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.