Busch to throw caution to wind


The dominators got dumped.

Johnny Benson set an ominous tone for points leaders when he fell out of Saturday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after a right-front tire blew and sent him into a wall to end his night on the 64th lap.

The next day, Kyle Busch not only fell out of the Sprint Cup race in Dover, Del., but he lost any realistic chance of winning the Cup title.

The last page turned later on Sunday when Tony Schumacher lost in the championship round of the NHRA pro tour event near Dallas, ending his run of winning a record 31 consecutive Top Fuel races and seven straight titles.

At least Benson and Schumacher remain first in their divisions -- Benson by one point over Ron Hornaday Jr. with six races left and Schumacher by 97 over Antron Brown with four to go.

Busch, however, becomes the wild card in the last eight races of the Chase for the championship.

Busch -- the most dominant NASCAR driver this year with eight wins in Cup, eight in Nationwide and three in trucks -- saw his championship dream clouded two weeks ago by failure of a crewman to secure a cheap bolt and then vaporize Sunday with the failure of his Toyota engine that dropped the Las Vegas native to 12th and 210 points out of first.

Busch will not be running for points. He will be running for victories and will throw caution to the wind as he never has before. That sets an ominous tone.

That can mean only one thing for the other 11 Chase drivers: watch out and give those shoulder harnesses an extra tug.

Busch didn't "safety up" in July when he made a last-lap pass of reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson at Chicagoland Speedway and scored the win when a conservative approach would have been to settle for second.

That's how Busch races. And now he has nothing to lose.

"I'm sure I will think about making a bonzai move if I'm in that situation again," he said this week in a news release leading to Sunday's Cup race in Kansas. "But I'd also be smart about it, too. You never want to take anybody out, but I've also never been one to not give it a shot if I have a chance to win.

"But even if I did slip up, or something like that, the worst we probably would've ended up with that day was fourth or fifth, hopefully not wrecking it, but just getting loose and losing some spots."

Busch has acknowledged his championship hopes are over. He's right, and he's just being realistic. If he were chasing only two or three drivers, he might have a chance. But overcoming 11 is not going to happen.

It would be hard to top the action and drama from last weekend, notably in NASCAR.

With Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of contention early, the stage was left to Roush Fenway Racing to produce an entertaining finish with teammates Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards battling to the stripe.

The trio raced like rivals and somehow maintained control over the final few laps before Biffle pulled off his second consecutive victory.

Best of all, the most exciting chapter of upset weekend occurred in our backyard. Not even the Cup finish topped the truck race at the speedway.

A record-setting night fittingly ended with the closest finish ever on the 1.5-mile oval.

Mike Skinner's winning margin over Erik Darnell was two-hundredths of a second, or about 4 feet. The previous closest on the track was in 1998 when Jimmy Spencer edged Earnhardt by 0.021 in what then was the NASCAR Busch Series.

The trucks Saturday set the speedway series records for most lead changes (15), most cautions (12) and most caution laps (46).

The only race that might beat that one for action will be one of the eight final Cup races when Busch has nothing to lose.

Drivers, don't forget to tighten those seat belts.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or jwolf@reviewjournal.com. Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.

'WE'RE NOT DEAD YET,' KYLE BUSCH'S CREW CHIEF INSISTS

CONCORD, N.C. -- Las Vegas native Kyle Busch declared his title hopes over after his engine blew during Round 2 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Not so fast, driver. Crew chief Steve Addington isn't ready to wave the checkered flag on a title just yet.

"We're down, but we're not dead yet," Addington said. "There's still a long ways to go, and anything can happen."

After two bad races to start the Chase, the team that won the "regular-season" points title finds itself last in the Chase standings. Busch is 12th and trails leader Carl Edwards by 210 points.

Addington admits it's a huge hole to climb out of, and even if Busch is skeptical about a possible rebound, the crew chief plans to take the team to Kansas Speedway this weekend looking for the strong run that he hopes can jump-start a comeback.

"We've got to just go out and win races," Addington said. "We can't do anything other than that -- just try to make up as many points as we can.

There's no other way to approach it. We don't have anything to lose. So let's keep the guys pumped up to go out and do what they've done all season."

The remaining schedule works to their advantage: NASCAR has visited six of the remaining eight tracks this season, and Busch notched two wins, four top fives and five top 10s in those events.

History shows that Busch mathematically still can win the title if he doesn't have another bad finish. In 2006, Jimmie Johnson rallied from 165 points down with seven races left to claim his first title. And, in Chase history, a driver has gained 100 points on the series leader in a single race four times.

Addington doesn't want to worry about statistics. He instead wants to rally his crew and focus on the future. The first step is preventing mechanical failures like the two that ended Busch's runs at New Hampshire and Dover.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
 

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