LOUDON, N.H. — Kurt Busch has lost rides with top teams. He has paid the price for losing his cool more times than anyone in NASCAR can count.
Busch, though, has never lost his ability to drive.
He has kept his composure, kept his superior skill behind the wheel and kept pace this season with the best in the Sprint Cup series.
Yes, Jimmie Johnson is again the driver to beat. Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick are primed for championship contention.
But look who's lurking not far behind. It's Busch, the 2004 Cup champion who found a home at Furniture Row Racing.
Busch is ninth in points entering today's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and in position to make the Chase for the Championship. He'll start second in the No. 78 Chevrolet at a track where he has three victories.
Busch has reeled off three straight top-six finishes and five top 10s in his past seven races.
"For me, it's great to be back in the Chase and the fraternity of guys I'm accustomed to hanging out with over the years," Busch said.
The 34-year-old owns 24 Cup victories but has had more teams (two) than wins (zero) the past two seasons.
Busch blew rides at multicar teams owned by Jack Roush and Roger Penske because of a long list of confrontations and bad behavior — his last straw at Penske was a postrace confrontation with ESPN's Jerry Punch.
Out of elite options, Busch hitched a ride last year with James Finch's underfunded team before a late-season switch to Furniture Row.
This year, Busch was 28th in the Daytona 500 and had five other finishes of 20th or worse in the first 10 races. But he and crew chief Todd Berrier have found the right combination in the past month, going from 20th to ninth in points.
"Kurt was always hands down to me the guy that I looked to and said, 'Wow, how did he do that? How did he go that fast? How did he make that happen?' " former teammate Brad Keselowski said. "I always walked away and said that guy was talented."
While his behavior will always be scrutinized, his outbursts at the media and dustups with other drivers have fallen by the wayside — and that, combined with his performances, could help him land back with a bigger team when his deal expires at the end of the season.
"There are a lot of irons in the fire," he said.