JOLIET, Ill. (July 10, 2007) -- With eight races remaining to decide the 12 drivers who will compete in the 2007 "Chase for the Championship," Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch is on the outside looking in. However, the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup...
JOLIET, Ill. (July 10, 2007) -- With eight races remaining to decide the 12 drivers who will compete in the 2007 "Chase for the Championship," Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch is on the outside looking in. However, the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion maintains high hopes that his Pat Tryson-led Penske Racing unit can still make the cut come Sept. 8 at Richmond, Va.
"We certainly could use a few more races like last Saturday night's Pepsi 400 if we're going to be able to pull it off," Busch said. "We have a lot of good tracks coming up for us between now and September, so you can bet that we're keeping the faith.
"I'm optimistic, but I'm also being a realist about it all. It's not like we're battling just one guy to make the cut. There could be eight or 10 drivers in the mix and really duking it out for the final spots in the Chase."
Busch's quest to make the 12-driver cut certainly picked up much needed momentum with his third-place finish in last Saturday's 400-mile race at Daytona. He entered the race 15th in the point standings and trailing 12th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 236 points. After finishing third, Busch is still 15th in the standings, but he is now only 121 points from making the cut.
"We cut the deficit almost right in half in just that one race," Busch said. "But we're smart enough to know that a lot of the ground we made up came from the poor finish that the No. 8 car [Earnhardt] had. But, it just shows you how much can change in a single race.
"When you look at the remaining eight races before the Chase kicks in, there are several other races like Daytona, where there can be what you might call high collateral damage. By that, I mean there are races remaining where incidents pretty much beyond your control can take you out or force a poor finish. We've seen from our own experience what races at tracks like Bristol and Watkins Glen can offer. There can be big points gains made -- or major points damage done in just those particular races."
With 1,919 points to his credit entering this weekend's USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Busch also trails 13th-place Jamie McMurray, Saturday's race winner, by 72 points and he is 60 points behind Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman. After Chicago, the tour visits Indianapolis. Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, California and Richmond before the Chase kicks in at New Hampshire on Sept. 16.
"We just have to focus on getting all the top-fives and top-10s we can between now and then," Busch said. "We can only control what we can accomplish out there and the rest just has to fall into place. Like I said, we're optimistic, but we're also being level-headed about the situation and the challenge we have ahead."
Busch's career Cup track record at Chicagoland boasts four top-10 finishes in six races, including last year's eighth-place finish. His best finish is the sixth he scored in the 2002 race. In that race, Busch qualified second, but he was forced to start from the rear of the field after two engine failures during the final day of practice leading up to the race. He started 19th and finished eighth in the 2005 USG Sheetrock 400.
"I've always enjoyed racing at Chicagoland and we've had some decent runs there," Busch said. "With my family originally being from the Chicago area before relocating to Las Vegas, it feels like a second home to me. Everyone who knows me is well aware of my love for the Chicago professional sports teams. Winning at Chicago would be a very memorable accomplishment in my career."
This weekend's schedule at Chicagoland Speedway calls for NEXTEL Cup practice on Friday from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Cup qualifying is scheduled for 3:10 p.m. on Friday. Saturday's schedule calls for Cup practice sessions from 9-9:50 a.m. and from 12:20-1:20 p.m. Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 [400.5 miles, 267 laps] has a 3 p.m. CDT starting time. TNT and MRN Radio will provide live coverage. This is the last race for TNT. ESPN begins its NEXTEL Cup coverage at Indianapolis.