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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When Kyle Busch counts the people who are his biggest influences, he mentions crew chief Dave Rogers, with whom he's had many a heart-to-heart talk. He mentions his wife Samantha, who is often a voice of reason in his ear. He mentions team owner Joe Gibbs, a steadying presence in the lives of all of his drivers.
The NASCAR star lists the NFL quarterbacks as two figures he watches on and off the field, with the intention of learning from how they handle potentially adverse situations and applying those lessons to his own performance-based sports job behind the wheel. Whether it's how they deal with the media, how they deal with their offensive line after a poor series, or how they react when the pressure is on, Busch believes there are parallels that can help him improve inside and outside of his No. 18 Toyota Camry.
"You watch guys who are good at what they do, and what they can achieve in their own realm of what they're doing," Busch said during a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "There's a reason why Tom Brady has won three Super Bowls and he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and there's a reason why Peyton Manning is probably considered one of the best in the league as well. You listen to what they say sometimes in the media experts you get to read, and you also get a chance to take in what they do on the field and how they're a leader, and what they do with their team and how they can lead their team through different situations."
Brady, quarterback of the undefeated New England Patriots, owns three NFL championships and has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest signal-callers of all time. Manning, who won one title with the Indianapolis Colts, is now with the unbeaten Denver Broncos and enjoying one the best seasons of his career. Both players are renowned not just for their on-the-field exploits, but for their preparation and leadership skills.
They provide lessons that surely come in handy now, with Busch ranked third in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, 12 points behind leader and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth entering the playoff's fourth round Sunday at Kansas Speedway. With the three Chase leaders -- Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Busch -- running so well and already distancing themselves from the rest of the field, managing potential adversity could be a key to staying in the mix.
Enter Brady and Manning, two experts in doing just that.
"I think the biggest thing is, how they react to difficult situations with their team and what they do to get their team back focused on what they need to do throughout games, throughout plays, throughout an offensive series or even a defensive series. You can watch Peyton Manning sit on the sideline, and they go down and they have a bad defensive series and the other team scores, and he knows he's got to get back out there and do something well," Busch said.
"You see that in our sport, when there are guys who are running well, they're passing you, they're going forward, and maybe you're not. You're stale. You know you can do it, you're capable of it, you've got to get with your team to make that happen. And the talking part off the race track, I think you can use that to your mentality or your focus during the races in being able to achieve just those moments where you're not freaking out about going backward. You're still trying to work on going forward."
Perhaps Busch's choice of role models shouldn't come as a surprise, given that his team owner Gibbs won three titles as head coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins. The driver even sees parallels in how he deals with his pit crew after a slow stop, and how a quarterback address an offensive line after a poor series -- with one notable difference, of course.
"They just don't have a microphone button to press that the whole world can listen to," he said. "That's the exact same thing. If I'm the quarterback of the team, my offensive line is my pit crew. My head coach is my crew chief. You definitely have to have that relationship where you can go to those guys and voice your opinion, good or bad, and get everybody back on the same page to move into the next series."
Busch believes the examples set by Manning and Brady provided a tangible benefit for him last year, when he was able to run well in the final 10 races despite missing the Chase. "Maybe I didn't push the envelopes as hard as I could have, because of the guys in front of me who were racing for something. But we proved that we could do it," he said. That momentum has carried into this year's playoff, where Busch hasn't finished worse than fifth in the opening three events.
"Anytime you can take something from somebody else and learn and apply it to your own (situation)," he said, "then I think that's only a benefit."
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