SONOMA, Calif. - Kurt Busch is finding his comfort zone at Penske Racing South, and that could be bad news for the rest of NASCAR's Nextel Cup competitors.
The 2004 Nextel Cup champion heads into Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350 on the road course at Infineon Raceway 16th in the standings and 187 points away from the 10th-place cutoff for the 10-race stock car postseason run.
“We like to think we're in kind of the same position as Matt Kenseth was last year when he made a great run and got into the Chase after a not-so-great start,” said Busch, who got the weekend off to a strong start by winning his first road course pole.
After the first 15 races last year, Kenseth, Busch's former Roush Racing teammate, was 21st and trailing 10th-place Kevin Harvick by 281 points. But Kenseth was able to drive his way into the Chase, finishing the season in seventh place.
That accomplishment could be a catalyst for Busch, who mostly has struggled since moving last winter from the Roush team - where he cruised into the Chase for the championship in each of its first two years - to the Penske team.
After replacing retired Rusty Wallace in Penske's No. 2 Dodge, Busch did win at Bristol in only his fifth start with his new team. But that has been one of the few highlights of a tough start to 2006.
The apparent turnaround came two weeks ago at Pocono, where Busch finished second. He backed that performance up last week at Michigan with a solid ninth-place finish - the first time since arriving at Penske he has managed two straight top 10s.
“It's taken some time to get to this point,” Busch said. “It's been a transition and I think we've turned the corner the past couple of weeks. There's still plenty of time and I think we're in great position to be one of the underdogs to work our way into the Chase.”
A key to Busch's confidence in the face of so much adversity this season has been his relationship with Roy McCauley, his new crew chief.