There's been no shortage of blue Sundays in recent weeks for Kyle Busch. After three consecutive weeks of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team enduring uncharacteristic motor gremlins, Busch was poised for a rebound last weekend at Sonoma ... until a late-race spin ruined his chances.
Burdened by a four-race skid, Busch hopes to shake the blues in the Bluegrass State when the Sprint Cup Series returns to Kentucky Speedway for Saturday night's Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT). The event kicks off the Race to the Chase, the final 10-race stretch of the regular season and the last chance for drivers to seal their eligibility for the Sprint Cup title.
Busch dominated last year's inaugural event at the 1.5-mile track, leading 125 of 267 laps in winning from the pole position. He also has one Kentucky win in both the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series.
Despite his past glories in all three series, Busch knows he has just one shot at Kentucky's lone race on the Sprint Cup schedule to better his Chase hopes.
"I think it makes it more challenging," Busch said. "You've definitely got to go through your notes and find the things that made you good there and watch the film -- no different than a football player studying film to see what he can do to be better. For me, you do some of those same things."
The urgency for Busch to perform has grown with his recent slide. After scoring his only Sprint Cup victory of the season at Richmond in April, Busch went on a tear in May -- second place at Talladega, fourth at Darlington, third at Charlotte -- that moved him to eighth in the series standings.
Since then, his once-solid grasp on a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup postseason hunt has been clouded in engine smoke. Three consecutive mechanical failures, topped by his Sonoma spin, have bumped Busch to 12th in the points and left him clinging to a wild-card berth. Busch is 31 points behind 10th-place Brad Keselowski -- the top 10 drivers plus the two wild-cards (drivers in positions 11th to 20th with the most wins) will be eligible for the 10-race championship fight.
To put his bid for a Chase spot on ice, Busch will have to buck a recent trend of parity. This season's 16 Sprint Cup races have 12 different winners, and the past three events have gone to first-time winners in 2012.
Matt Kenseth, who made public Tuesday his plans to leave Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season, still leads the Cup Series standings, sitting 11 points ahead of teammate Greg Biffle. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the winner two weeks ago at Michigan, is third, just 14 points off the top spot.
Dillon stalks trophy double-dip
Austin Dillon, a hefty rookie of the year lead in hand, now shifts his eye toward history.
No driver has ever won the ROY and the Nationwide Series championship in the same year. Not Greg Biffle. Not Carl Edwards. Not even Kyle Busch, he of the series-record 51 victories to go along with his 2009 championship.
That thus-far impossible feat might end come Nov. 17, 2012, at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as Dillon looks to one-up Busch's record for rookie of the year success. In 2004, Busch finished second in the championship standings while winning the ROY title, the top points finish ever by a ROY candidate. Dillon, a solid bet to pair a Nationwide rookie of the year award with his Camping World Truck Series honor, is 11 points behind points leader Elliott Sadler -- an ever-decreasing deficit.
|3.||--||R. Stenhouse Jr.||-23|
|4.||--||S. Hornish Jr.||-34|
It was only five races ago when Dillon stared at a hefty 43-point deficit to then-leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
His march toward the points lead continues with Friday's Feed the Children 300 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). It will be his first start at Kentucky in the Nationwide Series, but third overall in national series competition. All three starts came in the Truck Series, with a top finish of second last October.
"I love Kentucky Speedway," said Dillon, who is the only driver to complete all 2,518 laps run in Nationwide competition this season. "It's always been a really good track for me and is one of my favorite places to visit. In my last two Camping World Truck Series races there, I was running in second-place and in position to contend for the win. We finished second last time, and the time before that, the hood flipped up and I had to make an unscheduled pit stop under green-flag conditions. That race really made me feel like I needed redemption at Kentucky Speedway."
- Kyle Busch
- Camping World Truck Series
- Kentucky Speedway