FORT WORTH, Texas - This was supposed to be the year Kyle Busch broke through and won a NASCAR championship.
That is likely going to happen, just not in the series that was expected.
Busch, who has won 12 Sprint Cup races over the past two years, did not even make the Chase. But some of the sting from that setback has been taken away by his domination in the Nationwide Series.
He comes into Saturday's O'Reilly Challenge with a 215-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards. As long as he keeps the car on the track for the final three races, Busch will have his first title in a NASCAR national series.
"To win a championship in any series is an accomplishment in itself," said Busch, who will run in all three races at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. "Missing out on the Chase this year was really unfortunate. But we feel really good about the Nationwide Series. We're really looking forward to the last three races."
TMS has been kind to Busch and his Nationwide Series exploits. He comes into the race having dominated the past three Nationwide races at the track.
Busch has led 478 of the 600 laps in those races, winning all three. He has been able to do it from all over the track, too, winning from the pole, fourth and 31st.
"Kyle doesn't have a bad racetrack," said crew chief Jason Ratcliff. "A lot of drivers will shine at a handful of racetracks, but Kyle has the opportunity to win anywhere. There are a handful where he steps up and shines. These high-bank, 1 1/2-mile tracks really play into his favor."
As good as Busch has been this year - he has series-high seven victories - he feels like he has left wins on the table. He has 11 second-place finishes, the most in series history. He had a streak earlier this year where he finished either first or second in 10 consecutive races.
"The biggest thing we've had is the consistency," Busch said. "I set a record for most second-place finishes. Last year I tied the record for most wins at 10. I can do that again this year. That will solidify our championship."
Whether Busch wins the Nationwide Series title this year, he will not be around to defend it in 2010. He plans to cut back his schedule next year. In addition to his regular Sprint Cup schedule, he plans to drive in 24 Nationwide races and 14 in the Camping World Truck Series.
He believes the reduced time in the other series can help him attain his ultimate goal: a Sprint Cup title.
"Taking a little out of the schedule should help because I won't have to do as much traveling back and forth," he said. "Maybe the biggest thing that's hindered my performance is spending time away from the (Sprint Cup) team and crew chief. We need to do what we can do to make it better."
Busch, who is coming off a win in the Camping World Truck Series at Talladega, believes his Nationwide success has taken some of the sting out of his Sprint Cup trials.
"It's kind of a good and bad thing to miss the Chase," said Busch, who is 13th in the Sprint Cup sandings. "It's given me extra focus to run for a championship on that side. For me it's going to be my first NASCAR championship, period, and I look forward to winning."