While the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship has yet to be decided, it appears that one racer is working hard to make sure he finally captures it in convincing fashion.
Redeeming himself after letting a victory opportunity slip away in June, Kyle Busch got the monkey off his back by capturing the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday. It was his fourth win of the 2011 season but his first Cup triumph at Michigan International Speedway.
"Certainly we've built ourselves into championship contenders this year," Busch said per AP Sports Writer Noah Trister's article. "There's a great opportunity for us to win three more races before the Chase starts."
With Bristol, Atlanta, and Richmond next on the circuit, it could very well be chances for Kyle Busch to build momentum heading into the postseason.
By winning at Michigan on Sunday, he was the first driver to clinch a Chase seed, at least assuring himself a wild card seed and a top-10 position before the title hunt begins at Chicagoland next month.
Sure, Kyle Busch didn't have the overall dominant car, as that distinction belonged to Greg Biffle, who led a race-high 80 laps. Ultimately, Biffle came up short in his quest for his first victory of the year, finishing a disappointing 20th.
No matter the challenger, be it Jeff Gordon, who led 50 laps but placed sixth or even five-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch wasn't going to be denied, as he held off a host of contenders to sweep both MIS races with Toyota sheet metal. It wasn't a typical Kyle Busch win but as the saying goes in sports, "a win is a win."
Johnson held his own despite losing a late-race lead to Busch, placing runner-up in an almost quiet fashion. Despite winning only one race thus far in 2011, he finds himself just 10 markers behind points leader Kyle Busch, a testament to the No. 48 team's smooth consistent approach that has won them titles since 2006.
"Wish I could have hung on," Johnson said. "I got away from Kyle, but as I was pulling away, I was sliding the car pretty bad. Eventually, he got to me."
Brad Keselwoski finished third for his third consecutive top-three finish in as many races, as he said, "I would like to make the top 10 on our own merits, if for no other reason than to push away all the naysayers of the wild-card system."
Keselowski sits 12th in the points standings, trailing 10th place Tony Stewart by 52 points. Even if he doesn't make the top-10 standings, he appears to have a good chance of clinching a Chase seed via a wild-card slot.
By staying inside the top-20 and with his two wins thus far, he'd beat out racers like Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, AJ Allmendinger, and Mark Martin to name a few. Talk about good company because Keselowski would beat out a "Who's Who" of today's stock car stars.
Meanwhile, Mark Martin applied the spurs to his No. 5 Chevy by placing fourth, while Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Cint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-10 finishers.
As for Carl Edwards, it was a race not to remember for he and his No. 99 AFLAC Ford Fusion team, as equipment issues relegated them to a 36th-place finish.
Sunday's race was somewhat atypical of a typical Michigan 400-miler as fuel mileage didn't factor into the leaders' finishes, as clean air and track position were more of the primary concerns heading into and during race day.
Ultimately, when the green-white-checkered flag overtime period finished, it saw the white, green, and black No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota charge its way to the win and it might end up being a momentum starter for the pride of Las Vegas and his Joe Gibbs Racing efforts.
Here's a look at the top-12 points standings heading into next Saturday night's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (Live on ESPN on ABC at 7:30 PM EST), with drivers' team, manufacturer, and wins (if any) listed in the parentheses:
- Kyle Busch (Gibbs/Toyota/4 wins)
- Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick/Chevy/1 win)
- Kevin Harvick (Childress/Chevy/3 wins)
- Carl Edwards (Roush-Fenway/Ford/1 win)
- Matt Kenseth (Roush-Fenway/Ford/2 wins)
- Jeff Gordon (Hendrick/Chevy/2 wins)
- Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas/Chevy/1 win)
- Kurt Busch (Penske/Dodge/1 win)
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick/Chevy)
- Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas/Chevy)
- Brad Keselowski (Penske/Dodge/2 wins)
- Denny Hamlin (Gibbs/Toyota/1 win)
[Associated Press via Yahoo! Sports]