Bruce Martin
Monday August 31st, 2009

MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Weekend off?

"Who needs it?" asked Kyle Busch.

Well, maybe a lot of people, considering it was perhaps the last chance to recharge before the final two-race push to the Chase.

Just 89 points separate seventh-place Ryan Newman from 14th-place Brian Vickers when the series resumes at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Labor Day Weekend race. Kyle Busch is just 34 points behind Matt Kenseth for the 12th and final Chase position.

Busch never takes a weekend off, however. He won Friday night's inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, then flew north of the border to race in Sunday's rain-soaked Nationwide Series contest in Montreal, finishing 10th.

Some believe that Busch has diluted his Cup effort by running in NASCAR's two other divisions; that it is a main reason he is outside the top 12 with two races remaining. But Busch would rather spend his off weekends in a truck or Nationwide race than have a weekend off. Besides, he walked away with a trophy Friday night in Joliet, Ill., taking a truck that had a tendency to bottom out on the track and finding a way to get it to the front of the field.

Busch had to battle NCWTS regular Todd Bodine for the victory in a "green-, white-, checkered-flag finish."

"I just had to make sure that I got a good restart when I got a good run on [Bodine] down on the bottom-side -- I just had to stay there," Busch said. "I just had to keep going. Even if he pinched me into turn three, I was going to have to keep my nose in there because that was the only position I had on him -- I had to keep my position."

Busch then hopped on a plane and, after clearing customs, headed to Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve for the Nationwide Series race. Saturday's qualifications were held in steady rain, and Sunday's race began under dry conditions before more rain soaked the track, forcing Nationwide teams to switch to rain tires -- something highly unusual in NASCAR but the second year in a row it has been done at Montreal. (Rain tires are currently not used in Sprint Cup.)

Busch was running fourth when he got spun near the end of the race, he but was still able to finish in the top 10.

"That was a really tough way to end a long, long day," said Busch, who had to check up negotiating turn two to avoid Carl Edwards and Andrew Ranger, who were tangling in front of him. "We got banged around a good bit out there today, but still we were looking like we had a shot at winning this thing at the end -- at least a top-five...It's disappointing, to say the least."

Edwards beat Marcos Ambrose by 0.393 seconds to win the NAPA Auto Parts 200 and score the 23rd victory of his Nationwide Series career, his third of the season and his first at Montreal. He did it with a dramatic last-lap pass of Ambrose, who otherwise dominated the race by leading 60 of 76 laps.

"I just made a mistake at the end there and lost the race," Ambrose said. "Any other lap, any other corner, I would have got it straight back. It just happened to be the last corner of the race. We had a drag race coming off the hairpin. Carl got position on me, and I had to try to make sure I [outbraked] him. I feel pretty devastated, because I let my boys down. We came here to win, and anything less than that was a disappointment."

Meanwhile, Edwards got to do his first back-flip on international soil after winning the race.

Both Busch and Edwards may be better served by concentrating on Sprint Cup instead of Nationwide and NCWTS, but these are two true racers who enjoy on-track battles as much as anyone else. And no one can deny their work ethic as they would rather be on the job than taking a rare weekend off.

If Ryan Briscoe wins the 2009 IndyCar title, the key point in his season could be measured by just 28 inches. That was his margin of victory over Scott Dixon in Saturday night's PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Briscoe's 0.0077-second margin of victory was the fourth-closest finish in IndyCar Series history, and team owner Roger Penske told the driver afterwards that it was the best race he had ever seen Briscoe drive.

Chicagoland Speedway is the home of many thrilling finishes and has the distinction of the two-closest finishes and three of the four closest in IndyCar Series history.

On September 8, 2002, Sam Hornish, Jr. defeated Al Unser, Jr. by just 0.0024-seconds in the closest finish in IndyCar history. Last year's victory by Helio Castroneves was 0.0033-seconds and stands as the second closest margin of victory.

"The final stages with Scott Dixon were really exciting," Briscoe said. "I didn't think I had enough for him but I had a chance to beat him across the line."

Briscoe leads the standings by 25 points over Dario Franchitti with Dixon third, 33 points back. There are just two races left in the IndyCar Series season -- Sept. 19 at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan and Oct. 10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"We are kind of in that point where we are both in the championship and scoring consistently where Ryan has the luxury of Helio being out of it and can help him a little bit," Franchitti said. "As of right now, we're still going for it."

It was the fifth time that Dixon has finished second at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway. "I've seen this movie before, multiple times," Dixon said. "It's getting pretty old.

"Team Target did as much as they could. We had great pit stops, saved enough fuel and came out 30 car-lengths ahead after that last pit stop but we didn't have enough speed. I could tell if it were going to come down to a head-to-head finish at the end I wouldn't be able to get by Ryan."

Once again, the IndyCar Series has a tremendous points race to highlight its season, and Dixon is involved in the battle for the third year in a row.

The beauty of IndyCar's close points race is it's not part of a contrived Chase format that resets the points with 10 races to go. After a season of racing -- although in fairness IndyCar has a 17-race schedule compared to NASCAR's 34 -- the championship isn't decided until the final lap of the final race.

Briscoe, Franchitti and Dixon should continue that trend this season.

When Jenson Button began the season with a string of victories, it looked like he might wrap up the Formula One championship midway through the campaign.

Button, who won six of the first seven races, has scored just 11 points in his past five starts and failed to score a point in Sunday's Grand Prix of Belgium after crashing on the first lap with Lewis Hamilton.

"He can't continue to have race weekends like he's had without being punished points-wise in the next couple of events," Christian Horner, Red Bull's team boss, said. "It's still a four-horse race between now and the end of the championship."

Button is now 16 points ahead of Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello with five races left. But at least Barrichello, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel had poor races too and were unable to capitalize on Button's recent misfortune.

Barrichello finished seventh in Belgium after starting fourth, while Vettel, now 19 points behind Button, finished third on Sunday.

"Rubens has taken 10 points out of him in the last two races and Sebastian six points here, and he's not had a good weekend since Istanbul in early June," Horner said. "It's all left to play for, and I think there's going to be another twist in the championship between now and the end of the year.

"Sebastian has moved to within 19 points and although Mark didn't score both still have a real chance of overhauling him."

Button has tried to remain calm in a difficult stage of the season.

"I'm positive and excited about the challenge of the next few races. I'm not frustrated or negative," Button said. "We've got to start getting back to being competitive. All I need to do is finish fourth or fifth, but that's not what I want to do. I want to win races.

"Before this race was the most nervous I've ever been. I was watching people darn near hitting each other on the back straight last night in the warm-up, so I knew it would be a crazy race. It was action-packed from start to finish. The idea was to get up front and just try to stay there. If we could stay there, we were going to be with guys that know what they're doing." -- IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal on Saturday night's wild race at Chicagoland Speedway.

"It was not a self-given nickname. It's been a little while since an American has won it's been a few years. We've got a lot of American guys on the team. We're an American team as it is, and we're racing in the good ol' U.S. of A. So it's been kind of fun to root for the hometown crowd for the boys on AFS/Andretti Green Racing team. I think it all actually started when my engineer was walking through Target to get some underwear or something, and he walked by the toy aisle and saw a little Captain America action figure, so he picked it up thinking, 'Oh, that's pretty cool, maybe we can do something with this.' And then he brought it back to the shop, and the guys whipped up a little fan for us and we threw it on the car, and that's kind of where the nickname came from." -- American driver J.R. Hildebrand on his "Captain America" nickname. Hildebrand clinched the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights Series championship with a fifth-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday.

After making the horrible decision to move the Southern 500 off Labor Day Weekend to California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway) in 2004, NASCAR returns to the South on Labor Day Weekend with a night race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Both NASCAR and track officials are hoping that moving the race to a holiday weekend and being the second-to-last race before the Chase will return some status to this race date.

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