NASCAR: Busch brothers look to shed bad boy image

NASCAR: Busch brothers look to shed bad boy image
September 12, 2013, 3:15 pm
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Jerry Bonkowski

Ten weeks from now, we could see one of the most unique episodes of catharsis ever seen in NASCAR history.

As the NASCAR world prepares for the start of the 10th edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in this Sunday's Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, a very real possibility exists that one – if not two – of the sport's most contentious drivers may wind up in a neck-and-neck battle to win it all.

After both missed last year's Chase, brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch not only are in this year's 12-driver playoff field, they're among the top favorites to win the championship.

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Let that sink in for a moment: Kyle Busch, first-time Sprint Cup champion.

Or how about Kurt Busch, two-time Sprint Cup champ?

 Two of NASCAR's baddest bad boys may soon become beloved champions.

 "I think I'm as ready as any first champion, I'll put it that way," Kyle Busch said Thursday during NASCAR's annual media day prior to Sunday's Chase-opening Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. "And barring me not being able to win the championship, I hope there's a repeat champion (his brother). How about that?"

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 After a number of celebrated run-ins, including one that cost him his job with Penske Racing at the end of the 2011 season, Kurt Busch has worked his way back to regain respect of his peers, the media and fans. There never was any dispute about his talent behind the wheel, and that has been readily seen this season.

The elder Busch brother became the first driver in the 10-year history of the Chase to qualify for the playoffs from a single-car team, Furniture Row Racing.

 "It's a genuine feel-good story and it's nice that the team has gotten some recognition from it," Busch said. "Our Furniture Row group out of Colorado is just a little one-car team going up against all these big dogs. And yet, we're not a favorite, so I think we can relish in the underdog role."

Kyle Busch, who has also had his own history of run-ins, particularly other drivers, was uncharacteristically loose during Thursday's media session. He displayed a coolness that also contained equal parts of swagger and even cockiness – just the combination needed to win the championship.

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 In an interesting twist of irony, the winner of the last two Chase openers at Chicagoland has gone on to win the Cup crown that season: Tony Stewart in 2011 and Brad Keselowski in 2012 (neither qualified for this year's Chase).

 Stewart and Keselowski had swagger, cockiness and were cool under pressure en route to their titles, and it was pretty apparent that Kyle Busch has borrowed a page from their respective playbooks.

So how do the two brothers eye their chances heading into Sunday's race?

 "I feel like we have a 95 percent shot every week," Kurt Busch said. "The reason I say that is we haven't gotten to victory lane yet this year, and so we're missing five percent. When we find that, I hope we turn it into a steamroller and we're able to go in each and every week with a shot at winning."

As for younger brother Kyle, expectations have been high virtually every year since he joined the Cup series full-time that he'd one day become a Cup champion.

 Unfortunately, in the five seasons Kyle Busch has made the Chase in the past, he's imploded almost every time, with finishes of 10th, fifth, 10th, eighth and 12th.

 "I've been in that boat before and I haven't proven it to everybody that I can get the job done yet," Kyle Busch said. "I would like to say we're ready because we did a good job last year – we weren't in the Chase and didn't have the pressures of the Chase, that's all true – but we proved we could run well and run with the top Chase guys each week.

 "Barring an engine failure we had at Loudon and a crash we had Kansas, we would have been first or second in the points at the end of the year for a team that wasn't in the Chase."

In a sense, both drivers are not only going for the championship this season, they're also going for redemption with their respective histories of run-ins with other drivers and the media, not to mention off-track incidents as well.

But the two brothers have been on the straight and narrow in 2013. Like a kid who wants to be good so he can get a candy bar from mom and dad, staying out of trouble and letting their respective driving talents do the talking for them has been the Busch brothers' mantra this season.

Statistically, Kyle has four wins and is tied for second placed heading into the Chase, three points behind series leader Matt Kenseth.

Kurt, meanwhile, has not reached victory lane this season but has come close several times. Kyle has won once previously at Chicagoland, while Kurt is still looking for his first win there.

"For us, there's no telling what we can do as a single car team in this Chase," Kurt Busch said. "We know we've gone against the odds to get to this point. Why not just continue the same pattern we've been on, which is to show up at the racetrack with speed and try to deliver on a nice top 10 run."

And if things go the way both are hoping, don't be surprised if 10 weeks from now, it’s a 1-2 Busch brothers finish in the final standings.

"I'd love for it to come down to Kyle and I at Homestead (the season finale in suburban Miami), to go up against him," Kurt Busch said.

And, almost as an afterthought, Kurt uttered a catchphrase that could best describe both his and his younger brother's respective quests for the championship this season.

 "You've gotta believe," Kurt Busch said.

Right now, not only are the Busch brothers believing in themselves, so too are a lot of their fans – and even non-fans alike.