CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The attention so far in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship has been on the drivers at the top - leader Denny Hamlin and four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson - and the controversy surrounding Clint Bowyer's illegal car in the opening race.
Somewhat unnoticed has been the work of brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch, who are quietly holding down the third and fourth spots in the Chase standings.
As NASCAR heads into Kansas Speedway for Round 3 of its title-deciding series, Kyle Busch is 45 points behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin in the standings. Kurt Busch, winner of the inaugural 2004 Chase, is 59 points back.
With both drivers in striking distance of the points lead, there's certainly the potential for the championship race to turn into a battle between the Busch brothers.
``I think the chance for me and Kyle to race for the championship has its best position in years,'' Kurt Busch said. ``Neither one of us would shy away from that challenge.''
The brothers have both advanced through the first two Chase races with little fanfare.
Kyle Busch's big moment came in the opener at New Hampshire, when he came close to unraveling in the car as his Toyota tailed off midway through the race. Crew chief Dave Rogers immediately barked back, warning him how bad the day would get if he lost his head.
``Cool. Well ... darn,'' the seemingly flabbergasted driver replied.
He wound up with a ninth-place finish that kept Hamlin in sight in the standings. Then came last Sunday at Dover, where many believed Kyle Busch would defend his May victory.
He contended briefly, leading 46 late laps, but faded to a sixth-place finish. Busch had mixed feelings about the performance.
``It was a good day for us, but man, legitimately we had a second-place car,'' he said, quickly doing the math and figuring he's got to be better to overcome that ninth-place finish in the opener.
``The average is going to be a sixth (for the champion), but with our ninth, that doesn't quite give us what we want. We were hoping for a second or third.''
Kurt Busch also had his share of tense moments through the first two races.
NASCAR penalized his Penske Racing team at New Hampshire after his crew was caught with an extra set of tires on qualifying day. It cost the team the first 15 minutes of practice the next day, but Busch believed he'd be fine come race time.
Instead, he struggled to a 13th-place finish while trying to milk a better finish out of just an OK car.
He was better at Dover on Sunday, but had his own near-meltdown after a pit-road speeding penalty dropped him to 19th halfway through the race. If not for the speeding penalty and mistakes from overdriving at New Hampshire, Kurt Busch believes he'd be in a tight race with Hamlin for the points lead.
``I was like a kid playing with matches and got burned,'' he said. ``We're about 50 points behind where we should be. The driver has thrown away 50 points in two races.''
The Busch brothers will have to be on their games to keep pace with Hamlin and Johnson this Sunday at Kansas.
Hamlin has so far delivered, finishing second at New Hampshire and following up with a ninth at Dover, his worst track of the 10 Chase venues. He vowed this week that he'll have a top-five car at Kansas.
Johnson, meanwhile, bounced back from an uncharacteristic 25th-place finish at New Hampshire to earn his sixth-career victory at Dover. His average finish at Kansas is 10.1, and he won the Chase race there in 2008.
Kyle Busch has just one top-10 finish at Kansas in six career starts, and Kurt Busch isn't much better: He's got two top-10s in nine career starts, and admits both the track and Penske's 1.5-mile program have not been good to him.
But his career best finish at Kansas came in 2004, a sixth-place, the year he won his only Cup title.
``That's the ambition this time around, is to have a nice, solid finish,'' Kurt Busch said. ``Don't get me wrong, if we have a shot to win, we're going to go for it.''

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