SPARTA, KY - JULY 09: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, and Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Crown Royal Ford, lead the field to a restart in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on July 9, 2011 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images for NASCAR)
There's been no shortage of blue Sundays in recent weeks for Kyle Busch. After three straight weeks of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team enduring uncharacteristic motor gremlins, Busch was poised for a rebound last weekend at Sonoma ... until a late-race spin ruined his chances.
Burdened by a four-race skid, Busch hopes to shake the blues in the Bluegrass State when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Kentucky Speedway for Saturday night's Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT). The event kicks off the Race to the Chase, the final 10-race stretch of the regular season and the last chance for drivers to seal their eligibility for the Sprint Cup title.
Busch dominated last year's inaugural event at the 1.5-mile track, leading 125 of 267 laps in winning from the pole position. He also has one Kentucky win in both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Despite his past glories in all three series, Busch knows he has just one shot at Kentucky's lone race on the Sprint Cup schedule to better his Chase hopes.
"I think it makes it more challenging," Busch said. "You've definitely got to go through your notes and find the things that made you good there and watch the film -- no different than a football player studying film to see what he can do to be better. For me, you do some of those same things."
The urgency for Busch to perform has grown with his recent slide. After scoring his only Sprint Cup victory of the season so far at Richmond in April, Busch went on a tear in May -- second place at Talladega, fourth at Darlington, third at Charlotte -- that moved him to eighth in the series standings.
Since then, his once-solid grasp on a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason hunt has been clouded in engine smoke. Three consecutive mechanical failures, topped by his Sonoma spin, have bumped Busch to 12th in the points and left him clinging to a wild-card berth. Busch is 31 points behind 10th-place Brad Keselowski -- the top 10 drivers plus the two wild-cards (drivers in positions 11th to 20th with the most wins) will be eligible for the 10-race championship fight.
To put his bid for a Chase spot on ice, Busch will have to buck a recent trend of parity. This season's 16 Sprint Cup races have 12 different winners, and the last three events have gone to first-time winners in 2012.
Matt Kenseth, who made public Tuesday his plans to leave Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season, still leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, sitting 11 points ahead of teammate Greg Biffle. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the winner two weeks ago at Michigan, is third, just 14 points off the top spot.