May 25, 2017

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) Kyle Busch proved last week he could win a Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the exhibition NASCAR All-Star race.

Now he's out to prove he can win a Cup points race and put an end a long drought.

''It felt good to get that out of the way, so now hopefully we can make it back-to-back,'' Busch said Thursday.

Busch has won eight Xfinity Series races and seven Truck Series races at Charlotte, but is 0 for 26 in Cup points races. If he can get to victory lane Sunday in NASCAR's longest race he would become the first driver to sweep the All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600 since brother Kurt did it in 2010.

Even team owner Joe Gibbs wasn't aware of Busch's Cup race struggles at Charlotte, saying ''To tell you the truth, I thought he had won here.''

He probably should have.

But it seems things have conspired against him in Cup races. Some of it Busch has brought on himself with poor decisions or costly driving errors, while some of it has been out of his control.

In 2013, for instance, he was going for a series-wide sweep at CMS and leading the Coca-Cola 600 more than a third of the way into the 400-lap race.

That's when a nylon rope supporting a Fox Sports overhead television camera fell from the grandstands and got tangled up in his No. 18 Toyota. NASCAR red-flagged the race and allowed teams an opportunity to fix their cars, but Busch could never recreate the speed he had before. His night ended in frustration when his engine blew up on Lap 253.

''I just heard a big thunk on the right-front side tire and thought the right-front tire blew out,'' Busch said at the time about the cable. ''That's how hard it felt. ... It did have an effect slowing my car down and I could feel it like, `Whoa, that's weird.' I don't know that anybody has ever seen that.''

But Busch knows winning the Coca-Cola 600 won't be easy.

He called NASCAR's longest race, a 400-lap marathon on a 1 1/2-mile course a ''mental and physical grind.''

''You just get tired,'' Busch said. ''I wouldn't say you fall out of the seat, but when you're done, you're done.''

Busch was ninth-fastest in practice Thursday and said his crew has plenty of work to do.

He knows how important it is to run out front in Charlotte in the clean air. Last year, Martin Truex Jr. got out to the lead and nobody could catch him, leading 392 of 400 laps.

The difficulty in passing at Charlotte places an added emphasis on restarts and pit stops.

Busch feels like his team has been the leader in pit stop development over the last 15 years and he showed last week he's still a master at restarts.

With three laps remaining in the All-Star race, Busch showed his driving savvy when he took the low side of the track to pass Brad Keselowski - who was running on old tires - from the second row to beat out four-time All-Star race winner Jimmie Johnson for the $1 million prize.

Busch said he won despite not having the best car.

He said the race setup they've brought to Charlotte is even better.

Crew chief Adam Stevens said it's only a matter of time before Busch finds his way to victory lane at Charlotte in a Cup points race.

''No different than Kansas, some of these other places he's struggled at in the past,'' Stevens said. ''Wouldn't say here has been a struggle, but it's just been hard to finish it off. Hopefully (the All-Star race win) is a little bit of momentum, a little bit of wind in our sails, something we can build on.''

Said Gibbs: ''I'm telling you, we feel like Kyle can win anywhere. Certainly this year he's really been in position a bunch.''

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More AP Auto Racing: ap.racing.org

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