Kurt Busch says good start in NASCAR Chase is a key to contending

KANSAS CITY, MO. - Kurt Busch began his day on Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa's television show Thursday when he and some other Sprint Cup drivers attempted to break the world record for the largest custard pie fight.

It was merely a prelude to the 12-man free-for-all Busch is about to enter when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins with the Sylvania 300 on Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway.

And it will not be as easy as pie.

"Once that green flag falls at Loudon (N.H.) to officially begin the Chase," Busch said, "the race really is on. You're one of 12 teams that made the finals, and it's playoff time. You can feel almost invincible.

"It's like the 'Hey, we made (the Chase) and we're here to kick (rears) and take names' attitude just runs rampant within your team."

Busch is one of three drivers who have won Sprint Cup championships since the Chase format was implemented. After Busch won the inaugural Chase in 2004, Tony Stewart won it in 2005, and Jimmie Johnson has won the past three championships.

Busch ignited his championship run with a win at New Hampshire and he believes success this weekend is the key to contending for another championship. Busch begins the Chase tied for sixth in the standings, 30 points behind Mark Martin.

"I know from experience how incredibly important it is to get off to a good start in the Chase," said Busch, who missed the Chase last year. "You get out there the first week after the long haul ... the 26 races just to make the cut for the Chase, and you come into Loudon with the most adrenaline flowing and momentum going as you've had going for you during the entire year."

Busch swept both races at New Hampshire in 2004, and after winning the fall event that kicked off the Chase, he led the standings for nine of the final 10 weeks. A fifth place at Dover in week two dropped him to second place, but he regained the lead for good the following week with another fifth place at Talladega.

"If you can get it going in the right direction at Loudon, you can keep the momentum growing and sort of build some insurance for something bad happening later on during the 10-race stretch," Busch said.

Indeed, Busch blew an engine and finished 42nd at Atlanta in the seventh race of the 2004 Chase, dropping his lead to only 41 points. Fortunately, he had enough of a cushion to hold off Jimmie Johnson by finishing fifth in the final race at Homestead.

Busch saw the other side of things in 2005 when defending his championship. He got caught up in a wreck, finished 35th at New Hampshire and was never a factor in the Chase.

Busch won the spring race at New Hampshire in 2008 and finished third at Loudon last June, but now he is dealing with a lame-duck crew chief in Pat Tryson, who will be leaving the No. 2 Miller Lite team after the season for Michael Waltrip Racing.

"Hey, give me a replay of that '04 start to the Chase," Busch said. "That'd be really cool and exactly what we need to get rolling again this year."