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The 'new' Kyle Busch? Again?

   Kyle Busch: reassessing Kyle Busch (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   By Mike Mulhern

   If Sunday's Brickyard 400 is indeed the 'first' race of NASCAR's championship chase, as Jeff Gordon says, then keep an eye on Kyle Busch.
   Busch, though with three tour wins this season, has been hot-or-cold, and now, with seven races left till the playoff cut at Richmond in September, there are questions whether Busch will even make the chase. He's 10th in the Sprint Cup standings, and just 13 points from falling out of the top-12.
    Is Busch already starting to fold under the pressure?
    Well, these next few weeks could be big for him.
    And the last few days Busch says he's been reassessing things: "Chicago was a huge downside to our season, one of the biggest, frustrating weeks. 
    "A lot of that could have been my fault. Just not communicating with the team the way we needed to.
     "I need to become a better person, in being able to pull our team together and lead these guys…and ultimately lead them back into the chase.
     "That was a bad week. But then I went to Gateway (for last weekend's Nationwide race) and ran solid and won. 
    "Hopefully we can get back to some good ways here."
   Up and down?
   "You want to be the guy that everybody else is chasing, you want to be that guy," Busch says. "We were that guy last year.  Everybody was chasing us, and it was our year. 
    "This year I've been chasing everybody else.  I don't like to be chasing; I like to be the guy leading.
    "So it's hard.
    "But sometimes you have to look back at the big picture and realize you can do a lot more to help and rally the team, than really hurting it and dragging it down.
   "Our bad weeks are bad, real bad.  You can't have super-bad days. 
    "If you're having a bad day, you need to make a 10th out of it. And we're not very good at that. I'm not very good at that. And I don't think our team is very good at that -- Maybe that's because of me; maybe I'm not leading it in the right direction. 
    "I've got some things I've got to try to work on to make ourselves better -- and ultimately more championship-caliber."


Teammate Denny Hamlin has his act together. Maybe he can give Kyle Busch some tips (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


Busch's personality too has its ups and downs: "Maybe that's why I've won some races -- because of who I am. But maybe that's a lot of the reason why I've lost some races -- because of who I am. 
    "There's a balancing act in everything you do, and there are consequences and repercussions for things. So I'm trying to work on it and make it better -- so we don't have to look at myself as to why the problem exists."
   That sounds like a major change for Busch.
   "It's been a frustrating season….though other drivers would look at it (and his three tour wins) and love to have this season," Busch says. 
    "When you look at last year, this isn't our style, this isn't anything that we would like to have -- struggling to get ourselves into the top-12 and make the chase.
    "We want to be up front, where Jimmie Johnson is, and Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and all those guys.
    "That's where we want to be -- solidly in, and running competitively."
    It looks like teammate Denny Hamlin has taken over the leadership spot at Joe Gibbs'.
    "Denny has done a great job at pulling his team into the chase and finishing races where he needs to finish them," Busch says.
    "I feel our organization is still behind. I don't feel our cars are turning the way they need to be turning in order to get through traffic.
    "I'm leading the race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, I catch the slowest car on the track, the first guy I am going to lap…and I get stuck behind him. Then the second and third-place guys catch me and pass me.
   "We go to Loudon, we're running sixth, seventh, eighth, all single-file. The leaders catch the back of the pack and they pass guys. Then I get there and I get stuck, and I fade back to like 12th.
    "I just can't pass. I can't go through the field like Jimmie or Tony. Those guys can pass and get through the field.  
   "We're complaining it's too hard to pass, these cars aren't that good. But they can do it.
    "Obviously we need to work on our stuff and make it better.
    "Ultimately it comes down to competition on the track, and that's where my focus is.
     "I'm always focused on trying to make something better: whether it's myself better, whether it's the cars better.
     "Sometimes I wear it on my sleeve too much, and I need to shake it off….
     "We'll see how this weekend goes. We've got some work to do at the flat tracks; these seem to be tracks we struggle at.
    "Hopefully we can have a good run and turn it around, and get ourselves back into contention for top-10s…and ultimately get ourselves back in this chase."
    And what does championship contender Gordon think about the 'new' Kyle Busch and his chances to contend for the title?
   "When we used to have to race all 36 races in points…staying level-headed throughout all of those events was extremely important," Gordon says.
    "But now it is doing it in 10.
    "If those 10 go well for you, then no problem. 
    "But we saw last year the first event (Loudon in late September) didn't go well for those guys…and it seems like things kind of exploded from there.
    "I think he has matured quite a bit since then.
    "When I look at guys that are going to be in contention for the championship this year, it is guys who know how to handle themselves through those situations, as well as have strong cars and teams.
     "Right now it is hard to count out anybody, to be honest with you. There are a lot of guys out there who can play a real factor.
    "Mark Martin, the man that has the most wins…but they have been inconsistent, though they (Martin and crew chief Alan Gustafson) are new together. So that consistency seems to be coming.
    "And they are still winning --  those guys really look on top of their game. 
    "Jimmie Johnson has been strong, but they haven't put the finishes together. Will they do that when the chase comes?
    "Kyle Busch hasn't shown me what they had last year, so are they off a little bit?
    "To me that is what makes the racing from here on so important -- showing what kind of strength and consistency you really have as a team, and building the momentum to get you into the chase, and continuing on with success through those last 10 races."

   Jeff Gordon makes a pit stop during the 2008 Brickyard 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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