LOUDON, N.H. — In two races so far in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, Kyle Busch has finished runner-up, twice a bridesmaid to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, who followed up last weekend’s win at Chicagoland with another in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
It left Busch 14 points astern of Kenseth in the Chase standings.
How could he possibly reverse the trend by catching up to the faster car, especially when it belonged to his JGR stablemate?
“I don’t think you do anything differently than you’ve done all year long,’’ said Busch. “I think the organization is going to give the equipment to the both of us. I don’t think any one of us is going to get better stuff.
“It’s just going to come down to better communication between myself and the crew chief [Dave Rogers] in that way,’’ Busch added. “Because those are certainly the ways that you win these things. That’s how you build speed; it’s getting your car better all through the weekend.’’
Clearly, Kenseth unloaded with the faster car. He led four times for the most laps (106), including the last 53 to take the checkered flag, his first in 28 career starts at NHMS.
“If you can unload and just hit it and be on it and get going, then that’s a better way to win each weekend,’’ Busch said. “And I think the 20 lucked into one last weekend [at Chicago]. I just didn’t get a good enough restart and he got a better one, got a push, and got by us.
“And then here, this weekend, he got a good restart there. I spun my tires a little bit, so I didn’t get a chance to race him at all. Then I had to fend off everybody else and get stretched out and try to run him down.
“But it doesn’t matter if it’s your teammate or anybody else, you’ve still got to work hard and persevere. It’s eight more weeks.’’
Biffle picks up speed
One of those drivers Busch had to fend off was Greg Biffle, who finished third and made the biggest gain in the Chase standings by climbing from 11th to fifth, 38 points behind Kenseth.
“It was a miracle,’’ said Biffle. “That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time, even though we finished third.’’
Biffle, who stumbled out the gates at Chicago with a 16th-place finish in the Geico 400, started 10th and was running 17th halfway through Sunday’s 300-lap race before he climbed to 10th with 75 laps to go. But Biffle’s car came to life “when the sun went down and it cooled off’’ down the stretch, allowing him to gain ground on the leaders.
“We didn’t pass anybody in the pits,’’ Biffle said. “We passed them all on the race track. We just got good at the end and our car really, really took off. We were able to drive by those guys to get up to third.’’
Jeff Gordon, who was installed by NASCAR officials as the 13th driver in the 12-man Chase following the probe into the improper teamwork at the end of the Richmond race, had a strong run derailed by a pair of pit road incidents, the second of which knocked him out of the lead and dropped him to 24th.
Gordon, who was jostled by Josh Wise and narrowly missed colliding with Mark Martin’s crew as he attempted to leave pit road on his first stop of the day, led the field into the pits for a yellow-flag stop on Lap 202. But Gordon committed a costly error when he slid past his pit box, dropping to the back of the lead pack.
“I’m highly disappointed in myself,’’ said Gordon, who led twice for 36 laps and dropped only one spot in the points from seventh to eighth after finishing 15th.
“The team put me in a great position. We had a decent car and then track position made it into a great car.
“I hadn’t come close to sliding through all day,’’ Gordon added. “I guess just leading, I carried a little bit more speed in there and crossed the splitter over the line by an inch. That’s all it takes to make a difference between a chance at winning and finishing 15th.’’
Jaime McMurray felt fortunate to leave NHMS with a fifth-place finish. It was a strong rebound for the Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing driver especially after he got sideswiped by teammate Juan Pablo Montoya on Lap 39, spun in Turn 4, and then got rear-ended by Kevin Swindell’s No. 30 Toyota. “The car was really good even after the crash,’’ McMurray said. “If we had good track position at the end I thought we could finish good.’’ . . . Of his series-leading seven wins this season, Kenseth was a first-time winner at four of those tracks: Darlington, Kentucky, Chicagoland, and Loudon . . . Brian Vickers, winner of July’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at NHMS, finished seventh after being forced to start from the rear of the field because of a driver change. Kenny Wallace qualified Vickers’s No. 55 Toyota 29th during Friday’s pole qualifications while Vickers was in Kentucky, preparing for Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race. After posting a seventh-place result in Kentucky, Vickers came to NHMS and followed suit with a seventh in the Cup race . . . The family of slain MIT police officer Sean Collier was recognized during the drivers’ prerace meeting and given a standing ovation . . . The Chase resumes next weekend at Dover International Speedway in Delaware for the AAA 400, where at least one driver, Jimmie Johnson, hopes his track history (3 poles, 7 wins, 11 top-fives, 16 Top-10s) will give him an edge. “We haven’t given up too many points,’’ said Johnson, who is third in the standings, 18 points behind Kenseth. “And we’re going to one of my best race tracks next week in Dover. So I certainly hope to have this [No. 48] Lowe’s Chevrolet in Victory Lane over there.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.