KANSAS CITY, Kan. —It's still early in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but a brother vs. brother showdown could be in the offing.
Kyle Busch comes to Kansas Speedway for Sunday's third leg of the Chase third in the standings, 45 behind leader Denny Hamlin. And older brother Kurt Busch is right behind in fourth, 59 points out of the lead.
Brothers have been banging fenders throughout the history of NASCAR dating to Tim and Fonty Flock in the 1950s. The Allisons, Waltrips, Wallaces, Bodines and Burtons have all staged sibling rivalries.
But not since Terry Labonte won his second championship in 1996 and Bobby Labonte won the title in 2000 have both brothers been contenders like Kyle and Kurt Busch.
"Neither one of us would shy away from that challenge," Kurt Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup champion, said Tuesday on a teleconference. "But right now it's a little early. There are still 12 very competitive cars. It's not just one guy you have to focus on. You have to beat everybody or do the best job you can to beat as many as you can."
Because Kurt Busch, 32, is seven years older than Kyle, they didn't compete much against each other until Kyle began racing in the Cup Series in 2005. But now, when Kurt, who has 22 career wins, sees Kyle, who has 19 career wins, on the track, he sees equal parts competitor, rival and brother.
"He's my little brother," Kurt said. "You know, we're teammates in one aspect; we're competitors in another. I'm the bigger brother, so at the end of the day I want to win, and he's supposed to finish second to me.
"He's a tough challenger on track. He's definitely in championship form, just like any other racer. But I know he's my brother, I know I want to beat him, but at the same time I'm going to help him."
If either Busch is going to make any headway in the Chase, they're going to have to solve the riddle of Kansas Speedway, which has not been kind to them.
Kyle Busch has just one top 10 finish at Kansas, and an average finish of 24.3 in six races. He was 12th last season, one spot behind his brother. Kurt has two top 10s at Kansas Speedway and an average finish of 19.7 in nine races.
"Kansas has been a tough track for me over the years, not just for me at Penske Racing, but a little bit over at Roush Racing," said Kurt Busch, who changed teams in 2006. "I posted my best finish at sixth in 2004 during my championship run.
"I have two tracks that I don't have a top finish: Chicagland and Kansas. I can blame Chicago on too many Cubs games."
Busch, an avid baseball fan, will be at Kauffman Stadium on Friday night when one of his team's associate sponsors, Cintas, is having an event, but he says that won't distract him from the job at hand. Kansas is the first of four intermediate tri-ovals left in the Chase.
So he knows, whoever masters Kansas can unlock the secret to winning the Chase, as Jimmie Johnson has done for the past four years.
"They do make up the largest quantity of a certain style of track," Busch said of the intermediate-sized tracks. "Kansas is pretty different compared to Texas and Charlotte and Homestead. But it's a challenging track. We only race there once a year. There are two tracks in the Chase we race once a year, Kansas and Homestead. There's a little bit of an uneasy feeling going there if you don't have a solid notebook because you only race there once a year and it's hard to find that speed.
"It's tough to separate one out of the 10 that are the most important. We can just say that, yeah, Kansas will lead us towards the other mile-and-a-halfs. The ambition this time around is to have a nice, solid finish. Don't get me wrong, if we a have a shot to win, we're going to go for it."
With Kansas getting an additional race in June 2011, that could help Busch better prepare for the Chase event in the fall as well as for Chicago, which will kick off the Chase next year.
"We have to get our Miller Lite Dodge dialed in and turning in the center corner," Busch said. "Kansas is a little similar to Chicago, and we struggled a little bit at Chicago earlier this year. That's just what has us worried a little bit."
Busch has plenty of incentive to win a second Cup championship, and just because he would beat his brother and collect the approximate $7 million that goes to the winning team.
Because this is the No. 2 Penske Racing team's final season sponsored by Miller Lite before it moves to Shell/Pennzoil, he has been discussing some interesting promotions with Miller.
"We might be able to get beer for life if I bring home the championship," Busch said. "If you see me running into guys out on the track, it's because I have more motivation now because I'll get free beer for life if I win the championship."