Kyle Busch more prepared in 2013 after missing last year’s Chase

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Kyle Busch has forged a reputation as one of the more intense competitors in the Sprint Cup garage, so one can imagine how he felt about missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup last season.

But in the year or so since that dark moment, Busch believes that he and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team have been able to gain the confidence necessary to contend in NASCAR’s post-season stretch.

On Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he appeared to indicate that his optimism comes from the strong results he had in the final 10 events of 2012. In that stretch, he racked up seven Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes.

“Throughout the [2012] Chase, we had a lot of really good runs, so that all put us in the sense that we can do this,” Busch said. “It’s not rocket science. We know how to race, we know how to run upfront and when the pressure is on the line, obviously, that situation is going to be a little different.

“But we need to act as though the pressure isn’t on the line or to just be able to do what we’ve done all year long that’s got us to this point in the first 26 races.”

Busch was second to winner Brian Vickers earlier this summer at New Hampshire, and will roll off 12th for tomorrow’s Sylvania 300 at NHMS after finishing second to teammate Matt Kenseth in the first Chase race last weekend at Chicagoland.

That puts him eight markers off of his JGR compatriot in the championship, but like Kenseth, he too isn’t thinking about the points picture this early on.

“We know last week was a second-place, but as far as points are concerned and everything else, it’s not the time to look at any of that or worry about any of that,” he said.

“So, for ourselves, I don’t know where I am and I don’t want to know where I am. But I think it will all take care of itself when it comes down to crunch time and the better you can perform and do on Sundays, then it’s going to take care of itself a lot easier.”

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.