helped them.”
Busch is nipping at Kenseth and said the 20 “lucked into one” at Chicagoland. He blamed a poor restart for costing him at New Hampshire.
Does Busch finally have the team that can put it all together and win the Cup?
“We want,” Busch said. “We need to.”
Busch missed the Chase and declared 2012 “the absolute worst year of my career” after winning just one race across NASCAR’s three national series.
One knock against Busch has been has late-season swoon that usually derails his championship bid before it even gets going. Busch has never won a Chase race the seasons he’s qualified for NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
“We’ll see if he can keep it together over the course of 10 weeks,” Johnson said. “We all have something out there that media, fans, and competitors hold against you and make you think about from time to time and they always bring up a question. His question is, can you hold it together for 10 weeks? And we’ll see. I believe that he has the ability to do it.”
In his first season at JGR after more than a decade working for Jack Roush, Kenseth said Busch was “all business” and as focused as a driver can get. Kenseth also doesn’t care that’s Busch lurking behind him. Teammate or not, Kenseth is only concerned with winning his second Cup championship.
“I’m glad he’s got the star that he’s gotten,” Kenseth added, “and that we’ve got the start we’ve got for sure.”
Earnhardt wins pole at Dover: Dale Earnhardt Jr. can pick up his pursuit of Matt Kenseth from out front.
Earnhardt showed a rare burst of top qualifying speed, turning a track-record lap of 161.849 mph to win the pole Friday at Dover International Speedway.
Earnhardt won his second pole of the season, the first time he has multiple poles since 2002.
Chase for the Sprint Cup championship drivers filled the top four spots and eight of the top 12. Kenseth, the points leader and winner of the first two Chase races, joins Earnhardt on the front row. Ryan Newman is third and Carl Edwards fourth.
Earnhardt’s run marked the 17th time this season drivers have set qualifying records in the new Gen-6 car.
Earnhardt is in 11th place in the 13-driver field. He’s not out of it, but certainly not a legitimate championship contender. He needs a hot streak in the No. 88 Chevrolet — and for Kenseth and the rest of field to considerably cool.
With that option pretty much a long shot, Earnhardt is determined to win at least one race this season.
“I’d be really disappointed if we don’t win a race this season, because I think we’re a better team than we were last year,” he said. “We came close so many times. We’d just like to go out there and get some trophies.”
No driver has been able to wrest the trophies — or a lobster — away from Kenseth. His series-high seven wins, including Chase victories at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, have made Kenseth the favorite to win a second Cup championship. Even Kenseth can’t explain his roll since he joined Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been on one quite like this,” he said. “I’ve been enjoying it. You never know what it’s going to end.”
Earnhardt and Kenseth will try and keep the rest of the Chase field behind them.
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson starts eighth, Kurt Busch is ninth, Joey Logano 11th, Kevin Harvick 12th, Kyle Busch 14th, Jeff Gordon 16th, Greg Biffle 19th, Kasey Kahne 20th, and Clint Bowyer starts 23rd.
Bowyer got the news he wanted since the Richmond scandal when sponsor 5-Hour Energy decided to stick with embattled Michael Waltrip Racing through the 2014 season.
Martin Truex Jr., his MWR teammate, is still waiting to find out where he’ll drive next season. Truex faces an uncertain future after NAPA Auto Parts yanked its sponsorship at the end of the season in the aftermath of MWR’s decision to manipulate the outcome of the Sept. 9 race at Richmond.
Furniture Row Racing is in the mix for Truex after losing Kurt Busch to Stewart-Haas Racing. General manager Joe Garone said the organization had expressed interest in the veteran driver.
“We just need to be patient and see how things shake out,” Garone said.
Truex, who found out he likely won’t need surgery on his broken right wrist, is antsy for a resolution.
“It’s a lot more complicated because of time,” he said. “There’s no, well, wait a few weeks and talk to these people and see what they’re thinking. There is no slow-planning anything. It’s, now, now, now. I need answers so I can make decisions. That’s the most difficult thing, putting people in positions where they’ve got to make decisions they’re not sure about. I imagine when something happens, it will happen quick.”
NASCAR’s credibility was called into question after Richmond, and chairman Brian France ordered drivers to give 100 percent in new rules prohibiting the artificial altering of events.
Drivers have poked fun at the “100 percent” edict the last two weeks.
Asked if the track was simply quick for his qualifying run, Newman laughed and replied, “No, I just tried harder.”
One hundred percent?
“Actually, I was 118 percent that time,” he added.