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Archive for Thursday, July 6, 2006

Making strides

After early race setbacks and adjusting to a new team, Kurt Busch’s patience is beginning to pay off in top finishes

July 6, 2006

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Adversity is nothing new for Kurt Busch.

Handling it well is what has sparked an enormous turnaround for him in his first season with Penske Racing South.

Four races into the 2006 season, Busch was 27th in points with no finish better than 16th. He was closer to falling out of the top 35 in car owner points than he was making the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

Persistence and patience have paid off.

His first top five of the season came with a win at Bristol, Tenn., and after struggling through another slump that sent him to 19th in points, he has rocketed back to the front in the past five races.

"It's nice steady progress. That's what we're looking for, and I think that's what we've found in the last few weeks, just turning that corner," said Busch, now 13th in points after his third place finish last weekend at Daytona Beach, Fla.

"A lot of things weren't going our way midseason. We definitely feel like we've got things (moving) in our direction, but yet we still need some luck."

Yes, he does.

Busch's season-high points position hasn't come without adversity or problems. But he and his No. 2 Dodge team have excelled in their ability to overcome them.

Last weekend, Busch spent much of the first half of the Pepsi 400 struggling with a bad battery that had to be changed under caution. Another bad finish appeared likely.

Yet by the end of the race he and his younger brother, Kyle Busch, were running nose-to-tail trying to run down race leader Tony Stewart for the win.

"That was a great race for us. The team continued its momentum," Kurt said. "I hope we get just as good a finish next week at Chicago."

Busch is now 103 points out of 10th place with nine races remaining before the cutoff to make the championship chase.

He is confident he will have to crack the top 10 to have a shot at making the Chase field for the third consecutive season.

"You definitely have to race to the top 10, and the top 10 guys will be in. And so we look at it where there's still plenty of races for things to go wrong and things to go right," Busch said.

"Hopefully we're on the right side of things with our team because we have had our share of bad luck and misfortune, so when we are able to put a good race together, (we) are competing in the top five all throughout the day.

"If we can continue to do that and position ourselves, we can make this Chase. We'll have an opportunity to do that in these upcoming races to see what we have."

Busch left Roush Racing - with whom he won the 2004 Cup series championship - at the end of last season under a dark cloud.

An off-track incident involving Arizona sheriff's deputies caused Roush and his team's sponsor to force him to sit out the last two races of the year. Questions swirled about how well Busch would work with his new teammate, Ryan Newman.

Busch has remained confident that given enough time, he could return to his 2004 championship form.

"It can happen next year. It could happen this year still. But realistically, I think it takes a season or two or three," he said. "There's a bunch of drivers that have swapped teams, and it takes them a couple years to get things into place."

But there's no time like the present.

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