When Kyle Busch blew an engine with 45 laps to go last week at Fontana, he said disappointingly, “On to another year, It’s over” — knowing that any hopes he had of winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship had just been eliminated. The 35th-place finish dropped him two spots to ninth in points, 187 behind leader Jimmie Johnson. No one has ever come back to win the Chase from as far back as Busch stands with six races to go, a deficit that is almost the equivalent to the points awarded for winning a race. But there is good news on the horizon for Busch following Friday’s final practice session in preparation for Saturday night’s Bank of American 500 race at Charlotte. Busch and his crew got a brand new chassis clicking to a degree that hasn’t been seen out of any their Toyotas during practice on the 1.5-mile high banked tracks since February in Las Vegas. He had the seventh-fastest single lap during happy hour, but it’s his average speeds that set him apart from anything he’s done this season. Busch had the fastest five-, 10- and 15-consecutive lap average speeds, which is a great indicator that crew chief Dave Rogers has something special set up for Busch to pilot. Doing well at Charlotte is nothing new for Busch. He’s averaged a finish of 4.5 over his last six starts, but it still remains a track that he’s winless at, something he’s not too happy about because it's his favorite on the circuit. The lone question mark for Busch this week — beyond not having his engine blow up — is how he reacts in his first race since being virtually eliminated from the Chase. A similar instance occurred In 2008 when Busch was leading in points heading into the Chase and by the fourth race of the 10-race format he was sitting in 11th-place. The fifth race was Charlotte, and he went on to have his best run of the final 10 races by finishing fourth. The only difference from then to now is that Busch was the huge favorite entering the Chase and his failure early in crunch time was embarrassing. It took him a few weeks to regroup from being knocked off as king of the hill, but it was "Charlotte, the reliable" that got him going again. Look for a similar situation to occur this week with far less anxiety hanging over him than was the case in 2008. He has the best car, and some argue that he’s the best driver, so the two together should be a pretty good combination Saturday night. Others To Watch: Kurt Busch decided not to bring either one of his chassis that he won with at Charlotte in May or at Atlanta in March. All season long, Busch had been saying that he was saving those cars for the Chase and then went a completely different direction and brought a brand new car instead. Based on the final practice sessions, Busch didn’t miss a beat. He came in with strong practice times similar to what he ran at Charlotte in May. Crew chief Steve Addington has a knack for these tracks and could probably set up anything on four wheels to run well at Charlotte. Jimmie Johnson didn’t have a good two days of practices. In fact, it was one of his worst of the year. However, in his last race that he practiced poorly at — Atlanta — he finished third. He’s a six-time winner at Charlotte, who won this race last year. His greatness is that he doesn’t feel any pressure and runs machinelike every week. It’s his biggest asset as a driver and probably why he’ll win his fifth straight title. Greg Biffle had the fastest average speeds for 10 consecutive laps in Friday’s early practice and was right behind Kyle Busch during happy hour. He also won the last 1.5-mile race run at Kansas two weeks ago. Look for a good effort as well from his teammate, Carl Edwards, who had the fastest single lap and average speeds during happy hour. Tony Stewart didn’t practice particularly well Friday, but his strength is that he’s hard-charging in the Chase, fresh off a win at California. He moved up five positions with the win and is 107 points behind Johnson. It’s a long shot that he'll catch the leader, but his chances are greatly enhanced by using him using his winning Atlanta chassis from September this week.
1 - Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser / Jimmy John's Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 118.8 2015 Rundown · Three wins, 22 top fives, 27 top 10s, · Led 2248 laps · Average Finish of 8.9 Homestead-Miami Speedway Outlook: · One win, six top fives, 12 top 10s · Average finish of 7.571, series-best · Average Running Position of 10.030, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 102.5, fourth-best · 2072 Laps in the Top 15 (77.6), fourth-most · 435 Quality Passes, seventh-most
2 - Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 92.5 2015 Rundown · One win, five top fives, 20 top 10s, · Led 256 laps · Average Finish of 13.9 Homestead-Miami Speedway Outlook: · One win, seven top fives, 12 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 10.563, seventh-best · Average Running Position of 11.465, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 100.7, fifth-best · 1998 Laps in the Top 15 (74.8), seventh-most · 467 Quality Passes, fifth-most
3 - Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Crispy Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 107 2015 Rundown · Four wins, 11 top fives, 15 top 10s, · Led 695 laps · Average Finish of 11.2 Homestead-Miami Speedway Outlook: · One top five, three top 10s · Average finish of 23.1, 25th-best · Average Running Position of 16.056, 13th-best · Driver Rating of 91.5, ninth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.019, eighth-fastest · 1696 Laps in the Top 15 (63.5), 10th-most · 422 Quality Passes, eighth-most
4 - Martin Truex, Jr (No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 100 2015 Rundown · One win, eight top fives, 22 top 10s, · Led 564 laps · Average Finish of 12.2 Homestead-Miami Speedway Outlook: · Three top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 10, second-best · Average Running Position of 9.037, second-best · Driver Rating of 106.6, third-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.357, series-fastest · 1981 Laps in the Top 15 (82.4), second-most · 563 Quality Passes, series-most