By Dustin Long
October 01, 2012

They are NASCAR's future, yet they're heading in different directions.

Brad Keselowski can't lose.

Kyle Busch can't win.

Their paths again crossed Sunday afternoon, but only briefly in this cosmic balancing act that has made them the living embodiment of Newton's third law of physics. You know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Busch fails. Keselowski succeeds.

Some might call it karma. Others would say it's the difference in equipment, teams or drivers. Why Busch and Keselowski have become polarizing forces could be more difficult to understand than the time travel principles in the recently-released movie Looper.'

So look beyond the why and focus on what connects the two.

Admittedly, it would seem to be age -- Keselowski is 28, Busch is 27 -- that binds them in a series in which they're the only active drivers under age 30 with more than two career NASCAR Sprint Cup victories.

Or it could be what they've accomplished. They've combined to win 13 of the 65 Cup races run since the beginning of the 2011 season -- Keselowski has eight wins, Busch has five with four of them last year. They also share the same number of top-10 finishes (32) in that same span.

Just looking there, though, would be missing how they've become dissimilar and what truly has connected them this season.

As Keselowski chases a championship, Busch chases demons.

Busch failed to make the Chase for the second time in four years after a series of mechanical breakdowns wore him down.

"It seems every single weekend there has been something,'' Busch said last week before he would suffer his Dover downer. "It's beaten me down, that's for sure.''

When asked how he's gotten back up, Busch calmly said, "I haven't. You're getting beat down every single week and having bad days and you keep trying to come to the race track with an open mind and something else happens again. It's like how many more times can I do this?

"It seems like groundhog's day this year.''

The difference is it's not always the same problem. That always makes it more maddening for Busch.

Sunday at Dover it was fuel mileage that kept Busch from winning even though he led 302 of the 400 laps. He had to stop during the final laps to put a bit in the tank, which caused him to finish seventh. Keselowski, whose fuel mileage allowed him to make it to the end without the extra stop, scored his fifth victory of the season, tying Denny Hamlin for most this year.

The Dover disappointment was the third time this season Busch has led the most laps in a race and faltered, allowing Keselowski to benefit.

At Watkins Glen in August, Busch led with one lap to go when he ran through oil in the first turn and went wide. As he came back on track, he and Keselowski made contact. Busch spun. He finished seventh despite leading nearly half the race. Keselowski placed second.

At Kentucky in June, Busch led a race-high 118 laps but finished 10th because of a broken shock mount. Keselowski led the final 56 laps to win. The victory was a turning point, ending Keselowski's season-high four-race streak of finishes outside the top 10 and beginning a run of consecutive top-ten finishes, punctured only by a 30th-place finish at Bristol. In those 13 starts Keselowski has scored three victories and eight top-five finishes.

With the Cup series heading to Talladega this weekend, more bad memories return for Busch. Nothing broke during the May event there but he finished second to Keselowski.

That marked the first time in five races that the driver leading the last lap won at that restrictor-plate track. Foreshadowing their antithetical relationship, Keselowski beat Busch with a creative move. Keselowski disconnected Busch in their two-car draft with a maneuver he devised on those "long nights'' in the motorhome.

"Those are the kind of moves, similar to the move made in 2009 [when Keselowski beat Carl Edwards], that you get one chance to make,'' Keselowski said after that Talladega victory. "From there, everybody knows how to make it work. I'm sure everybody will wise up on it from here and they'll make their moves earlier, which will change the racing again.''

Sunday's race flipped the point standings again; Keselowski now leads Jimmie Johnson by five points and Hamlin by 16 after three of 10 Chase races. The points leader after the third Chase race has gone on to win the title five times in the previous eight years, but that doesn't matter to Keselowski.

"I can't state loudly enough how much longer this battle is," he said. "It's very tempting, whether it's the media or the teams themselves, to get in a comfort zone of saying such and such has control of this Chase. But there's a reason why it's 10 rounds. We're not even halfway. We're three rounds in.

"By no means do I feel like we're the favorite. Certainly we're not the underdog probably at this point, but I think there's so much racing to go, so many opportunities for things to go wrong -- or right -- for anyone out there, that it's way too early to point those fingers and say those things.''

Keselowski is right in saying that it's too early to declare a winner in this title race, especially with Talladega next. This championship race, though, might be impacted by what Busch does. If his fate with Keselowski remains polar, more misfortune could help Keselowski claim a prize Busch still seeks.

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