Just when it seems like the going's gotten tough for Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup champion digs deep and finds his way back into the winner's circle at the right time.
After placing 22nd at Loudon, NH two weeks ago, the driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger clawed his way back into Victory Lane and most imporantly, back into championship contention.
Leading 90 of 400 laps, the Las Vegas native's win not only brought him closer to the points leaders, but it also tightened up the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship standings after three races.
"To win a Sprint Cup race in the Chase, this is what it’s all about," Busch said per AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston's article.
What it's all about is a six position gain in the points standings for Busch, who finds himself now in the third spot, just nine markers behind points leaders Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.
Perhaps making the victory much sweeter for the colorful racer was the fact that he beat rival Jimmie Johnson to the stripe, who had a lot riding on his shoulders heading into Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover, DE.
Coming into the 400-miler at The Monster Mile, Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe's Chevy team were 10th in points and had a somewhat bleak championship outlook.
However, all that changed with a runner-up finish which boosted him to fifth in the standings, 13 points from the first position.
"I hate leaving points on the table, and we have these first three," Johnson said.
Still, there's plenty of races ahead for the five-time defending Cup champion, who looks about as prime and ready as his peers towards the final seven events.
Co-points leader Carl Edwards came home in the third position, continuing his steady but quiet climb to the top of the title hunt.
However, he was in position to win on Sunday, leading 116 laps before costing himself a shot at the checkered flag by speeding on pit road.
Despite that infraction, he nabbed a podium finish, although the defeat stung him a little.
"I definitely took myself out of position to fight for the win by doing that," Edwards said. "It’s something that’s painful."
Rounding out the top-10 race standings were Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose, and Kevin Harvick.
Tony Stewart, who started this year's postseason with two straight wins, fizzled on Sunday with a disappointing 25th-place finish, which relegated him to a tie for third position in points with Kurt Busch.
As for the rest of the Chase contenders, Jeff Gordon placed 12th, while Denny Hamlin finished 18th, Brad Keselowski in 20th, Ryan Newman with a 23rd, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming home in 24th.
The Sprint Cup circuit will hit up the Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400 on Sunday (Live at 2 PM ET on ESPN), where Greg Biffle looks to duplicate his feat from last year to score his first win of the year.
Here's a look at the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship standings after three races, with drivers' teams, manufacturer, and wins (if applicable) are listed in the parentheses:
- Kevin Harvick (Childress/Chevy/4 wins)
- Carl Edwards (Roush-Fenway/Ford/1 win)
- Kurt Busch (Penske/Dodge/2 wins)
- Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas/Chevy/2 wins)
- Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick/Chevy/1 win)
- Brad Keselowski (Penske/Dodge/3 wins)
- Matt Kenseth (Roush-Fenway/Ford/2 wins)
- Kyle Busch (Gibbs/Toyota/4 wins)
- Jeff Gordon (Hendrick/Chevy/3 wins)
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick/Chevy)
- Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas/Chevy/1 win)
- Denny Hamlin (Gibbs/Toyota/1 win)
[Associated Press via Yahoo! Sports]