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Kyle Busch takes notes for 2013 title run

November 04, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com



Kyle Busch takes notes for 2013 title run
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Third-place finisher has front-row seat for battle between Johnson, Keselowski

Kyle Busch had a front-row seat for the battle between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski during the last few laps Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. When this race comes around next year, he hopes to be center stage.

Busch finished third, but he watched the way the two points leaders fought wheel-to-wheel for position on a pair of late-race restarts and made a mental note about what it might take to be in that position in 2013.

"We knew we were going to have to deal with these guys [Sunday night], and we did."

--KYLE BUSCH

"It was exciting," Busch said. "Those guys up there, man, they are battling and they are battling hard, giving it everything they got. That's what they got to do [if] you're going to win a championship in the Sprint Cup Series. That's what you're going to have to make of it."

* Video: Championship contenders won't give an inch | Final Laps

A year-long struggle with bad finishes -- either the result of bad equipment or bad luck -- left Busch on the outside of the Chase, but since Chicagoland, the No. 18 Toyota has been as good as, or better than, all but a handful of cars running for the title.

All weekend, it seemed Johnson, Keselowski and third-place Clint Bowyer were the cars to beat. But Busch was in the mix from the get-go.

"We knew we were going to have to deal with these guys [Sunday night], and we did," Busch said. "They were right up there all night long, and we were right there pressuring them. I felt good about our run."

Busch showed new-found resiliency early in the race, rebounding from a slow pit stop under green less than 50 laps in. Busch got pinned in his pit stall and was forced to back up to avoid contact with another car, losing 10 seconds to the leaders.

His crew more than made up for it as the race went along, consistently giving Busch better track position on yellow-flag pit stops. He took advantage of it, pushing back into the top five by Lap 120 and remaining in contention the rest of the way.

Busch took the lead for the first time following a Lap 191 restart and stayed in front for all but one of the next 46 laps as the front-runners began to conserve fuel for a possible economy finish. The odds of that occurring seemed more likely after a debris caution allowed teams to gamble on making it the final 55 laps to the checkered.

In the lead, Busch thought he had enough fuel saved, but Marcos Ambrose's crash on Lap 311 took that strategy out of play.

"I think we were going to be OK to make it to the end," Busch said. "We were a little bit short but from Lap 1, I was doing some fuel savings. And when Jimmie ran up my back bumper -- he was pressuring me a little bit -- I just moved around, found some speed without having to stay on the throttle as much and let the car roll some more.

"And that was good, because from what [crew chief Dave Rogers] was telling me, we were going to be all right. I kept working at it, but then the caution came out and it kind of derailed our plans anyway."

Keselowski's two-tire gamble on the ensuing round of stops put Busch third, and he didn't have grip to be a factor from that point.

"I just wish I had a couple better restarts there at the end of the race," Busch said. "I [wanted to be] a little bit closer to those guys when they were going at it. Brad was pushing Jimmie up the track, and I thought I could have squeezed in and got underneath them. I just didn't have quite enough there. I was a little too loose on the last couple of restarts."

It was Busch's fifth top-10 finish of the Chase, which continues to build confidence for 2013. It's one thing to think you have the potential to run up front every week. It's another to do it on a consistent basis.

And that's what champions do.

"This last 10 weeks have been pretty good," Busch said. "We've run well. We've been fast. We've shown speed.

"... [Sunday night], I felt like we were a winning car if we could have gotten out front. I think track position meant that much. It's just a matter of continuing to evolve and get better as a team and communicate because this car is obsolete in two weeks. So we'll work on all of that stuff in 2013."

Busch might have the best car not in the Chase. He's hoping nobody will have to add a qualifier when the series returns next fall.

"It was a good night for us," Busch said. "We had a really good race car but just not quite fast enough.

"I wish we were in the [Chase], but that's what next year's for."