Kurt Busch hopes Chase lightning can strike twice for him, just like in 2004

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CHICAGO – Kurt Busch finds himself in familiar territory as the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins this weekend.

It was 10 years ago in 2004 that Busch became the first driver to win the then new-fangled Chase for the Nextel Cup format, a 10-race playoff that featured 10 drivers battling it out for the championship.

Busch emerged victorious and appeared headed to several more championships in the following season.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

But in a way, Busch is back in the same position as he was heading into NASCAR’s first-ever playoffs in 2004: even though it’s still called the Chase, it’s an entirely new format with new twists (three elimination rounds), more drivers (16 instead of 10 as in 2004) and there’s a lot of unknown among drivers and teams going into the 11th edition of the Chase.

“It doesn’t,” Busch said when asked if it seems that long since he won his Cup crown. “It seems like maybe five or six years have gone by. It’d be easy just to scratch off the zero (the second zero in 2004) and add a one on the Nextel Cup that I have.

“To add a Sprint Cup to Stewart-Haas’s trophy case in 2014, the team is ready. (Kevin) Harvick’s team is definitely a strong frontrunner. Our program, our strength, we’re going to wear ’em out with consistency in the first few rounds and see where we stack up.”

Admittedly, Busch would not be in the this year’s Chase had it not been for his win in spring at Martinsville. He’s admittedly had struggles for a good chunk of the first 26 races but feels a positive turnaround is definitely in the cards for the final 10 events.

“You have a formula in your own mind, you have a plan and you stick with it. If it unfolds exactly how you planned it, then you stay a step ahead of everybody else,” Busch said during Thursday’s Chase Media Day in downtown Chicago. “I don’t want to reveal all our secrets, but we’ve applied them the last two months. I like the way Kevin Harvick and I have worked together. We really tried hard with Tony and Danica this last month to get (them) that win.”

Harvick and Busch are the only flag-bearers for Stewart-Haas Racing in this year’s Chase, as both Stewart and Patrick failed to qualify. But even with just two representatives in the playoffs, Busch feels SHR has just as good of a chance to make it to the four-driver, winner-take-all final round at Homestead in mid-November as any other team.

“You win by numbers and Hendrick Motorsports has four of the top 16 teams,” Busch said. “When it goes to that final round at Miami-Homestead, if we have two of our two still left, we have a 50 percent chance of winning it. You win by numbers.”

And even though Patrick and Stewart aren’t in the Chase, they can still help Busch’s and Harvick’s respective marches to the championship.

How so?

“Well, they can wreck a lot of people out there,” Busch said with a laugh, before adding with a serious second thought. “I know they won’t do that.

“Teammates do come into play. Tony and I share very similar setups. The way we drive, the way we think, Tony and I are so similar and it’s been great to go through that this year and see that.

“It’s up to us to keep track with Kevin, he has his speed and raw power, but for us on the 41, we’re the mirror image on the 14. If he finds something, that’s an extra step that’s going to help the 41 team.”

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Supercross: Husqvarna’s Jalek Swoll and Malcolm Stewart out with injury

Swoll Stewart injury
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Jalek Swoll and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna teammate Malcolm Stewart sustained injury in separate crashes late last week. Stewart missed Anaheim 2 and Swoll will not mount up for the 250 East season opener in Houston on February 4.

“Spent all of yesterday in the ER and today getting surgery so haven’t been able to make an update post,” Swoll posted on Instagram. “Spiral fractured my humorous yesterday and was lucky enough to get into surgery today. Absolutely heartbroken that I couldn’t show all the hard work me, [Mike Brown], [Aldon Baker], and [Joel Perez] were working on truly felt like this year was going to a big one with massive improvements we made but I guess it just wasn’t my time.”

The team announced on Instagram that Swoll underwent successful surgery to repair a broken bone in his arm, sustained in a practice crash on Friday. After missing the division opener, no further timeline has been given for his return.

Swoll made eight starts in the 250 West division last season with a best finish of fifth. In 2021, he scored his first SuperMotocross win in the outdoor Pro Motocross season at High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania.

Stewart missed Anaheim 2 due to a practice injury. Likewise, the team did not announce a timetable for Stewart’s return.

He showed a lot of speed in the first two rounds before accidents eliminated him from contention in both rounds. He finished 16th at Anaheim 1 and 15th in San Diego, putting him in a points’ deficit that was already going to be difficult to overcome.

Stewart entered the 2023 season with a ton of confidence and believed all he needed was to stack his chips the right way to get this year’s championship.

Husqvarna is now represented by RJ Hampshire in the 250 West division and Christian Craig in 450s.

Hampshire had a rough weekend in Anaheim 2 and finished 11th in the overall standings after scoring a last place result in Race 2 with a bike sidelined by crash damage and a 13th in Race 3 after another fall.

Craig has not yet scored a top-10 on his 450 with a best of 11th at San Diego and Anaheim 2.

The news of these two injuries comes on the heels of the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team losing three of their four 250 riders.

Last week, Pro Circuit Kawasaki announced Seth Hammaker would miss the season opener with a wrist injury. Almost immediately, it was announced Jo Shimoda would also miss the 250 East opener with a shoulder injury.

Chris Blose will serve as a replacement rider in the 250 East division with Carson Mumford scheduled to replace the injured Austin Forkner in the West.