KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kyle Busch stood outside his hauler in the infield at Kansas Speedway, wearing shades on an overcast day. Busch looked comfortable, breezily answering questions, though he acknowledges the stress that weighs on him.
This is supposed to be the year he finally wins a Sprint Cup title.
He's married now and has mellowed slightly, showing more maturity on and off the track. He has won four more times to push his Cup career total to 30 victories, and he started the Chase for the Championship tied for the points lead.
But Busch has had a mediocre start to the Chase coming into today's race at Kansas, where his season has gone bust before. He is eighth in the tightly bunched standings, 15 points off co-leaders Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, after three Chase races.
"There's 43 guys out here every week that if they don't win, they didn't meet the potential they wanted to," Busch said Friday.
"There's been times we won races and we didn't feel like we reached everything we needed to reach. It's high pressure, it's high stakes. There's a lot on the line, and this is a performance business. … We're trying every week."
It just hasn't been quite good enough.
Busch, 26, started the Chase by finishing 26th at Chicago and 11th at New Hampshire. A sixth-place run last weekend at Dover restored some confidence.
But Kansas Speedway has rarely been kind to him.
Busch came to the 1.5-mile tri-oval 10 points out of the Chase lead in 2007, his final year with Hendrick Motorsports, and got tangled up with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In 2010 with his current team, Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch was third in points when he spun David Reutimann of Zephyrhills early in the race. Busch called it unintentional, but it didn't sit well with Reutimann, who got payback with 122 laps left. With Busch running seventh, Reutimann hit his car and forced him into the wall. Busch finished 21st and fell to seventh in the standings.
In June, a simmering feud between Busch and Richard Childress Racing really ignited. Busch bumped Childress driver Joey Coulter on a cool-down lap after the trucks race. Childress, 65, showed his displeasure by assaulting Busch, earning a $150,000 fine from NASCAR.
It was more reason for Busch to dislike coming to Kansas.
"When it's one of your least favorite racetracks, it's not beneficial to come here twice," he said. "We'll work hard and take what we can get out of this weekend."
A lot of drivers are putting a lot of emphasis on Kansas. The driver who left the track leading the Chase has gone on to hoist the championship trophy at Homestead three of the past four years.
"It feels like we've been running Chase races for a year. The time has really slowed down," Edwards said. "We are only three races in, and it feels like a lot has happened."