Kurt Busch back in Chase contention

LOUDON, N.H. — Kurt Busch has lost rides with top teams. He’s paid the price for losing his cool more times than anyone in NASCAR can count.

Busch, though, never has lost his ability to drive.

The Las Vegas native kept his composure, kept that superior skill behind the wheel and kept pace this season with the best in the Cup series.

Yes, Jimmie Johnson again is the driver to beat. Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth are primed to be in the thick of championship contention.

But look who’s lurking not far behind. Just the 2004 Cup champion who has found a home at Furniture Row Racing and found a regular spot running up front to put NASCAR on notice that he still can be as good as it gets in a stock car.

Busch is ninth in the points standings entering today’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He’ll start second in the No. 78 Chevrolet at a track where he has three victories — and he has win No. 1 of this season in sight.

Busch has reeled off three straight top-six finishes and has five top 10s in his past seven races to storm into contention and up the standings.

“For us to be in the Chase is a huge accomplishment for a single-car organization,” Busch said. “For me, it’s great to be back in the Chase and the fraternity of guys I’m accustomed to hanging out with over the years.”

With 24 Cup wins, Busch long had proven himself as one of the sport’s top drivers. But he’s had more teams (two) than wins (none) the past two seasons and hasn’t pulled into Victory Lane since winning the fall 2011 race at Dover.

He has plenty of time to take the checkered flag this season — not that he necessarily needs a win to make the Chase. With eight races left until the 12-driver field is set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, Busch just needs to keep the steady top 10s coming to stick around.

“You don’t have to win, but you have to stay away from those bad finishes,” Busch said. “If you do just nice, consistent runs, then you control your own destiny going to Richmond.”

Busch knows how easy it is to lose control. He blew rides at multicar teams owned by Jack Roush and Roger Penske because of a lengthy list of confrontations and bad behavior. Out of elite ride options, he hitched a ride last year with James Finch’s underfunded racing team before making a late-season switch to Furniture Row.

He finished 28th in the season-opening Daytona 500 and sprinkled two top fives in with five finishes of 20th or worse in the first seven races. He was doing well in April at Martinsville until a bad fuel pump and then a brake issue caused his race to end in a fiery crash. The car that had been seventh was dumped to 37th place.

Busch and crew chief Todd Berrier have found the right combination in the past month. Busch has gone from 20th to 17th to 14th to ninth in the standings and suddenly looks like the driver who always was a threat to win at any track.


After Friday qualifying; race today

At New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Loudon, N.H.

Lap length: 1.058 miles

(Car number in parentheses)

1. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 135.922 mph

2. (78) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 135.835

3. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 135.786

4. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 135.757

5. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 135.525

6. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford, 135.487

7. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 135.482

8. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 135.333

9. (31) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 135.246

10. (42) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 135.107

11. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 135.073

12. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 135.006

13. (55) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 134.978

14. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 134.868

15. (39) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 134.849

16. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 134.753

17. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 134.710

18. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 134.492

19. (56) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 134.411

20. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 134.089

21. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 134.028

22. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 133.839

23. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 133.835

24. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 133.821

25. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 133.778

26. (51) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 133.778

27. (83) David Reutimann, Toyota, 133.637

28. (13) Casey Mears, Ford, 133.431

29. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 133.273

30. (98) Michael McDowell, Ford, 132.993

31. (93) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 132.919

32. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 132.905

33. (47) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 132.720

34. (19) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 132.485

35. (35) Josh Wise, Ford, 132.002

36. (33) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, owner points

37. (32) Ken Schrader, Ford, owner points

38. (87) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, owner points

39. (7) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, owner points

40. (36) J.J. Yeley, Chevrolet, owner points

41. (52) Morgan Shepherd, Toyota, owner points

42. (30) David Stremme, Toyota, owner points

43. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, owner points