Kurt Busch and crew chief Steve Addington are far from out of the championship hunt at the halfway point in the 2011 Chase. The Penske Racing team currently sits seventh in the Chase, 27 points behind leader Carl Edwards.
Yet throughout the first half of the Chase, Busch and Addington have had to shrug off controversy and rumors while trying to remain focused on bringing team owner Roger Penske his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
First, Busch rekindled his feud with Jimmie Johnson with comments following his win at Dover. Then, questions about Addington's future at Penske Racing were brought up after a report in the Charlotte Observer stated the crew chief would be leaving at the end of the season.
Addington and Busch denied the rumors this past weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, while Penske called the rumors "a big distraction" to the team as it battles for the championship.
Dealing with potential change amid the heat of the Chase is nothing new for Busch.
As a part of the Chase field in 2009, Busch's crew chief Pat Tryson was on the way out, but the team was still able to score a win at Texas and finish fourth in the Chase standings.
Taking lessons learned from the past, Busch knows the team needs to remained focused on winning races and climbing back into the title race.
"We stay focused on what we have to do," Busch said Tuesday. "It doesn't matter what the outside world says. We have five very important weeks ahead of us. Each week is the most important week."
Staying focused is something Addington has echoed since the start of the rumors, including while speaking on Sirius NASCAR Radio's "The Morning Drive" on Wednesday.
Addington called the story "news to me," adding he opened up the newspaper and wondered where the story came from.
"The story was written with false rumors and speculation," he said. "Nothing on this end of it has been done even heading this direction. We've been concentrated on trying to win this championship and win races in these last 10 races. (I) haven't even really even thought anything about next year. I talked to Roger and them, we're going to try to win this championship and try to win races, then we'll worry about that later on."
The No. 22 team has one win already in the Chase, but sits 27 points out of the lead at the halfway point. Busch called their situation "decent," but admitted the team still had to "work harder" to get back in the championship battle.
Working harder to get back in the championship hunt is a tough enough battle as it is, but doing so while deflecting rumors and speculation makes the task that much more difficult.
"It's not good for something like that to come out at this point in the season when nobody on this end is thinking about that," Addington said. "We're just worried about what we have to do here."