"The bonus points are a big necessity in winning the Chase and it's always been that way," said Busch, who was outdone in bonus points 135 to 125 by Johnson during the first 26-race "regular season." "During those final 10 races, that's when the bonus points are most important. The laps you've led and the extra points you gained prior to that mean nothing. When you make the Chase, the clock goes back to zero. It's what you do from there on out that counts."
Statistics certainly back Busch's labeling the bonus points being a necessity in a successful bid in the Chase to the Sprint Cup title. In the five-year existence of the Chase, never has the runner-up in the final point standings scored more bonus points than the champion during the final 10 races.
"There you have it -- the perfect example of what I mean when I say that you have to bring your ‘A-game' out each and every week during the Chase," Busch said, when that statistic was brought to his attention. "It's those final 10 races when you have to claw and scrape and do whatever it takes to get every possible point that you can.
"It really is two different seasons here in our sport," said Busch, who has led laps in all four Chase races this season. "You do what it takes to make the Chase and you might as well put those stats from the first 26 races aside. After that, it's just those 12 guys out there slugging it out from week to week. You gotta' be focused on those last 10 races and there is no looking back."
Again, the Chase statistics-to-date back Busch's statements. In four of the five editions of the Chase, the runner-up for the championship accrued more bonus points during the "regular season" than did the champion.
After four of the Chase races have been put into the record book during the 2009 season, among the top six in the point standings, Busch is tied (with Juan Pablo Montoya) for second in bonus points scored with 20. Points leader Jimmie Johnson leads with 30. Mark Martin and Tony Stewart have both picked up 15 bonus points. Jeff Gordon has picked up only five bonus points during the first four Chase races. (Johnson's current lead over Martin is 12 points - do the math.)
"We know the importance of getting those bonus points and we make a big effort in going after all of them we can," said crew chief Pat Tryson. "You do stuff sort of out of the norm in situations where you can afford to in order to pick up those points. You try to never leave any of those opportunities to get those points on the table.
"Some great examples for us were Sunday at Fontana and a couple of weeks ago in the Kansas race," said Tryson. "We stretched it during the first green-flag run to lead last Sunday at Fontana and get those points. At Kansas, there was a long green flag period and we'd been one of the last guys off pit road and we were getting good fuel mileage. We were able to stretch it out a little and lead a couple of laps to pick up the five bonus points. You just have to go after them every chance you can because they can make or break you when the season comes to an end. We've been able to lead laps in every Chase race so far and we hope to continue that streak in the final six races."
"It's all part of our weekly strategy," said Busch. "It's like a big part of our check list. We always look forward to hearing our spotter, Chris (Osborne), come over on the radio every race and say, ‘New leader, the 2 car.' Like I said, for us, it's all out to get every point that we can."
Here's a look back at the first five editions of the Chase and the bonus points:
Bonus Pts. Chase/ Final Pts. Margin
2004 Season Pts. Overall 1st Over Second
1) KURT BUSCH 55/125 +8
2) Jimmie Johnson 30/135
1) Tony Stewart 50/150 +35
2) Greg Biffle 50/155
1) Jimmie Johnson 50/100 +56
2) Matt Kenseth 35/135
1) Jimmie Johnson 50/130 +77
2) Jeff Gordon 30/150
1) Jimmie Johnson 60/185 +69
2) Carl Edwards 45/130
This weekend's schedule at Lowe's Motor Speedway begins on Thursday with practice from 3:00 p.m. till 4:30 p.m. Qualifying is set for 7:10 p.m. and will determine all 43 starting positions for Saturday's race. Friday's schedule calls for practice sessions from 5:00 p.m. till 5:45 p.m. and from 6:20 p.m. till 7:20 p.m. Saturday's NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America (334 laps/501 miles) has a scheduled 7:25 p.m. ET starting time, with ABC-TV and PRN Radio providing live coverage of all the action.