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Busch gets back in title hunt

October 21, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Kyle Busch went a lap down early, but recovered to move back up to third in standings

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TALLADEGA, Ala. -- A fifth-place finish, a gain of 11 points and suddenly Kyle Busch is back in the playoff picture.

Maybe he's on the fringe, holding third place in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and trailing leader Jimmie Johnson by 26 points in the aftermath of Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. But maybe he and the No. 18 team are a bit more in focus than either was before the weekend got under way.

A little bit of good fortune helped, but Busch was as fast as most in a Sprint Cup Series race that depended upon what line you happened to be running on the track, and who was helping keep that line moving.

Like many, Busch no doubt harbored hopes of a late-race blast to the front. One of those get-out-of-line-and-go moves that so often dominate restrictor-plate racing. But in the end, those who dropped out of line were too far back to mount anything resembling a serious threat, and everyone up front seemed content to wait until the checkered flag was in sight before making their move.

Busch, who earned his best plate finish of the season, described the unusual nature of the race "monkey see, monkey do."

"There was nobody going anywhere that was behind us, trying to make moves," he said. "So it didn't make any sense to go down there and try to make a move … and just fade to the back."

The few who tried, he said, kept going backwards. Leaving a last-ditch effort coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap as the best possible option.

That was "where you could go to the bottom and make up some ground on some guys," he said, "and see if you couldn't get a train of a few to push you down on the bottom.

"Depending on when your momentum took over and if the guys in front of you were going to check up, you just have to go with it. Our … Camry ran great all day. I appreciate the guys and everybody from TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Toyota. You know, it was fun to finish one of these things."

While the finish was enough to keep the team within earshot of Johnson and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth in the points race, Busch had to battle back from going a lap down in the early stages of the race.

Headed to pit road for a green-flag pit stop at Lap 68, Busch nearly got into the back of Jamie McMurray's Chevrolet. Because he had to move to the outside to avoid contact, Busch was blocked from his pit stall, which was toward the upper end of pit road. That necessitated a return trip to pit road, putting him one lap down.

When Marcos Ambrose collected Juan Pablo Montoya several laps later to bring out the caution, Busch was the beneficiary, rejoining those on the lead lap.

The lost lap wasn't a great concern, he said, because it was early in the race and more cautions were likely.

"And luckily for us there was one that mattered and got us back on the lead lap," he said. "That saved our day."

And helped keep his title hopes alive.

"I wanted to go one more lap because I knew I had saved enough fuel through that run that we could make it one more lap," he said. "I knew there was going to be too much congestion getting onto pit road that I didn't want to deal with it. But it is what it is."

With Martinsville on the horizon, Busch hopes to continue to cut into the leader's advantage. Although winless on the series' smallest track (it measures 0.526 mile), he finished second there last fall and fifth earlier this spring.

It's a place where Johnson often rules -- the five-time champ has eight career wins there. Kenseth hasn't been as strong, but did lead 96 laps in the spring race en route to a 14th-place finish.

Fifth at Talladega and back in the title picture?

"I feel like we were pretty good," Busch said. "We ended up with a decent finish here today, so that's all we could ask for."

MORE:

READ: McMurray rules
with late Talladega surge

WATCH: Final Laps:
McMurray wins; Dillon spins

READ: Points lead
changes hands

WATCH: Busch misses
pit stall