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.
“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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