Busch Marches To Atlanta

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Coming into the season's home stretch, Kurt Busch is atop the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup standings.

That is surprising to virtually no one.

From the outset of the Chase, Busch had the word "favorite" written all over him, mainly because of a mercurial late-season sprint in 2002. That season Busch won three of the last five events (Martinsville, Atlanta and Homestead) to vault into third place in the final championship standings.

Busch – seeking his first NASCAR Nextel Cup title in only his fourth full-time season – didn't win again at Martinsville this past Sunday but he did finish fifth and lead the most laps.

That enabled him to pad his lead substantially; he comes into this week's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a 96-point lead over four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). He also has a 125-point advantage over Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), whose championship chances were damaged by a 33rd-place Martinsville finish.

"You've got to step up to the plate and race hard each of these final 10...right now, we haven't had a bad finish (in the Chase)," Busch said.

Next up is Atlanta, where Busch has three top-10 finishes in seven starts, including that 2002 autumn victory. He has led a total of 146 laps on the 1.54-mile oval. In this season's spring Atlanta race, he finished 12th.

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