- Ed Hinton, NASCAR
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HAMPTON, Ga. -- All Kyle Busch wants is to be "making circles for a reason" after the next two races.
"We miss the Chase and we're just going to be another race car out there on the racetrack running around in circles," Busch said Friday. "That's how I feel about it."
He is currently 13th in points and in the middle of a six-way fight for the 12th and final berth in NASCAR's playoffs.
Last year he entered the Chase tied for the top seed, with four wins. But he has only one win this year and badly needs another, either at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday night or at Richmond, Va., on Sept. 8, or a pair of high finishes, just to make the final 10 races of the season feel worthwhile.
"We want to make the Chase and have the opportunity to race for a championship and be making circles for a reason," he said.
His hanging by a thread draws mixed emotions from some of his peers who are comfortably in the Chase. They sympathize with his struggle, but reckon the enormity of his talent will make him a threat if he gets in.
"In one respect I do sympathize for Kyle," said Jimmie Johnson, currently tied for top seed, who has always made it into the Chase fairly comfortably, without struggling.
"And then in another light, he's such a threat that in some ways it's a dodged bullet for the guys who are in if he doesn't make it. He's such a great talent with a great team (Joe Gibbs Racing)."
Matt Kenseth, fourth in the standings and not exactly known for sympathizing with any competitor, does feel for Busch in one way -- that Busch's place in the standings aren't Busch's fault.
"I've been there," Kenseth said of struggling for Chase berths in seasons past. "The year we didn't make it and the year we just barely slid in, it was all because our performance wasn't good enough.
"I think in Kyle's case, his performance has been pretty good. They've had a lot of mechanical problems, flat tires, a lot of problems to keep him [down] there."
With a little relief from bad luck, "I think he's got a good shot at getting in," Kenseth said. "And if he does, he's certainly going to be one of the guys you're going to have to try to beat."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. huffed a little sigh of relief when reminded that, for a change, he doesn't have to slug it out for a berth. He's currently third in the standings.
"I definitely know what it's like to be close, be just inside the bubble with a couple of strong guys behind you trying to get in," Earnhardt said, "or trying to get yourself in, having to outrun some fast guys. That's a tough situation, but you've just got to show up and run your best."
But Earnhardt figured Busch knows he has control of the situation.
"Everybody who's kind of right around that bubble, they know that if they put their best up there, they're going to make it," Earnhardt said.
Asked whether he has broken down the scenarios for the final two regular-season races, Busch affirmed what the other drivers were saying about him, that his season hasn't been so bad except for luck.
"I've just broken it down that we need to run like we have all year," he said.
Did it surprise him that some of his most serious competitors would be expressing sympathy for him?
"No," he said. "I was asked the same question last year, and I said, 'Yeah, you sympathize with those guys there [near the bubble] because you know what kind of situation they're going through, and you never want to put yourself in that situation.'
"Roles were exactly reversed last year for us. Somebody is always going to be in that position somebody is going to be locked in and somebody's not."
But last year he entered the Chase on top and wound up on the bottom, 12th in the standings. In fact, Busch has never had a good Chase.
So could he really put together the kind of playoff charge Johnson and Kenseth expressed concern about?
"I don't see any reason why we wouldn't be able to go out there and contend for the championship, if we were given the opportunity to make the Chase," Busch said. "We've just got to solidify our chances here this weekend, and next weekend in Richmond, and do everything right -- the way we know how to do it -- and be a Chase contender when the checkered flag flies at Richmond
"And then from there, go into the final 10 weeks and bust our butts to put together 10 great weeks. There's no reason why we can't.
"I don't see our competition or the way that we're running as why we're in the 13th position," Busch concluded. "It's just due to dumb circumstances."