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Busch trying to put away Nationwide title

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Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch may own a substantial margin in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings, but the driver has spent as much of the season battling his own frustration and the competition. After all, finishing as a race runner-up 10 times can be a bit maddening, no matter who you are. And when you are someone as competitive as Busch, a driver who has been in the heart of the points race all season, it can be viewed more simply as a failure to finish the deal. The finishes are especially troublesome because Busch has been so dominant in most of those races. He led 162 of 200 laps when he finished second at Kentucky Speedway. He led 173 of 200 when he was second at Kansas Speedway. In fact, Busch has led laps in all but two races this season. So while he has won a series-leading seven events, he has at times been bothered by some of those other 15 top-five finishes he's scored. Busch has 26 top-10 finishes in 31 series races this year and enters this weekend's event at Memphis Motorsports Park with a 195-point edge in the standings. Despite that advantage, neither Busch nor second-running Carl Edwards is willing to completely write off this battle just yet. For Busch, this season has been rife with success, but that has been tainted in part not only because of the runner-up status of many of his finishes, but also in part to the inability to completely close the door on Edwards. Of course, the two aren't completely unrelated concepts. Busch took the points lead after the second race of the season, then gave it up for four races but has held it ever since returning to the top spot after that. For 25 consecutive races, he has left the track as the series points leader. Still, he's not counting on this title just yet. "There's still a few to go," Busch said after winning at Lowe's Motor Speedway last weekend to take a more commanding lead in the standings. "Carl's best track comes up next week. ... It's not over; it's definitely any man's race right now as far as Carl or myself or even the 88 (of Brad Keselowski)." Busch lost some points the previous week when he stepped out of his car because of an illness and replacement driver Denny Hamlin was caught up in an incident. Busch did get the points for the race, but the accident combined with a third-place finish by Edwards tightened the championship battle. Busch's win at Charlotte, combined with a fifth-place finish for Edwards, spread the field back out once more. Edwards, meanwhile, is maintaining confidence in his own chances. This time last season, he had a 638-point edge on the competition and went on to win the championship by almost that margin. He heads to Memphis Motorsports Park this weekend as the defending race winner and has three top-five finishes in the last four races there.

Upcoming races also hold promise. He has four top-10 finishes in series races at Texas, two wins and an average finish of 7.2 at Phoenix and is the defending race winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he has a worst finish of fourth in his last three Nationwide races. Busch, meanwhile, has a top finish of 14th in two races at Memphis. But he has three Nationwide wins at Texas and an average finish of 6.1, two wins at Phoenix and an average finish of 9.8 and a pair of top-three finishes at Homestead. Edwards, though, feels this title has not slipped out of his grasp. "The Nationwide championship is definitely still within reach," he says. "We need to win the next few races, and we need for Kyle to have a little bit of trouble. We don't ever quit, that's for sure. We have a great team, and our guys have been working hard. We're gaining on it. A couple more years to go win championships as well, so we're building for next year as we speak. Not a terrible year either way, but, hopefully, we can gain on him." Would the drivers prefer, though, to be racing under a different system in these closing races? One that, like the Sprint Cup Series, would collapse the points gap in the final races of the season and set up a showdown among the top points drivers in a format similar to the Chase for the Sprint Cup? Busch and Edwards aren't opposed to the idea. "I think it would be fun for the series," Busch said earlier this season. "The top-10 drivers get a shot at going for the championship. It would definitely shine some light further on those drivers that are further back in the points." Edwards expects that to eventually become the format for the series. That doesn't matter this season, though. Right now, these two are vying for this title. Edwards clearly has a massive deficit to overcome, a fact that hasn't escaped the attention of either driver. And while neither driver is writing up this title run just yet, Busch is hoping to clinch the championship prior to the final race of the season. "We know we need to keep up to our best game and do what we need to do in order to put this championship away," Busch said. "I would love to have done what Kevin Harvick did a couple years ago. I think the championship was over (at the Charlotte) race, he just started this race and he was done. "I wish that was the scenario that we were in. We've got a couple more weeks that we can gain some good points and, hopefully, put it away at Phoenix."


Rea White is a writer for NASCAR Scene, which is published weekly, 46 weeks per year. Visit www.scenedaily.com for more information.

Tagged: Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin

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