Kyle Busch has glanced at the Sprint Cup standings since Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway, and he didn't like what he saw.
With three races left in the season, Busch sits fifth overall, 36 points behind co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. Although he mathematically has a shot of winning his first Cup title, in all reality Busch's championship aspirations will have to wait another year.
"It's certainly going to be a lot tougher now than what it had been," Busch said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. "We're going to have to have some luck on our side, and the other guys aren't going to be able to have luck on their side. That's what the fans want to see, probably the media wants to see and what I want to see, but I bet you the front two don't."
Busch ran most of the afternoon in the top 10 at Martinsville, but faded in the closing laps and finished 15th. And with Kenseth and Johnson placing second and fifth, respectively, Busch lost more ground he could ill afford to lose. His goal now is to finish the season strong.
"We've got to be on top of our game and come out here, and the best we can do is lead all the laps and win all the races in these final three and see where the points stack up," Busch said. "If we do that and we still don't win it, we did our job."
Even with the blip at Martinsville and crashing out and finishing 34th at Kansas Speedway, this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup is shaping up to be Busch's best. He opened with a pair of runner-ups at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway and has posted fifths at Dover International Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
In fact, Busch has one more top-five in the Chase than his teammate Kenseth. However, as he knows two subpar results, which can be a death knell for a driver's title hopes.
"You get two bad races and you're done," Busch said. "You don't have that option here anymore in the Chase for as much as those guys up front are running well. You can't have any of those."
Despite the Martinsville setback, this year's performance is in contrast to how Busch traditionally has performed in the Chase.
Five times previously, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has made NASCAR's playoffs, yet he is still in search of his first victory (he won a Chase event in 2005, but he hadn't qualified that year). And the best Busch has ever finished in the final standings is fifth (2007).
"Last year we ran really well in the Chase, but we weren't a Chase car," Busch said. "That was frustrating. We knew we could do it -- we proved to ourselves we could do it and we come out here this year and we were able to follow- up on last year's success. Barring Kansas, I think we've done a really nice job.
"Other than that, we've run a lot better this year than in years past, that's for certain. Apparently there's still a lot more room for improvement."