Kyle Busch ready to claim his ‘second’ Sprint Cup championship

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JOLIET, Ill. – Kyle Busch believes he can win his second Sprint Cup championship in 2014.

Wait a minute, when did he win his first? Did we miss something somewhere?

Not quite.

Busch believes that if he had made the 2012 Chase, he would have won it all – not the real champ of that season, Brad Keselowski.

“In 2012, I’m the champion in this current format,” Busch said. “My worst year ever and miss the Chase, with three engine blow-ups in a row in the summer. And then we ran well enough in the Chase that we would have won the championship.”

Busch’s numbers are spot-on. Had he made the Chase that season, he would have beaten Keselowski for the crown based upon seven top-five and one top-10 in the 10 Chase races that season.

And then comes the irony: Busch would not have made this year’s Chase had it not been for a new rule that at least one win all but guarantees a driver a Chase berth. He earned that win early in the season at Fontana, Calif.

“If it was under the old format, I predict we would have missed the Chase this year,” said Busch, who earned a career-best finish in the Chase last season (finished fourth). “Even with the win, I don’t think we would have been in the wildcard position in order to make the Chase this year.

“That shows just how different this is and what the differences are to make the Chase, and how it opens up more opportunities like our team, Kurt’s (brother Kurt Busch’s) team, the 43 (Aric Almirola) and the 47 (A.J. Allmendinger) as well to make the Chase.”

Busch knows he, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota as a whole have to substantially pick up their games in the Chase.

Busch has just one win in the regular season, while JGR has two in total (one by Busch, the other by teammate Denny Hamlin).

That doesn’t exactly make Toyota an overwhelming favorite in the championship battle when you consider Chevrolet has 14 wins thus far and Ford 10.

“The biggest thing for us and Joe Gibbs Racing is we know we have to get better,” Busch said. “We have to elevate our game a little bit and know we can do that because there are other teams that are out-performing us.

“Now whether or not those teams that are performing at their best can elevate their games remains to be seen, but there’s room for our growth and hopefully we can do that this weekend in Chicago.”

Surprisingly, while Busch likes his chances in the Chase, he’s not picking himself or teammates Matt Kenseth or Denny Hamlin as his personal picks to win it all.

“The 2 (Brad Keselowski), 4 (Kevin Harvick) and 24 (Jeff Gordon), they’re your favorites, obviously,” Busch said. “And from there it’s the 22 (Joey Logano) and 48 (Jimmie Johnson) as your next two, and from there everybody else is pretty much the same. We all have to figure it out.

“I didn’t mention the JGR cars because I feel like we are still behind a little bit. Hopefully, we can start changing that around this weekend at Chicago, and if we do, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. I’m just basing that off the first 26 (races).”

Busch’s strategy going into the Chase is fairly simple.

“To have the 15th or better (position) in each of those three weeks, you’re going to move (up), that’s pretty simple, I think,” he said. “And then you have to (finish) 10th or better in the next round in order to move on to the next (round) if you don’t have wins.

“From there, it’s going to get tougher. If there’s three different winners at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, there’s only going to be one guy that doesn’t have a win that gets to move on (to the championship race).”

Busch enters the Chase not exactly riding a wave of momentum. After finishing 42nd, 40th, 39th and 36th from Pocono through Bristol, he’s managed to climb back with finishes of 16th and 14th at Atlanta and Richmond, respectively.

“It’s been pretty frustrating,” Busch said. “It’s just been all over the board. These races are all so tight, they’re never over until they’re over.”

Still, those last two finishes are a start.

“We know what we need to do,” Busch said. “There’s not necessarily a plan of attack, but there is an idea of what we need to accomplish in the next three and then six weeks.

“We have an opportunity to be a winner every single week. There’s not a racetrack that we go to that I can’t win at or the team’s not capable of winning at. If we put it all together, we will win it.

“It’s anybody’s game right now. There’s 16 guys that have the opportunity. So, may the best man and the best team win.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Michael Schumacher’s son to make F1 practice debut at Nurburgring

F1 Mick Schumacher
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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MARANELLO, Italy — Mick Schumacher, son of the legednary seven-time champion, will have an official Formula One drive during an F1 race weekend for the first time next week at the Nurburgring, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari said Tuesday.

Schumacher gets the practice drive in an Alfa Romeo on Oct. 9 on his home track in Germany as a member of Ferrari’s young driver program, taking over Antonio Giovinazzi’s car for the first session of the weekend.

“I am overjoyed to get this chance in free practice,” Schumacher said in a statement. “I’m going to prepare myself well, so that I can do the best possible job for the team and gain some valuable data for the weekend.”

The 21-year-old Schumacher leads the Formula 2 standings after winning races in Monza and Sochi. He won the European Formula 3 championship in 2018 and tested a Ferrari F1 car in Bahrain in April 2019. He also has done demonstration runs in his father’s old cars, most recently this month ahead of the Tuscan Grand Prix in a championship-winning 2004 Ferrari.

Michael Schumacher holds the F1 record with 91 victories, which Lewis Hamilton is on the verge of tying.

Ferrari said two other drivers in its academy program will also get practice drives in Formula One.

Callum Ilott, a British driver who is second to Mick Schumacher in F2, will drive an F1 Haas at the Nurburgring on the same day as Schumacher. Russian driver Robert Shwartzman will drive in practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Dec. 11, though Ferrari hasn’t said for which team.

The German round was added to the F1 schedule after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the season and will be officially known as the Eifel Grand Prix after a nearby mountain range. The Nurburgring last hosted F1 in 2013.