Kurt Busch drove a race Sunday that exemplifies a NASCAR Nextel Cup champion.
The driver of the No. 97 car had numerous setbacks but was able to scrounge together a 10th-place finish in the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and stay atop the Chase for the Nextel Cup, 41 points ahead of Jeff Gordon.
"You can't ever give up, and today it just seems like we never reached our full potential, being able to run up front," said Busch, who watched Dale Earnhardt Jr. defend his 2003 victory at PIR. "We did make our way up to the front quickly, and then that's when the trouble began."
Only 48 points separate the top four drivers in the Chase. Busch currently has 6,191 points and is followed closely by Gordon (6,150), Earnhardt (6,144) and Jimmie Johnson (6,143), who finished the race sixth.
Busch started 28th and began snaking his way through the field, moving up to third. But on lap 127, he spun out trying to pass Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman in Turn 4. The spin flat-spotted his tires, forcing him to pit for a tire change.
"That put us on a different tire sequence than the rest of the field," said Busch, who finished 42nd last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway after blowing his engine.
Busch's wild ride continued after he passed Matt Kenseth for the lead on lap 207. Busch was forced to pit under green 16 laps later after he ran out of fuel. Once the stop was complete, he stalled coming out of his pit box because he was without first gear following the earlier spinout.
"It just seemed like we couldn't catch any breaks as far as lapped cars and maneuvering our way through the field to reach our potential," said Busch, who is the only driver to score a top-10 finish in seven of the eight races in the Chase.
"It's just one of those you keep fighting and fighting and working your way through it."
Busch, who is in his fourth full Nextel season driving for Roush Racing, began his third charge to the front from 24th and reached as high as eighth on lap 300.
Busch more importantly held serve in the Chase heading to the season's second-to-last race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
"We continue to strive forward and overcome anything that comes our way because we still have that fresh outlook, and now we've only got two races to go," Busch said.