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MOTOR RACING / JIM PELTZ

Kurt Busch moves up in NASCAR Sprint Cup standings

At 30, Kyle Busch's older brother is quietly positioning himself in the Sprint cup Series, moving into third in the driver standings after finishing fifth at the Auto Club 500 in Fontana.

February 24, 2009|JIM PELTZ

Can Kurt Busch finally steal some of his younger brother's thunder?

For nearly two years, Kurt has toiled rather unsuccessfully in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series while Kyle has racked up wins, stirred controversy and bulldozed his way into the series' top echelon of drivers.

But even as Kyle made more headlines with a historic Saturday in Fontana, winning NASCAR's Nationwide and truck series races on the same day, Kurt on Sunday quietly showed the form that earned him the Cup title five years ago.

Kurt, 30, finished fifth in the Auto Club 500 in his Penske Racing Dodge a week after opening the season with a 10th-place finish in the Daytona 500. That lifted the older Busch brother to third place in the Cup standings behind points leader Matt Kenseth, who won both races, and Jeff Gordon, who finished second to Kenseth in Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway.

"We're happy, a top-five finish is good . . . It's only one race, a long way to go," he said, but added that his team had "an excellent turnaround over the off-season."

Kyle, meanwhile, finished third to Kenseth and Gordon on Sunday, but he's 18th in points after finishing 41st at Daytona when he was collected in a multicar crash.

Now, both are looking forward to the next Cup race at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway this Sunday because they're Las Vegas natives, although they haven't won at their home track.

Before Kyle, 23, reeled off eight wins in 2008 and earned nicknames such as "Rowdy" with his aggressive, cocky manner, Kurt was the primary NASCAR figure named Busch.

Kurt, then driving for team owner Jack Roush, won the title in 2004 -- the first year that NASCAR used the Chase for the Cup playoff system -- by a mere eight points over Jimmie Johnson. Busch has been on and off since. He said that too often last year he had a car capable of finishing 12th or 15th, but, in a bid to place higher, he would drive the car too hard or his team would make strategic calls that backfired, and "we just came away with far too many finishes of like 35th or worse."

"Hands down, we struggled with the new car," he added last month in reference to NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow, which had its first full Cup season in 2008.

In Fontana last week, Busch was asked about his mind-set last year.

"We didn't do our job like we needed to," he replied. "Does it bother me? No. I've been on top of this sport. I've been in the basement."

Then he added: "You have to be competitive every week if you're going to be talked to or talked about."

Just ask Kyle Busch.

Glick award

The late Frank Kurtis of Glendale, an innovative designer of race cars that included five Indianapolis 500 winners in the 1950s, was chosen for the annual Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award. The award, given to those making distinguished contributions to auto racing, is named after the late motor racing writer for The Times.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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Up and down

Kurt Busch's results since winning the Cup in 2004:

2005: Won three races, finished 10th in points.

2006: Moved to Roger Penske's team, took over the No. 2 car previously driven by Rusty Wallace, won in spring at Bristol, Tenn., and then sagged, finishing 16th in points and missing the Chase.

2007: Won twice and made the Chase but finished seventh in the standings.

2008: Won once (in New Hampshire), missed the Chase.

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