SAN FRANCISCO - Kurt Busch may need another solid performance in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 to revive his hopes of making the season-ending Chase for the Cup.
Busch enters this weekend's race at Sonoma Raceway 20th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings after a disappointing 35th place finish at Michigan International Speedway last week. He led the first 21 laps, but his car later became loose, hit the wall and suffered major damage.
With the result, Busch dropped five spots in the standings. He is 33 points back of 10th place Tony Stewart and 154 points back of leader Jimmie Johnson. The top 10 drivers in points, plus two other wild-card drivers who have collected the most wins through the first 26 Cup races, make the 10-race Chase at the end of the season and are eligible for the season championship.
"Like we found out, it's hard to gain spots in the standings," Busch said Thursday at a media luncheon for the event, "but it's really easy to lose them."
Busch won in Sonoma in 2011 with Penske Racing and finished third last season with small budget Phoenix Racing. He challenged for the victory last year and was in second place behind Clint Bowyer going into a green-white-checkered finish. But after he encountered problems with his suspension, he dropped to third, finishing behind Bowyer, the winner, and the second place Stewart.
Busch said he took what he learned from Penske in 2011 and applied that to the fledgling Phoenix Racing outfit.
"I guess you could say I'm equally proud of both results," said Busch, who finished 25th in the Cup standings last year.
Now with another small-budget team in Furniture Row Racing, Busch is hoping to find some consistency in the next 11 races before the start of the Chase. He has three top-five and five top-10 finishes in 2013, with his best finish being a third place result in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But he also did not finish races in Martinsville and Talladega.
In 12 Cup starts at Sonoma, Busch has one win and five top-fives.
Busch predicted that a track record would be set in Sonoma as the Gen-6 car makes its road course debut. The car creates more downforce, is lighter and features better grip than the previous car, which was used from 2006-2012.
Marcos Ambrose holds the track record for qualifying at 95.262 mph and Bowyer holds the race record at 83.624 mph.
Last season was a breakthrough year for Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer's win in Sonoma was the first for the sixth-year Toyota team as he and teammate Martin Truex Jr. both made the Chase.
This season, MWR is again hoping to get two drivers into the Chase. The team is without a victory this season but Bowyer sits third in the standings and Truex is 13th.
Waltrip said his team is a little behind Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, which have a combined 11 victories this season and seven drivers in the top 12 in the Cup standings, in their development of the Gen-6 car, but "we're not that far back. Our team goals are the same as they were last season. We still feel we can win races and we want two drivers in the Chase."
2013 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
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