"I've definitely seen it from both ends and I know from experience how incredibly important it is to get off to a good start in the Chase," said Busch, who finished 18th in the race at Richmond last Saturday night after earning his fifth Chase bid in the last seven seasons at Atlanta two weeks ago. "Once that green flag falls at Loudon on Sunday to officially begin the Chase, the race really is on.
"It's not too hard to measure the importance of getting off to a good start and begin logging those top-fives and top-10s," said Busch, who is now fifth in the adjusted point standings heading into the Chase, trailing leader Denny Hamlin by 40 points. "A win or two sprinkled in there may not be absolutely necessary these days, but it sure does help solidify things. The biggest fear is having a DNF (did not finish) by getting in a crash or having a blown engine. That can be devastating, because a good rule of thumb is that for any DNF you have, you better be able to win two races just to begin to make up the ground you lost from that one race."
Busch certainly knows from personal experience the highs and lows associated with the opening Chase race at NHMS. After all, he did win the Chase opener at NHMS during his 2004 successful run to the points title. The very next season, he was caught up in an early crash and finished 35th. It was the beginning of a long slide down to a 10th-place finish in the point standings.
"During our championship season back in 2004, we were strong from the drop of the green flag and it only got better from there," said Busch. "We won the New Hampshire race and went on down the road on a big roll. We finished top-five at Dover and did the same at Talladega the next week.
"We went on a roll of nothing but top-fives and top-10s through the first six races and built up such a points lead that we were able to hang on and pull it out by eight points over Jimmie (Johnson) to win the battle for the title, even with the big setback with the blown engine at Atlanta."
After six races had been completed during the 2004 Chase, Busch enjoyed a 96-point advantage over second-place Jeff Gordon. Johnson, who would turn out to be Busch's chief nemesis was 207 points behind.
Busch blew an engine in the Atlanta race and finished 42nd, dropping his lead to only 41 points. He entered the Homestead finale with an 18-point advantage and in a "miracle run," he finished fifth to claim an eight-point advantage over Johnson to take the first points title under the current Chase format.
"That was definitely the good end of thing that we enjoyed and the other years definitely didn't turn out that way," said Busch. "We made the Chase the next year in 2005 and had such high hopes of defending the title. In the opening Chase race at New Hampshire, we hadn't even finished three laps before a guy who normally shouldn't have been up there was just too loose, got out of shape and just wiped us out.
"We went on and struggled really bad the next week at Dover and just couldn't get things straightened out," said Busch. "We struggled and didn't finish in the top-10 but three or four times during the rest of the season. Then we had the big parting of the ways with the previous car owner and that was the end of that season."
If his recent record at NHMS is any indication, there couldn't be a better track for Busch and his Steve Addington-led Penske Racing "Blue Deuce" team to begin their quest for the series points championship. In the last five races on the "Magic Mile," Busch has one win, three top-five finishes and five top-10s. During that stretch, he has a 3.8 average finish there. Busch started third and finished third in the June LENOX Tools 300 at NHMS.
"I thought that race was a great short-track battle," offered Busch, who had a spirited battle with Jimmie Johnson down to the wire. "I thought it was a classic, get in the corner a little bit deeper than the guy-type of race. I just got into him a little bit in the left rear and nudged him up and we were able to squeak on by. But, there were just too many laps left in the race and he was able to rally back, get around and go on to win the race. The better car won that race and I admit that."
This weekend's action at New Hampshire Motor Speedway gets under way with Sprint Cup practice on Friday from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. Sunday's 43-car starting field will be determined in Friday's 3:10 p.m. single round of Cup qualifying. Saturday's action includes practice sessions from 9:00 a.m. till 9:50 a.m. and from 11:30 a.m. till 12:30 p.m. Sunday's SYLVANIA 300 (300 Laps, 317.4 Miles) has a 1:00 p.m. EDT starting time. Live coverage of the race will be provided by ESPN-TV and PRN Radio.