Busch brings maturity to this Chase

As the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup gets under way this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, one guy I am really interested in watching is Kyle Busch.

I really want to see how this year’s Chase starts for him. The reason I say that is because of the 2008 Chase. That was the year he entered the Chase with eight wins in the regular season. Everybody thought he was a lock to take home the trophy and the really big check. Funny thing was, someone forgot to tell the racing gods.

Despite all the wins, all the momentum and the accolades, Busch got off to a horrible start at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the first race of the Chase then, and never recovered.

Some folks like to think that 10 races in the Chase is a long time. It really isn’t. Every race is just as important as the other nine. They all pay the same amount of points. You simply can’t afford to get behind early.

I just think you have to start the Chase off on a high note. With this new points system for 2011, I just think it will be harder to overcome any adversity you might face in the first couple of Chase races. Unlike previous years, it is going to be harder to overcome a bad finish in the first or second race.

Kyle Busch has grown and matured since 2008. I think he’s learned from his past mistakes in the Chase and will be a force to be reckoned with in this year’s title fight. Kyle is right there on my list of who I believe the four main players will be in this Chase. In addition to Kyle, I have Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski on my list.

Joe Gibbs Racing is a three-car team. Kyle has one teammate in the Chase, Denny Hamlin, and one teammate outside the Chase, Joey Logano. I actually don’t think that will have a bearing one way or another. The interesting dynamic is the engine situation.

At Richmond last Saturday, Joey had an engine failure and that was with an engine from Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s my understanding that Busch will be running Joe Gibbs Racing engines in the Chase, while Hamlin will be running the engines from Toyota Racing Development, or TRD as it is known.

Richmond is a place you normally don’t see engine failures. You see that happen more often at the bigger tracks. If you look at the 10-race Chase schedule, you will see that half of the events are at 1.5-mile tracks. In fact, Chicagoland is one of those tracks.

It’s places like that where the engine failures tend to happen more frequently.

There is no question we’ve probably had the most exciting race to the Chase since the format was established. I also get a sense from the teams that there is relief the Chase is starting. There are no more “what-if” scenarios to play out. No more worrying about getting bumped out of the Chase. The field is now set with the 12 drivers who will contend for the title.

The Chase points have now been reset, with the bonus points for wins this season resetting the order. I don’t care if you are Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Tony Stewart, who haven’t won a race all year, everyone is starting fresh. The point separation is only 12. Everyone from top to bottom is on pretty much equal footing and should roll into Chicago with the mindset that they can win the championship.

For the other drivers who are not in the Chase, they only have to worry about one goal and that is to try and win one of these final 10 races. A win to any of them is just as important because they have owners and sponsors to keep happy, too.

Let’s face it, there are still a lot of guys out there, yes including Dale Jr. and Tony, that still need to win a race this year.

So now the goals are crystal clear. It is game on for 10 races in 10 weeks. I’m excited to see how it all plays out.