Kyle Busch knows it will take another win — or two — to lock himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
And qualifying second for Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen is a good place to start.
Busch will share the front row of the Sprint Cup race with pole-sitter Juan Pablo Montoya. Busch won this event from the pole in 2008. Since his debut in 2005, when the then 20-year-old Hendrick Motorsports racer finished 33rd, Busch has not finished worse than ninth.
"For me, at the beginning I wasn’t excellent at it,” Busch said of road racing. “I felt like I was OK, but I’ve gotten better at it over time. Just understanding the dynamic of the car a little bit more and what you can do with it, how much you can throw it into the corners and throw it around through the corners and all of that stuff.
“It just kind of takes time to figure all of that out.”
“Time” is not on Busch’s side with just five races — or opportunities — to improve his position in the wild-card standings. But Watkins Glen is just one of several tracks where Busch has a legitimate shot at a win, if not considered an all-out favorite.
"For the next five or whatever it is, it’s ‘win or bust’ yeah, basically,” Busch said. “Finishing second or third or fourth isn’t going to get us anywhere."
Not with current wild card holders Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon in front of him. Kahne has acquired two wins and sits 57 points outside of the Chase. With a single victory apiece, Gordon and Ryan Newman are tied at 68 points behind 10th-place Clint Bowyer. So Busch will either have to win another race or overcome a 12-point deficit to leapfrog over Gordon and Newman for a wild card berth.
"To lock, three is a lock, but you can have two and just try to keep yourselves in front of the guys that do have one win in case they do get a win,” Busch said. “Like right now, us having one win, Jeff Gordon having one win — that’s who I feel like we’re really racing, is the 24 car.
“If we pass him back in points, obviously that will get us back in the Chase. He runs really, really well at Atlanta and he also runs good at Bristol, too. There’s an opportunity there for him to get another win, which would make it two. If he gets two and we’re in front of him in points with only one win, then he’s in and we’re out. If you have two, I think we’ll be OK."
Certainly, in a tale of the tape, no driver on the tour has as many wins over the next five tracks as Gordon has with 18. But among wild card contenders, only he and Busch have won on each of the remaining venues leading up to the Chase.
Busch is the defending winner at Michigan. Gordon visited victory lane at the two-miler in 2001. Four of Busch’s five Bristol wins were achieved in the last seven races. While Gordon also has five wins at Bristol, his last victory came in 2002. While Gordon picked up his fifth win at Atlanta last year, Busch’s sole victory was notched in 2008. And Although Busch has four Richmond wins in his last seven starts, he earned each one in the spring race. However, he has completed every lap raced in 15 starts. Gordon has two Richmond wins, most recently in 2000.
But Busch doesn’t want to wait to determine his fate. He wants to win at Watkins Glen on Sunday.
"This is the next one on the list and this is one I like to run well at,” Busch said. “I’ve won here before. I put it on my list every year to come here and try to compete and run up front and win this thing. That’s our goal tomorrow and that’s what we are set out to do.
“Hopefully we can achieve that and put the M&M’s Camry in Victory Lane. You do that and we’ll have that second win for the wild card and we’ll go on into the last four races and see if we can’t either keep ourselves in front of the 24 in points in case he does get a win, or maybe even get ourselves another win."
Montoya won his second consecutive pole on Sunday after topping the speed chart in qualifying with a lap of 127.020 mph — a new track record for Watkins Glen.
It’s the first time Montoya has posted back-to-back poles since moving to NASCAR in 2006 and, amazingly, his first pole on a road course — the only type of track where the former Formula One victor has won in a stock car.
While J.P.’s pole at Pocono resulted in a 20th-place finish last week, the pole-sitter is more optimistic regarding his chances on Sunday.
“When we went out and put it on pole, it was like ‘yes, how does that happen?,’” Montoya said of his Pocono pole. “This week we generally have been good all weekend. I think like we did the Michigan test and I felt we gained a lot on the car. We put some more in it in Pocono and we ran better. We missed the race set-up completely and we knew we did. From when I went into turn one the first lap I knew it was going to be a long day. We work on it . . . work as hard as we can to make it better and see what it brings.
“I think this week, I think we can contend, you know what I mean? A few guys are really strong and you really have to, as Kyle (Busch) said, you’ve got to run your own race, save the brakes. Having track position is a good thing because you just do it smart and see what it brings you and you go from there.”
Montoya started third when he won at the Glen in 2010. In five starts at the track, Montoya has posted two top five’s, four top 10s and led 80 laps.
9 — Poles for Montoya in the Sprint Cup Series.
3 — Nationwide Series wins for Carl Edwards on road courses. Along with his Watkins Glen win on Saturday, he has won at Montreal and Road America.
13 — Point lead for Elliott Sadler over defending champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the Nationwide Series.
50 — Laps it took Kyle Busch to move from last to first in the Zippo 200 at the Glen on Saturday.
Sam Hornish, who is substituting in the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge in the Sprint Cup Series on whether he feels like he’s auditioning for that ride:
“I felt like I was auditioning for three years when I was in the Cup series before, so at this point in time, what the car will give me I take — and sometimes I go a little more than that,” Hornish said.