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NASCAR Sprint Cup: Has Kurt Busch turned the corner?

NASCAR Dover Auto Racing
Nick Wass - AP
Kurt Busch’s unexpected victory at Martinsville all-but clinched a spot in the Chase, but his performances since the win left his ability to capitalize on the victory in doubt.

Until last Sunday, Kurt Busch’s only top-10 finish since his victory in March at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway came in the IndyCar Series.

That’s not exactly encouraging when you’re running full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Busch’s unexpected victory at Martinsville – a track on which he has struggled much of his career – all but clinched a spot in the Chase, but his performances since the win left his ability to capitalize on the victory in doubt.

So, when Busch and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team qualified second for last Sunday’s race at Pocono (Pa.) and backed it up with a third-place finish, it seemed almost like another win.

“It was just solid execution, a nice turn of the page, so to speak, and congratulations to our team and ourselves for shedding that new-team skin and moving into the second part of the year with a solid-type finish as this,” Busch said.

“This is what we need to start building our consistency on. Now, we’ll just try to develop it week in, week out.”

The chance comes in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, where Busch finished third last August while competing for Furniture Row Racing.

Busch is in his first season at SHR and working with first-year crew chief, Daniel Knost, with a startup team. Growing pains were to be expected.

Yet with a victory in hand in March, Busch seemed on his way to a strong start this season. Since then, it has been anything but.

Until his third at Pocono, Busch’s best NASCAR finish since his win was 18th at Dover, Del.

All three of Busch’s teammates at SHR – Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick – have had bright spots this season with Harvick enjoying the most success with two victories.

All four teams ran well at Pocono, which encouraged Greg Zipadelli, SHR’s competition director.

“We had a strong weekend as far as speed and all the things and did well working together,” he said. “We had a good day going, and it just hasn’t been our year so far.

“It was encouraging to have all four cars have speed all weekend. We’ve had one or two or three, but never all of them.”

All have had their fair share of struggles as well, with Busch and Patrick having the most difficulties.

“For each team, this is the point in the season where each one starts to build its own identity,” Busch said, “and for my team as young as we are, this is the type of finish that will help boost the confidence up.”

Busch said during a team meeting last week everyone involved was asked whether they were willing to put in the extra time and effort to make a success of this season. Each said yes, Busch said.

“When you cash in on a top-five run after that, that really builds everybody’s self-esteem up,” he said, “so I’m looking forward to it.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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