- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

NEW YORK | Kyle Busch has been known to enjoy New York City and the ample opportunities it offers young, rich superstars.

And after a dream regular season, the man who seemingly has won everything this year had plenty of reason to run wild during NASCAR’s two-day tour through the city to promote the upcoming Chase for the championship.

Instead, the celebration seemed uncharacteristically subdued for Busch, the Las Vegas driver who usually has no trouble finding the latest hot spots. He did his media obligations and squeezed in shopping and sightseeing with his girlfriend, but he bowed out when the party roared into the early morning hours.

“I’ve been low-key all season,” he insisted.

Maybe. But isn’t New York your kind of town?

“Tell you what,” he said Thursday morning. “If I come back here in December celebrating a championship, I’ll tear it up.”

That’s a promise Busch has 10 long weeks to try to fulfill. He led the Sprint Cup Series points standings for most of the season, building a cushy lead behind eight victories in NASCAR’s top division. It ensured him the top seed in the Chase, which starts Sunday in New Hampshire.

However, any one of 12 drivers can win the championship Busch has been chasing all season long. Busch will face stiff competition from two-time defending champion (and former teammate) Jimmie Johnson, as well as rivals Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Busch isn’t even immune from his own teammates beating him: Both Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart are in the Chase, giving Joe Gibbs Racing three chances to win the title.

So it’s understandable - albeit a bit surprising - that Busch wants to keep things quiet as he focuses on the start of the Chase. And who could blame him? New Hampshire International Speedway isn’t exactly a great track for Busch and the No. 18 team. He was 25th there in July, then took the same car to California and struggled there, too.

“We’re not taking the same car back this weekend,” he said. “The car we ran at Loudon ran so bad, and we took to California and ran terrible there. So that’s a showcar now. We’ll take something new there and hopefully we can run decent.”

The title can be lost by a single bad race, and Busch said his goal for Sunday is to simply get the best finish possible. But he also knows an average finish won’t get it done.

“We’re going to have to get a top 10,” he said. “If it’s a top five, it’s an excellent day. Anything worse than that and we’re probably already going to be behind and have to play catch up.”

And that’s not something Busch has had to do this season. He’s been out front all year and ticked off wins at a rapid pace that frightened the competition. But he’s considered to be in a bit of a slump right now - Busch followed an August win at Watkins Glen with consecutive second-place finishes, but he has finished “only” seventh and 15th in the last two events.

So he’s ready to get his momentum back and would have preferred not taking a midweek trip to New York before the Chase opener.

“Instead of having to take this week and come up here and talk about it, I would have preferred just going on to New Hampshire and getting this thing started,” he said. “It feels like it’s just a little different routine, feels a little bit different … like you went on a mini vacation, and now it’s like you have to go back to work.”

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