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Spot secure, Kyle Busch chases first Cup title

HAMPTON, Ga. — Kyle Busch can rest easy going to Richmond.

His spot in the Chase for Sprint Cup championship is secure.

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Now, he’s eager to win a title.

One year after missing out on the playoff — a bitter blow for a driver of his talent — Busch locked up his berth with a victory Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

More important, the 28-year-old has some much-needed momentum after his fourth Cup win of the season.

‘‘A heck of a lot different than 365 days ago, I’ll tell you that much,’’ he said.

This was the volatile Busch at his best. Early on, he spit out some salty complaints over his radio, the No. 18 Toyota not performing like he wanted. At one point, he called his car ‘‘a joke.’’ But the crew kept making adjustments until the driver liked the way it handled.

‘‘I appreciate them hanging in there with me, although I was pretty graphic sometimes,’’ Busch said. ‘‘I’m passionate about winning, man.’’

Then, after a rapid-fire series of caution flags near the end, Busch emerged from the pits with the lead. He held off hard-charging Joey Logano by a comfortable 0.740 seconds.

Busch has 16 victories this year over NASCAR’s top three series, also winning nine times in Nationwide and three times in trucks.

But he’s still chasing the prize he really wants — that first Cup title.

‘‘The championship is number one on anybody’s list,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve yet to collect the big prize. One of these days it will happen. Maybe it’ll be 2013.’’

Martin Truex Jr., racing with a broken right wrist, finished third on the 1.54-mile trioval, followed by Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman. The rest of the top 10 was Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Brian Vickers.

Kyle Busch was among four more drivers locking up their spot in the Chase heading to Richmond next weekend, where the 12-car field will be set for the playoff. He was joined by Harvick, Carl Edwards, and Kasey Kahne, the latter assured of at least a wild card.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, and Matt Kenseth had already claimed playoff berths before Atlanta.

That means the final five will be determined at Richmond. One of the contenders for a spot is last year’s champion, Brad Keselowski.

Winless for the year, Keselowski took over the lead and looked as if he had a shot at a much-needed victory. But a couple of cylinders failed and he began dropping back, finally sputtering to a stop 18 laps from the finish. He finished 35th and will go to Richmond knowing he likely needs a victory to even have a shot at taking a second straight title.

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