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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Kurt Busch started from the pole at Darlington Raceway and led 69 laps before his car began to fade. When it did, it triggered some of that salty language Busch is notorious for using on his in-car radio.
But the worst of it was still tame by Busch's standards — something he's been working on this year.
"Everything has been nice this year. Even though we've had some moments, like a dispute with Tony Stewart, it seemed to blow over," Busch said. "I'm just looking for a level line of emotions."
Emotions have often gotten the best of Busch, and it was this time last year when things started to unravel for the 2004 NASCAR champion.
NASCAR fined him $50,000 for reckless driving on pit road at Darlington and a post-race altercation with Ryan Newman's crew members. It sent him into the All-Star Race in a surly mood, and he quickly grew impatient with reporters attempting to talk to him about the NASCAR penalties and Newman's accusation that Busch had a "chemical imbalance."
"This is good for our sport. This is WWE-type action," Busch snapped. "This is fun. This is entertainment, right guys?"
Three weeks later, Busch was suspended for one race for verbally abusing a reporter following the Nationwide Series race at Dover.
He's not had the same kind of problems this year. As he heads into Saturday night's All-Star race, Busch is fairly drama-free.
That incident with Stewart he considers the only speed bump of the season occurred after the race at Richmond, when Stewart angrily banged into Busch's car on the cool-down laps because contact between the two on the final restart knocked Stewart out of the groove.
They exchanged words back in the garage, with Busch insisting the closing laps "were a free-for-all" and he did nothing wrong.
So the focus now has to be on his racing, which has been decent this year with Furniture Row Racing. Although he doesn't have the finishes to show for it, he's been running near the front and in position to pull off some big finishes of late.
"We keep gaining traction each week," Busch said. "We've been all over the map for results, but at the end of the day, there's been a solid, linear line of progression with speed, with team communication and just finding little things on the car to make it faster. It's always a matter of tying it together for a full race."
Busch has two top-five finishes, three top-10s, has led 108 laps and is 18th in the Sprint Cup standings. He might have won Talladega two weeks ago if not for a late accident that sent his car airborne.
Busch just wants his No. 78 team to be in position more often to run for wins.
"We want to find more," he said. "It's good that we have these chances, but we want to have more."
FAN FAVORITE KANAAN: Tony Kanaan has had 11 chances to win the Indianapolis 500 and come up empty every time.
He was leading in 2007 when the race was stopped for rain past the halfway point. Steady showers would have made him the victor, but the bad weather passed, the race resumed, and he watched teammate Dario Franchitti drive to victory.
Kanaan has led 221 laps — in eight of his 11 starts — has five top-five finishes, but the closest he ever came to drinking the milk was a second-place finish to Buddy Rice in 2004.
Still, the Brazilian is adored by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway crowd, and that's enough right now for Kanaan.
"I don't feel this place owes me anything. I have had great times here," Kanaan said Wednesday. "Although some people would say I'm making an excuse — but the experiences that I had, I can only say every time I've been here I put myself in the position to win this race. That's all I can do. The way the fans treat me, you know, and the privilege that I have to be here every year."
The crowd reaction still touches Kanaan, and it lifted him in 2007 when he wound up 12th in a race that could have been his.
"Every time I drive my golf cart out there I can hear my name, big time," he said, before recalling the end of the 2007 race, "I got out of the car, the entire place was screaming my name, and Dario had won the race. If I never win this thing, I think I got the feeling from the people around here how is it to win. Obviously, it will be a lot different if I would have my face on the trophy and stuff like that, but I don't take it like that.
"I am not going to go away years from now, if I never win, regretting or being a little bit bitter about it. I mean, I had great time. My name in IndyCar, it's a lot bigger right now because of the fans of Indianapolis and because I have not won it yet than actually probably if I had won already."
RACING TO WIN: Martin Truex Jr. has won the fan vote before to advance into the Sprint All-Star Race, and as Saturday night's event nears, he's among the top-five vote-getters.
Only Truex has no intention of relying on ballots to race for $1 million at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
His goal is to win the Sprint Showdown, the qualifying race before the All-Star race. The top two finishers of the Showdown and fan vote winner all move on to the All-Star race.
"I'm looking forward to going there and hopefully winning the Showdown again, which we've done before," Truex said. "The All-Star Race is one of the funnest events of the year. To not be a part of it is pretty miserable. Hopefully, we'll be able to make it in that thing, have some fun, chase a couple million bucks."
Truex's last Cup victory was in 2007. But he won the all-star qualifier in 2007, and believes doing so again this year might be the push his Michael Waltrip Racing team needs.
"It would be a great thing for our team," he said. "We won it in 2007. After that it seemed to kick-start our team. Went to Dover, ran second or third, ended up making the Chase for the first time that year. I definitely think there's some incentive there. It builds confidence. It gets the guys pumped up.
"I feel like we should win that race. Anything less would be a disappointment. We're going there guns loaded trying to do all we can do, and hopefully we'll come out on the right side of it this time."