Commentary

Kyle Busch puts swift end to two-week slump, locks up top spot in Chase

See what happens when Kyle Busch gets backed into a corner? He digs in his heels, wins another race -- his eighth this season -- and locks up the top spot in the Chase, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: August 13, 2008, 10:38 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Pressure? What pressure?

The brief summer swoon is over for Kyle Busch. Give him a decent car and a little motivation and he's going to show everyone that talk of his possible demise is a laughable suggestion.

Busch clinched the top spot in the Chase (assuming he makes the playoff -- duh, as he would say) by earning his eighth victory of the season Sunday in the Centurion Boats at The Glen.

He sent a message to his doubters that he isn't folding when the heat is on. After disappointing results at Indianapolis and Pocono, Busch listened to some of his rivals dismiss his chances of staying on top and winning the title this season.

On Friday, Jeff Gordon listed Busch third on his list of favorites to win the 2008 championship, saying Busch was "showing some vulnerability." Last week, Jimmie Johnson questioned whether Busch had the experience to handle the stress of the Chase.

"It's head games," Busch said. "And we're playing it. Those statements are going to be made, but you can't concentrate on that. You have to concentrate on your effort. We just race our race and make our car the fastest we can make it."

Busch has won four of the past seven Cup races. Some slump. He also is the first man in history to win three NASCAR road-course events in the same season -- both Cup events and the Nationwide race at Mexico City.

He almost made it four wins, finishing second to Marcos Ambrose in the Nationwide race at The Glen on Saturday.

On Sunday, Busch beat the man who was named the Racer of the Decade at Watkins Glen just two days earlier. Tony Stewart, Busch's teammate, had won four of the previous six Cup races at The Glen. But he finished second to Busch this time.

It didn't surprise Stewart, who believes Busch can handle whatever pressure his opponents try to toss at him.

"I actually think he thrives on the pressure," Stewart said. "I think he feeds off it and uses it to his advantage. He's not the type of guy to let it bother him. And right now, I don't think anything is going to affect him with the season he's having. He has a huge amount of momentum."

Busch has a 242-point lead with four races to go before the 10-race Chase begins. Many of the other contenders were struggling Sunday, including Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

We had a couple of bad weeks, but now we need to keep riding high. It's great to be on top.

-- Kyle Busch

Gordon finished 29th, his worst showing ever at The Glen in a race in which he was still running at the end. He lost radio contact with his pit crew earlier in the event and fell to the back of the pack.

Earnhardt was leading the race with 27 laps to go but waited too long to pit and had to come in during a caution. The other lead-lap cars already had pitted, so they stayed on the track, dropping Earnhardt to 30th. He finished 22nd.

Johnson cut a tire midway through the race and had to make an unscheduled pit stop but still managed to finish seventh. Carl Edwards, who won his fourth race of the season last week at Pocono, finished ninth.

The happiest man other than Busch on Sunday was Ambrose. He celebrated the best weekend of his NASCAR career, finishing third after winning the Nationwide race Saturday.

But no one had anything for Busch. The biggest fear his team had was the engine of his No. 18 Toyota.

Busch missed a shift in practice Saturday and over-revved the motor. Joe Gibbs Racing engineers and crew members huddled over the car to see if the engine was damaged. They decided it was OK. Obviously, that was true.

Had the team changed engines, Busch would have moved from the pole to the back of the field for the start of the race. Not a good thing on a challenging road course.

In Busch's case, it probably wouldn't have mattered. He's that good.

"But I really didn't want to have to pass all those cars," Busch said.

That's too much pressure, even for a guy who loves it.

"In some ways I like it I guess," Busch said. "But really, I'm just trying to do my job every single moment. I was trying like hell last year when I only won one race and I'm trying like hell now. The only pressure I feel is what I put on myself when I make a mistake."

Busch isn't making many mistakes, so he isn't feeling any pressure.

"We just have to keep our mojo going," Busch said. "We had a couple of bad weeks, but now we need to keep riding high. It's great to be on top."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

ALSO SEE