Kyle Busch has been known to enjoy New York City and the ample opportunities it offers young, rich superstars.
And after a dream regular season, the kid who has seemingly won everything this year had plenty of reason to run wild during NASCAR's two-day tour through the city to promote the upcoming Chase for the championship.
Instead, the celebration seemed uncharacteristically subdued for Busch, the Las Vegas driver who usually has no trouble finding the latest hot spots. He did his media obligations and squeezed in shopping and sightseeing with his girlfriend, but bowed out when the party roared into the early morning hours.
"I've been low-key all season," he insisted.
Maybe. But isn't New York your kind of town?
"Tell you what," he said Thursday morning. "If I come back here in December celebrating a championship, I'll tear it up."
That's a promise Busch has 10 long weeks to try to fulfill. He led the Sprint Cup Series points standings for most of the season, building a cushy lead behind eight victories in NASCAR's top division. It ensured him the top seed in the Chase, which starts Sunday in New Hampshire.
All bets are off from here on out, though, as any one of 12 drivers can win the championship Busch has been chasing all season long. The title is up for grabs, and Busch will face stiff competition from two-time defending champion (and former teammate) Jimmie Johnson, as well as rivals Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Busch isn't even immune from his own teammates beating him: Both Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart are in the Chase, giving Joe Gibbs Racing three chances to win the title.
So it's understanding _ albeit a bit surprising _ that Busch wants to keep things quiet as he focuses on the start of the Chase. And who could blame him? New Hampshire International Speedway isn't exactly a great track for Busch and the No. 18 team. He was 25th there in July, then took the same car to California and struggled there, too.
"We're not taking the same car back this weekend," he said. "The car we ran at Loudon ran so bad, and we took to California and ran terrible there. So that's a showcar now. We'll take something new there and hopefully we can run decent."
The title can be lost by a single bad race, and Busch said his goal for Sunday is to simply get the best finish possible. But he also knows an average finish won't get it done.
"We're going to have to get a top 10," he said. "If it's a top five, its an excellent day. Anything worse than that, and we're probably already going to be behind and have to play catch up."
And that's not something Busch has had to do this season. He's been out front all year, and ticked off wins at a rapid pace that frightened the competition. But he's considered to be in a bit of a slump right now _ Busch followed an August win at Watkins Glen with consecutive second-place finishes, but he's "only" finished seventh and 15th in the last two events.
So he's ready to get his momentum back, and would have preferred not taking a midweek trip to New York before the Chase opener.
"Instead of having to take this week and come up here and talk about it, I would have preferred just going on to New Hampshire and getting this thing started," he said. "It feels like it's just a little different routine, feels a little bit different ... like you went on a mini vacation and now it's like you have to go back to work."
Busch's Q&A with AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer:
Q: So did you have any fun in New York?
KB: I had fun in New York, it was a good time. The first day is just a little bit of work, but the second day is a lot. Then you get one day to get back to doing what you want to do.
Q: So how will you spend Thursday, the day you can do what you want?
KB: It's just a chill day. I'm going to go around New York City with my girlfriend and do some more window shopping.
Q: Not going to buy anything?
KB: I'll buy stuff, but you know you have to walk by everything and look at the window and see if there's anything you want to go in and get. I've got some gift certificates to burn up, too.
Q: Has (girlfriend) Sam done a lot of shopping while you've been working?
KB: No, she hasn't done a whole lot.
Q: Has she been waiting for your credit card?
KB: She has her own. She's certainly not waiting for mine.
Q: Hey, I know you are big football fan and follow the NFL. What did you think of Tom Brady getting hurt?
KB: I don't think it's going to hurt that team because they have enough depth. They can insert a guy and the team will function just fine. And I think you have to give the benefit of the doubt to Matt Cassel and believe he's going to do just fine. But the injury to Brady is kind of shocker.
Q: You grew up in Vegas, so what's your favorite NFL team?
KB: The Broncos. When John Elway was playing for the Broncos years ago, I met him at a dealership. Obviously I was a lot younger, and after I met him, I just kind of became a Broncos fan.
Q: Completely different subject now, your teammate got into it with his crew chief on the radio at the end of the race at Richmond. Is that unusual?
KB: I don't think so. Is it unusual for a husband and wife to bicker? I mean, you've got a relationship and Tony was so frustrated they didn't get the win. They've been so close all year, and he's won races every year going back like nine or 10 years. Now it's getting down to the end of the year and he's still trying to get a win and I think they just get frustrated. But what happens on the radio is pretty common.
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