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NASCAR

NASCAR: Watkins Glen Means Everything for Kurt Busch’s Chase Hopes

Kurt Busch

Matthew O’Haren – USA TODAY Sports

Furniture Row Racing and driver Kurt Busch have been one of the most interesting stories of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season thus far. With 21 races complete, the team has suffered its fair share of ups and downs but still finds itself 11 points away from No. 10 spot in the standings. The climb to No. 10 over the course of the next five races, however, will be the hardest challenge Busch has faced since he hoisted the title nine years ago in 2004.

Greg Biffle and Roush Racing are by far one of the most consistent teams in NASCAR at any level. That consistency has allowed Biffle to reach the Chase for the Sprint Cup multiple times despite not winning a NASCAR title while his teammates, such as Busch and current Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth, have won. Biffle only has three top-five finishes on the season and has not had one since his lone win at Michigan International Speedway, which culminated a two-race run that saw Biffle go from No. 13 in points to No. 8.

Ahead of Busch are Tony Stewart and defending series champion Brad Keselowski. Stewart is one of the best road-course racers on the series, having a driver rating of 120.4 and an average finish of 7.9. Keselowski was part of the thrilling battle last year for the win between himself, Kyle Busch and eventual winner Marcos Ambrose. His average finish is 8.0, while his driver rating is an incredible 101.7.

Kurt Busch meanwhile, has struggled mightily at Watkins Glen as of late, with his last two finishes coming outside the top 30. His driver rating is 90.7, good enough for ninth best in the series. He has 47 fastest laps run, which is good enough for fifth best, while having 317 green flag passes to his credit.

Something else worth looking at is that after last week’s race at Pocono International Raceway, the top five in points all stayed the same. Every single race and every single position is now important as each week the points gap becomes insurmountable for one more driver. At 11 points behind with five races before the cutoff, Kurt Busch is still in the thick of things, while 15th-place Ryan Newman is clinging on to hope, facing a 24-point deficit.

In my opinion, Kurt Busch is simply running out of time. In front of him stand three of the best late-season drivers in the series, and the three have one DNF combined. If Busch has any hope to fight for No. 10 place, he has to simply hang on at Watkins Glen, where the battle for tenth should presumably only get tighter. But if he could get the win that has seemingly been eluding him all season, the entire race for the No. 10 spot would be flipped over, and Kurt Busch could easily become the favorite.

Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486.