HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Kyle Busch is hardly the people's choice.
His championship run last year was overshadowed by Jeff Gordon's farewell. His quest to repeat probably ranks behind Tony Stewart's retirement and Jimmie Johnson's shot at making history.
He's overlooked but far from overmatched. Busch might even be the man to beat in the NASCAR finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
''I think winning the championship last year definitely impacted us,'' Busch said. ''It just gave us a greater sense of belief in ourselves and our team and confidence in being able to go out there and do it again. You know, there's no reason to think that what we accomplished last year is a one-time thing.
''We feel we're just as good last year if not better and performed better throughout this Chase in order to get ourselves in the position we're in. There are plenty of reasons as to why we can be beat and plenty of reasons as to why we can beat the rest of them.''
Busch's championship run last year was something befitting a Hollywood script. He missed the first 11 races of the season after breaking his leg and foot in a hard crash at Daytona International Speedway.
He transitioned from comeback kid to championship contender after winning four of five races during a summer hot streak. With a new son, a supportive wife and a newfound maturity, Busch looked like a changed man.
He won the finale at Homestead and gave Toyota its first Sprint Cup championship.
Now, he's looking to make it two in a row. Standing in his way are Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Johnson, who can tie the NASCAR record held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
''I certainly think that it's different from last year for sure,'' Busch said. ''Last year, I was just a part-time champion, so this year I hope to become a full-time champion.''
He won't get any help from Edwards.
Team owner Joe Gibbs said Friday that Busch and Edwards will be on their own during practice and once the green flag drops.
''To be quite truthful, both of them want this in the worst way and they're going to compete,'' Gibbs said. ''They're not sharing a lot of stuff. It's going to be up to them individually. ... We kind of felt like obviously they're going to be kind of individually going for it. They'll both kind of be on their own here.''
That was news to Busch and Edwards after qualifying Friday. The two were loose and light and said Gibbs, who earlier in the day said he's so nervous this weekend he accidentally walked into the women's bathroom, was mistaken on the sharing.
''Joe is not in our meetings. Don't listen to Joe. We're not sharing with him,'' Busch said. ''Everything right now is all the same, open notebook. I've been looking at Carl's stuff all day.''
Working with teammates has been a crucial piece of the success at JGR, and played into Busch's discouragement after last week's race at Phoenix. Busch's teammate, Matt Kenseth, had the win in hand until a late caution sent the race to extra laps. Although Kenseth cleared traffic on the restart, Busch made contact with Alex Bowman that altered Bowman's racing line. Kenseth's spotter told the driver he was clear, but he actually moved down on Bowman and crashed.
Busch took much of the blame after the race. But after studying replays, Busch felt he had less to do with the wreck than he initially thought.
''I was definitely hard on myself,'' Busch said. ''If you look at what percentage of blame should be given to everybody, I think we all have a piece, but what exact percentage that is, I'm not sure.''
As for Busch and Kenseth, they've haven't exactly made up.
''We've exchanged texts back and forth,'' Busch said. ''It's as good as it's going to be good right now with him still probably being rightfully upset with how it all went down last week. I mean, man, he was, what, 30, 35 seconds away from taking the white? That's a pretty bummer situation.''
Busch surely would be bummed with anything short of another championship.
But winning that first one was a career-defining moment.
''I feel like maybe on the racetrack you get an extra four inches instead of one inch from particular people, but it also depends on what lap it's on,'' Busch said. ''When it comes down to the end of the race, it's pretty much every man for himself all the time. But just having that accolade and being a part of the sport, having recognition from other champions come up to you with the likes of Darrell Waltrip or Dale Jarrett or Rusty Wallace, those guys that come put their arm around you and tell you, `Welcome to the club.'''
He has a chance Sunday to join even more exclusive company.
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