By Kelly Crandall – Kurt Busch made much more of his opportunity Sunday at Michigan International Speedway than he had here in June.
Spinning himself out and taking away a shot at victory then, Busch took another strong No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet to the front. He led early laps, 20, and kept the team in contention for their first victory in the Pure Michigan 400 as the day progressed. In the end a solid third place finish was just as nice for Busch, who jumped back inside the top 10 in points.
“It was a good day for us, we battled hard and persevered and came through some of the sequences where we were putting on four tires and some of the other guys were putting on two, even saw some fuel only out there today,” Busch said on another season best finish.
“We stuck with our game plan and at one point we were buried deep, 14th on one of the restarts and I was a little frustrated at that point knowing we had a much better car but our weaknesses were restarts today and trying to maneuver in traffic.
“Low and behold, I get fired up, sometimes I get lucky, and an opening opened up on the outside and I think I came from 14th to sixth. It was a game changer, that one moment was our race. But to be in position and run well, just got to thank the guys. Furniture Row team is acting like a big time player right now, we have a little bit of weaknesses here and there but overall we keep posting good results and it’s very satisfying.”
There have been many lost opportunities for the single car team throughout the season but the solid and steady approach the last few weeks have them sniffing at the Chase. He’s now ninth with three races remaining, including Bristol this coming Saturday night where he’s won five times.
But for those looking for Busch to be chomping at the bit, and don’t believe he isn’t, there’s a calmness about the Las Vegas native. He’s been in this position before, having sat ninth in points earlier this year before falling back on the outside. Sunday there was mellowness about him, keeping the team updated on his stability, which he was very comfortable with all day, to simply relaying information about the car.
“It’s being focused, I’m excited that we’re running well and we’re able to seal the deal when that had been some of our struggles through the midpoint of the season,” said Busch on his lack of emotion.
“Now I’m just in that Chase mode where we have to get in and you can’t celebrate with a third place finish, you just have to feel confident and to know that you can go back next week and do it again. The biggest thing is just staying out of trouble. Bristol – trouble can happen at any corner, there’s going to be 500 laps that we have to perform there next week where we have to protect our car and finish well.”
Whether it’s Bristol, Atlanta or Richmond, Busch knows there can be a “fender bender” that puts him back outside the Chase. Blinders are on from here on out, excitement at a minimum. Sunday everything came together as the team needed it. Busch earned his sixth top five of the year and made the picture bigger just a little bit brighter. Except it wasn’t as easy as it seemed, Busch was logged back in traffic late in the race after the team had a slow pit stop.
He went from inside the top 10 to sitting 14th. Driving angry though, worked to Busch’s advantage, as did the outside lane when he rocketed back to fifth in two laps. Fuel mileage then entered the picture, but Busch was good until the end and capitalized on his position.
Three races now remain before the 10-week playoffs begin in Chicago. Busch has a victory at each of the three tracks and is six points ahead 11th place in the standings.
“This is tremendous, jumping in with the Furniture Row guys last year running six races together got a lot of the bugs worked out of it,” Busch did say about his current position.
“It allowed us to discover things about ourselves, weaknesses on the team. Each section through this season, every six races we can lump them together and say that we’ve improved every time we’ve gone though a chunk of six races at a time. And now here we are, we’re 23 races in, got three to go to get in the Chase and it’s an amazing feeling to be in position right now and have a group of guys from Denver, CO in the Chase right now and that’s what we got to do. Make sure that when the music stops, we’ve got a place.”
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