BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Kurt Busch continued his surprising journey into Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contention Sunday, using a third-place finish in the Pure Michigan 400 to break into the top 10 in points and put his Furniture Row Racing team in the playoff picture. Whether he will still be with Furniture Row next season remains to be seen, however.
Media reports surfaced Sunday night that Stewart-Haas Racing made a formal offer to Busch for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, seeking to add him as a fourth car on a team that will also include Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick. Ryan Newman, who is driving for SHR this season, was not asked to return for 2014.
Busch, the first driver to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title under the 10-race format when it debuted in 2004, was pleased enough with his result at Michigan. But he carefully avoided looking too far down the road. Three races remain before the 12-team field is locked in, and much can come undone between Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond.
"Well, it's being focused," he said. "I'm excited that we're running well. We're able to seal the deal, when that's been some of our struggles through the midpoint of the season."
Ninth in points, Busch hasn't scored a victory since October of 2011. A slip before Richmond (scheduled for Sept. 7) could easily find him back outside the top 10. And with the two Wild Card spots (for positions 11-20) determined by total wins and then points position, being winless isn't a safe bet.
"You can't celebrate with a third-place finish," he said. "You just have to feel confident and ? know that you can go back next week and do it again.
"The biggest thing is just staying out of trouble. Bristol, trouble can happen at any corner. There's going to be 500 laps that we have to perform there ? where we have to protect our car and still finish well."
And consistency has been the problem for the Denver-based team this season. Sunday's result was the sixth top-five finish for the group, which is more than some Chase contenders, but fewer than others. In those races in which Busch hasn't finished well, he's often finished well back. Seven times he has been 20th or worse.
It appeared that might be the case at Michigan as well, as Busch found himself forced to overcome poor track position on more than one occasion. The first was the result of a dropped lug nut during green-flag stops early in the race, a miscue that took him from the front and deposited him outside the top 10.
The second came much later, when Busch pitted and took four tires on Lap 158. With several others opting for two tires, the result was a loss of eight spots -- from sixth to 14th.
Adding to the concern was the fact that most of those ahead of him at the time were those he needed to gain on in points.
"I was a little frustrated at that point," he admitted, "knowing we had a much better car. But our weaknesses were restarts today, trying to maneuver in traffic.
"But lo and behold, (I) got fired up, sometimes I get lucky, an opening opened up on the outside. I think I came on that restart from 14th to sixth. It was a game?changer. That one moment was our race."
He may not be excited, but he admitted having the opportunity to contend for a spot in the Chase is "tremendous."
"It's an amazing feeling to be in position right now, have a group of guys from Denver ? in the Chase right now," he said. "That's what we have to do, make sure when the door closes, (when) the music stops, that we got a place."
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