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Busch confident, but says he's not the favorite

March 19, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Toyota drivers discuss balance between an engine's power and its durability

Having won three of the past four Sprint Cup races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch has to be considered one of the favorites to win Sunday's Jeff Byrd 500.

Just don't call him the favorite, even though he won Saturday's Scotts EZ Seed 300 Nationwide race at BMS. He said he doesn't deserve that, placing that description on pole-sitter Carl Edwards instead.

"Carl's pretty hot right now," Busch said. "He probably could have won three races in a row, and now he's on the pole. So there you have it."

"Some of it's just been kind of a freak deal. There have been a lot of meetings about it, I promise you that. It's just crazy -- a $10 part can give away a race."

--JOEY LOGANO

There also are some uncertainties circling right now over the No. 18 Toyota team of Busch, who went from leading the early-season point standings after finishing second in the second race of the year at Phoenix to dropping all the way to 14th following an engine failure that led to a 38th-place debacle in the next race at Las Vegas. It was the third engine problem in as many races for the drivers of the three Sprint Cup teams fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, making it more than a mere anomaly.

Engine issues aren't nearly the concern at a short track like .533-mile Bristol, but they will be in the following race on the schedule one week from Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in California.

Martin Truex Jr., who also drives a Toyota, suggested Friday at Bristol that perhaps he has benefited from a more conservative approach being taken so far this season by Michael Waltrip Racing, which fields his No. 56 car. He said the problems encountered thus far by JGR likely are a byproduct of the never-ending give and take between drivers demanding more power and engine builders who want to give it to them but also must factor in reliability variables.

"They're constantly working on more power and we're constantly asking for it," said Truex, who enters Sunday's race seventh in points. "The good thing for us is that last year early in the season we had problems like Gibbs is having now. [We were] pushing the envelope too much and having problems. I think they're a [usually] little more conservative.

"The driver always wants more power. We always want the fastest engine in the garage -- but when it blows up, you're cussing somebody. There's a fine line there between having problems and being a little bit conservative. I think for us we're a little on the conservative side now, but obviously it's paid off for us. Our cars have been fast and I think we're in the ballpark there. I've been happy with the reliability and I think for us right now, that's our main concern."

It is for Busch and the JGR stable of drivers, too. "It's been different every time," said Joey Logano, Busch's JGR teammate who finished 33rd in Phoenix after suffering an engine failure of his own. "Some of it's just been kind of a freak deal. There have been a lot of meetings about it, I promise you that. It's just crazy -- a $10 part can give away a race. Or making an error putting together a motor can give a race away."

Busch added: "The guys in the engine shop have been working really hard and doing a lot of things to try to make sure they get the most out of the engines that we can currently get. And maybe we pushed it too far. We've talked about it, and we've talked about some things that we can maybe can and work on for [improved] reliability. All we can do is work toward all that and get better."

There is no place where Busch can get better more quickly than Bristol. He swept both Bristol races in 2009, finished ninth last spring, then won again in the night race last August to complete a weekend sweep of the Truck , Nationwide and Cup series events. In 12 career Cup races at Bristol, he has four wins, six top-five and nine top-10 finishes.

So while Busch may not consider himself the prohibitive favorite over Edwards, he's certainly not lacking for confidence himself.

"It was the first [Bristol] race for [crew chief] Dave Rogers on my Cup car here last spring, and we just missed it a little bit," Busch said. "We've had a whole year to work together and we came back [last August] and won under the lights, so I don't foresee any problems."

Busch didn't even seem overly upset about NASCAR's decision to introduce a new right-front tire into the mix after teams encountered problems during Friday's practices. Like everyone else, Busch's No. 18 team was given just one set of the new tires to practice with in Saturday's second session -- the only practice left before Sunday's main event.

"It's the same for everybody, so you just race with it," Busch said. "If you've got a good driver and you've got a pretty good feel for how to get around this place, you can pretty much change whatever you want and you should be all right."

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