With seven races remaining to determine this season's points titlist, Busch is quick to point out the biggest factor in that equation - consistency - and as the winner in the first year of the Chase format and a player in five of the seven Chases to date, he could be considered an authority on the subject.
"It's consistency -- that's the key to winning the championship -- and we need more of it," said Busch, now sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings. "That's always been the most critical factor and it certainly will be the decision-maker this season, too. From here on out, it'll be all about having the best average finish, getting all the bonus points you can and not having the problems that create bad finishes. You have to be bringing your ‘A game' to the track each and every week. You have to be leading laps to get the bonus points and put the numbers on the board at the end of the day.
"If we can make it through Talladega with something near a 7.0 average with three races left, I feel confident that we can be within striking distance of the leader ," said Busch. "We finished 13th at Loudon, fourth at Dover and 13th again last Sunday at Kansas and that figures out to be a 10.0 average after three races. That probably won't cut it.
"If you're not winning, you'd better be putting up those top-five and top-10 finishes, that's for sure," offered Busch, who trails new points leader Jimmie Johnson by 70 points.
"It's easy to figure out all the right numbers. If you finish fifth one week and 15th the next, that works out to a 10th-place average finish in just those two races. At the extremes, if you blow an engine one week and finish 40th and come back to win the next week, that works out to a 20th-place finish (in just those two races) and you still have a ton of ground to make up."
During his successful run to the 2004 Sprint Cup title, Busch won the champion's hardware by a mere eight points over Johnson. He won three races overall, compared to Johnson's eight. But a quick comparison of their final 10 Chase races certainly adds credibility to Busch's stressing the importance of consistency. Four of Johnson's wins came in the final 10 races to Busch's single win during that period. However, Busch recorded six top-five finishes and nine top-10s compared to Johnson's five top-fives and seven top-10s.
But the most compelling statistics showed that while Johnson's 12.8 average finish during the "regular season" topped Busch's 13.8, during the final 10-race run to the championship, Busch posted an 8.9 average finish to Johnson's 10.2.
"We were so consistent during the nine other races that we overcame blowing an engine at Atlanta," said Busch. "To have finished 42nd in that race and still have the average finish we did for the 10 races overall really speaks for how consistent we were." (With the Atlanta finish removed, Busch posted a 5.2 average over the nine other races.)
So how does the competition stack up this season? Can you afford to have one bad finish in the 10 Chase races?
"Like I said, the media guys were asking me what kind of average finish I thought you would need to have a shot at the championship this season and I told them I'd feel comfortable if we could get through the next stretch of Chase races with about a 7.0 average after Talladega," Busch said. "Would that allow you to have a bad race? If you do, you'll need to have every other finish in the win, top-five or maybe top-10 column in order to keep that overall average up there - or down there in this case. That sure looks like exactly what the 48 team (Johnson) is doing.
"It's really shaping up to be so close that you can't afford to have a disastrous day, like with a crash or blown engine that puts you back there finish 40th or so. With the way the 48 team (Johnson, who won at Dover and finished second Sunday at Kansas) has bounced back from his problems at Loudon (finished 25th in opening Chase race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway), it could very well be that you can't afford to have anything worse than a 25th-place finish during the entire 10 races.
"Looking at the schedule left, I'd say that our team's biggest challenge for the remainder of the year will probably be Martinsville, but the major wild card for all the teams will be the race at Talladega," said Busch. "When you stop and think about it, a team could have all top-fives and top-10s and see getting caught up in one of the big crashes at Talladega really take a toll. But, you have to look at it as it's the same thing for all of us."
This weekend's schedule at Auto Club Speedway begins on Friday with practice from 12:00 noon till 1:30 p.m. PDT. Friday's 3:40 p.m. single round of qualifying will set Sunday's 43-car starting field. Saturday's schedule offers practice sessions from 10:30 a.m. till 11:15 a.m. and from 11:50 a.m. till 12:50 p.m. Sunday's Pepsi Max 400 (200 Laps, 400 miles) has a scheduled 12:00 noon PDT starting time and features live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.