August 20, 2013 in Sports

Champion’s rebirth

Kurt Busch showing signs of 2004 title season
Noah Trister Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Kurt Busch, driving the No. 78 car for Furniture Row, is currently ninth in the points standings.
(Full-size photo)

Coming up

Saturday: Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, 4:30 p.m. TV: ABC

BROOKLYN, Mich. – Less than a decade removed from a championship in NASCAR’s top series, Kurt Busch is an underdog now.

It’s a role he seems plenty comfortable with.

There are three races remaining in the regular season, and Busch is ninth in the points standings, meaning he has a decent shot at a surprising berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. That’s quite a step for the 35-year-old driver – whose career looked anything but stable as recently as last year.

“Furniture Row team is acting like a big-time player right now,” Busch said after finishing third at Michigan on Sunday. “We have a little bit of weaknesses here and there, but overall we keep posting good results, and it’s very satisfying.”

He’ll have to make his run at making the Chase while apparently contemplating his future.

Busch has reportedly been offered a deal to drive a fourth car next season for Stewart- Haas Racing, and is mulling that offer and others. The deal, first reported late Sunday night by FoxSports.com, has not been specifically addressed by either the driver or Stewart-Haas Racing.

Team co-owner Tony Stewart said last month the organization was not ready to expand to four cars in releasing Ryan Newman.

Furniture Row Racing is Busch’s third team in three seasons, a single-car operation based in Denver that is hardly a NASCAR superpower. His trouble-filled stint with Phoenix Racing in 2012 was a far cry from the days when he drove for the likes of Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Busch joined Furniture Row to drive the No. 78 Chevrolet, and now the 2004 Cup champ has been quietly re-positioning himself among NASCAR’s elite. His race at Michigan on Sunday was his sixth top-five finish of the season.

His performance so far this year speaks for itself, and Busch is trying to stay even keeled.

“Well, it’s being focused. I’m excited that we’re running well. We’re able to seal the deal, when that had been some of our struggles through the midpoint of the season,” he said. “Now I’m just in that Chase mode where we have to get in. You can’t celebrate with a third-place finish. You just have to feel confident and to know that you can go back next week and do it again.”

There’s no margin for error. Busch is in ninth place, and a top-10 finish would put him in the Chase – but he’s only six points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne. If Busch falls out of the top 10, he’d be in trouble for a wild card because he has no victories this year.

Andretti eyes Montoya for IndyCar return

Michael Andretti is trying to find a sponsor to bring Juan Pablo Montoya back to IndyCar with Andretti Autosport.

The team owner told the AP he’s had preliminary discussions with Montoya since the driver learned last week he will not be back with Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR team next season. He said he and Montoya are both interested in working out a deal but it will depend on finding sponsorship for the 1999 CART champion and 2000 Indy 500 winner.

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