NASCAR

Kurt Busch surprise of season in 1-car operation

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(Eds: With AP Photos.)By DAN GELSTONAP Sports Writer

Kyle Busch had the attention of about 75 airmen at Dover Air Force Base when one asked the NASCAR star if he had any side bets with his brother, Kurt, about who would come out on top of the Chase.

No, there are no friendly wagers. And certainly no acknowledgment of late-race manipulations to help the other out, if needed.

Kyle, though, admitted his older brother has the one thing he desperately wants in his NASCAR career.

''He has a championship and I don't,'' Kyle, third in the Chase, told the group Wednesday. ''I don't have much over him except good looks.''

Kurt Busch won his Cup championship in the first season of the Chase in 2004, back when he had a top ride with Jack Roush and many more contending seasons ahead.

While Busch has always been regarded as one of the top drivers in the sport, his personal conduct left him without a contending ride after the 2011 season. Busch latched on this year with lightly regarded Furniture Row Racing, a one-car operation based in Colorado, far removed from NASCAR's North Carolina hub. Even with all his talent, his 10th-place finish in the standings entering the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, which opens Saturday at Chicagoland, marked perhaps the biggest surprise in the sport this season.

''This is a great step for Furniture Row, and for me to be part of this team,'' Busch said. ''I couldn't have done it without them, they couldn't have done it without me. It's a significant accomplishment, and uncharted territory for a single-car team to make it. It would rank in the top five, I would say, of accomplishments within the NASCAR world for me.''

Busch has eight top-five finishes and 13 top 10s this season to not only prove he's still as good as ever - other teams think he's just as good. Busch is bolting Furniture Row for a ride at the suddenly crowded Stewart-Haas Racing organization. More resources, more cash, more opportunities to win.

But that's for 2014.

Busch, who has 24 career Cup wins, insisted he's only focused on winning a championship for FRR.

Team owner Barney Visser, general manager Joe Garone and crew chief Todd Berrier have the same goal. Furniture Row was started just eight years ago and didn't even run a full season until 2010. Regan Smith still has Furniture Row's only Cup race victory, winning in 2011 at Darlington Raceway.

With Busch aboard, Visser set the preseason goal of making the Chase.

''When you're out in Colorado, you've gone through what we've gone through, you realize just how difficult of an accomplishment that is, to have a leader that's got that kind of vision,'' Garone said. ''We all just fell in right behind him. I don't know that we had that vision. Maybe Kurt did with his experience, but we all filed in right behind Barney and his lead there.''

Even stuck in 10th in the 12-driver field for the final 10 races, no one now would be smart enough to count out Busch.

''Any time you can take the resources they have, and it's not a lot, and make a lot out of it, it shows what you've got,'' Kyle Busch said.

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MCCLURE'S BACK: Eric McClure will return to the seat of the No. 14 Camry for Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland

McClure was sidelined four week with acute renal failure after the Watkins Glen race weekend in early August. The race marks McClure's 221st Nationwide start and his 10th at the 1.5-mile track.

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LEFT OUT: There's nothing for any driver like the thrill of making the Chase field and finishing the season in championship contention.

But what about the other 30-something drivers who are effectively driving out the string? Some hope to use the 10 races as a foundation to build for the next season. Others are driving for their jobs. Most would just like a win to salvage something out of a meaningless season.

Mark Martin has been on both sides of the Chase, as a championship contender (a runner-up finish in 2009) and a part-timer (filling in this season for the injured Tony Stewart).

He said he treats Chase drivers with a certain amount of respect with so much on the line down the stretch.

''I've been in that position many, many, many times, and they have to be aware to not put themselves in a compromising position,'' he said. ''I think it's about an even take. I've always raced as hard as I could possibly race, but I always wanted to make sure that I was fair enough with the guys I was racing that if the roles were reversed, I would be OK with it. That's pretty much how I view it.''

Martin is driving the No. 14 Chevrolet for Stewart. He finished ninth at Richmond and would like to give his new boss a reason to celebrate with a trip to Victory Lane, starting Saturday at Chicagoland.

''I feel like we're starting to hit a stride where we can start getting some good results,'' he said. ''It's starting to feel like home to me. And I like the mile-and-a-halves. They're really my favorite racetracks.''

Tagged: Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Eric McClure

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