LOUDON, N.H. With seven races left until NASCAR's new championship showdown begins, the road to the Nextel Cup title began for Kurt Busch and remained wide open for injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"I believe our chase for the championship started today in the first Loudon race instead of the second Loudon race," Busch said after moving from ninth to sixth in the points with his convincing victory in the Siemens 300 on Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Busch was the only driver to stay with pole-winner Ryan Newman through most of the 300-mile race, passing him twice and, finally, pulling away from Newman and runner-up Jeff Gordon at the end for his second win of the season and 10th of his career.
"My car was just really good on long runs, and, once we got to the front, we were able to run real strong in clean air," Busch said.
A number of drivers had their eyes on the season standings, with the top 10 drivers, along with any others within 400 points of the lead after the 26th race, competing for the championship during the last 10 races of the season.
Busch's first win since Bristol in March solidified his chances of vying for the title when the "Chase for the Cup" begins on the same flat, 1.058-mile New Hampshire oval Sept. 19.
Earnhardt, with second-degree burns on his legs, neck and chin from a crash a week earlier during a sports-car event, held onto second place in the standings after starting the race to get the championship points. He gave up the seat on lap 61 to Martin Truex Jr., the Busch Series points leader making his Cup debut.