Kyle Busch Shows Mettle in Chase

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch says an improved focus helped him finish a career-best fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings this year. (Photo: Getty Images)

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Kyle Busch admits he’s not been strong enough mentally to get through the Chase when his title hopes faded.

That’s a primary reason why one of the sport’s most talented drivers had never finished better than fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings until this year.

“This was the first year that I really gave total focus through the whole (Chase) and just said, ‘It doesn’t matter if we get eliminated, we’re going to continue to battle hard all the way through,’ ‘’ Busch said Monday afternoon, a day after finishing a career-best fourth in the points.

“In the past, if I wasn’t going to win the championship, I didn’t care where I finished in the Chase.’’

Busch’s admission comes as the sport celebrates Jimmie Johnson’s sixth Cup crown. Although lauded for his car control, Johnson’s laser focus has helped make him one of the sport’s greatest drivers.

For years, those in the garage, questioned Busch’s focus. They suggested that if he was stronger mentally that he could dominate the series.

This year could be a a sign that Busch is ready to keep Johnson from any more titles.

So what led to Busch’s change this season?

“Too many people were telling me that I suck and I fold up when it comes to the end of the season, which is true, I do,’’ Busch said a few hours before the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series Awards. “When the championship is on the line and you start falling away from that, you give up. You’re like, ‘Whatever another year wasted, go on to the next year.’ This year we changed that and we fought all the way through. I wish we would have ended up better, but we ended up fourth.’’

It’s a start for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.

Busch was third in the points before he crashed and finished 34th at Kansas Speedway, a track that has tormented him. He fell to fifth in the standings, 35 points out of the lead.

Busch admits in previous years, his focus likely would have waned. Not this time. Busch said he remained focus instead “of just getting into the (next) race and not caring. Not necessarily not caring but going for broke and putting yourself in a bad spot and wrecking or doing something like that.’’

He finished fifth at Charlotte and Talladega in back-to-back weeks. That moved him to third in the standings, 26 points out of the lead.

A 15th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway doomed Busch’s title hopes, dropping him to fifth in the standings and 36 points out of the lead with three races to go.

His seventh-place run at Homestead-Miami Speedway allowed Busch to finish fourth in the season standings, beating Dale Earnhardt Jr. for fifth by one point.

While this is a step forward, Busch knows he needs more to win a championship. He looks back on races that they didn’t run as well in the Chase and figures even if they would have finished where they deserved, they still would have lost the title by 20 points to Johnson (instead of 55).

“(That’s) very depressing because no matter how good you are at your level, you still got your (rear) handed to you,’’ Busch said. “Jimmie had no bad luck. You’re going to have to win a few of these Chase races any more.

“I’ve known all along that I can finish well in the Chase if given the right opportunity and giving 100 percent every week. This year I tried to go out and prove that and not just give up when we were eliminated.’’ 

Related Topics:

Kyle Busch, NASCAR Sprint Cup

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