After Kansas tribulations, which way will Kyle Busch’s season go?

Ed Zurga

Was Kansas the beginning of more Chase misery for Kyle Busch, or a mere blip as he pursues his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship?

His woes at Kansas Speedway are well chronicled. The nefarious track is the only one on the circuit where he has failed to record a top-five finish and where, entering last Sunday he had crashed out in his previous two races.

But this seemed the year. The year when Kyle Busch finally conquered Kansas while also exorcising his Chase demons and continuing on the path to seeing his name etched for the first time onto the Sprint Cup trophy.

"All I know is we're in Kansas, right?"-Kyle Busch

Yet Busch's first championship now feels as far away as ever, thanks to a fateful weekend on the track that has become his own personal house of horrors.

Superman has kryptonite. Busch has Kansas.

And if Kansas was an adversity test, Busch would have failed. He was involved in three separate accidents on the Cup side, while an incident in Saturday's Nationwide Series race may prove to have more far-reaching consequences.

The tailspin from championship contender to bystander began Saturday. That was when, moments into first practice, Busch broadsided the Turn 1 wall. The accident in and of itself was not a surprise considering the cooler temperatures, a new tire brought by Goodyear and the slickness of the recently repaved oval.

However, forced to a backup car for the next day's Hollywood Casino 400, Busch's troubles were only beginning.

The most substantial problem came after the contact with Brian Vickers and Carl Edwards saw Busch turn his car into a mangled mess of sheet metal.

The accident snapped what had been an impressive start to the Chase for Busch, who opened with consecutive runner-ups followed by a fifth at Dover. More importantly, it dropped him from third in the standings to fifth, costing him 23 points to teammate and championship leader Matt Kenseth.

Once in control of his destiny, Busch, 35 points back of Kenseth, must rely on the misfortune of others if his title hopes are to be resuscitated.

"I have no idea what happened on the last one," Busch said about the crash that sidelined him, "all I know is we're in Kansas, right?"

Busch can bemoan the track that has become the bane of his existence, but the bitterness is misguided.

Like Busch, Kenseth struggled throughout the weekend. Nearly crashing several times, he would describe his car as "evil." In addition, the 2003 Cup champion got trapped a lap down due to an inopportune yellow flag and was dinged for speeding on pit road. Through it all, though, Kenseth persevered and fought to finish 11th.

The tenaciousness exhibited by Kenseth allowed him to maintain his position atop the standings and underscored the differences between himself and his Joe Gibbs Racing stablemate.

"I feel lucky for not being wrecked," Kenseth said. "And I feel really fortunate to still be leading the points. It was not the day we wanted. We struggled a little bit and still salvaged -- it could have been worse -- we could have been backed into the fence."

And while it's still too soon to completely write Busch off -- 35 points out with six races to go is not insurmountable -- his Kansas problems were exacerbated by what transpired during Saturday's Nationwide event.

That was when Busch inexplicably intentionally spun out Brad Keselowski, and in doing so rekindled what was a receding feud between the two antagonists.

Having not qualified for the Chase, and with nothing to lose over the next six weeks, Keselowski vowed retaliation against Busch in a manner that would inflict the greatest hurt.

"I got wrecked by a dirty driver" said an infuriated Keselowski. "There is no other way of putting it. He is cool with that. I have raced him really cool over the last year to be respectful to him and try to repair our relationship.

"He put me in the fence in Chicago in the truck race and the Nationwide races he has been pulling this crap. It is not gonna last I can tell you that. I feel bad for the guys next to me that are going to have to fix his stuff. That is going to be part of racing and they are going to have to deal with it."

Whether he actually makes good on his pledge remains to be seen.

Perhaps Keselowski was merely sounding off? Or more plausible, playing mind games with a fellow competitor who has far more to lose than him. Regardless, an unwanted and needless distraction is facing Busch at a time when his sole focus should be on pursuing his first championship.

Busch denied culpability afterward saying his car was tight and he didn't mean to wreck Keselowski, though he never uttered the words "I'm sorry." And he also denied ever wrecking someone deliberately, seemingly forgetting his one-race ban for doing precisely that two years ago during a Truck Series race at Texas.

Since then, however, Busch has done a remarkable job reforming his image and appears more at peace with himself. The once frequent meltdowns on the track and off that used to define him -- sometimes more so than his ability as a driver -- are now fewer.

Now he's presented with a new challenge: Can Busch put another tumultuous visit to the Land of Oz behind him and use it as yet another building block in his championship quest.

It's a question that for the time being has no definitive answer.

More from SB Nation:

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