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Busch and Gustafson a Winning Combination

CONCORD, N.C. – When Hendrick Motorsports paired NEXTEL Cup rookie Kyle Busch with first-year crew chief Alan Gustafson, there was no doubt the young duo had a promising future.  The only real question was how long it might take for the new team to jell.

The answer came within the season’s first month, thanks to a pole position at California Speedway and a second-place performance at Busch’s hometown track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Since then, the team has amassed some eye-popping statistics.

With a comfortable lead in the Raybestos Rookie standings and more top-five results than anyone outside NASCAR’s “Chase for the NEXTEL Cup,” the performance of the No. 5 Kellogg’s Racing team has vaulted Busch into select company.

After going to Victory Lane Sept. 4 at California, the 20-year-old driver now ranks as the youngest-ever Cup Series winner and pole-sitter.  He has also led nearly 500 miles this year and is the only rookie to post a top-five finish (he has seven of them).

“Each week we’ve come to the track running well right off the truck,” said Busch, giving credit to his team.  “There is no doubt the guys at the shop are getting the job done.”

Digging a little deeper, it’s easy to see why Kellogg’s Racing is eyeing a title run in 2006 and using the final 10 races of 2005 as preparation for next year’s Chase.

The success goes back to Busch’s partnership with Gustafson, a longtime member of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team that featured now semi-retired driver Terry Labonte.

In fact, it was Labonte’s lobbying that ultimately cemented Gustafson’s increased role and helped lay the groundwork for the team’s future.

“It was flattering,” Gustafson said.  “It’s a great opportunity, but at the same time you’ve got to know that you’ve got to get going and I think we’ve made those steady gains consistently.

“We’ve got to keep making those steady gains because we’ve got great sponsors and they deserve to be up front, as does the No. 5 car and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.”

Prior to the season, the Nos. 5, 25 and 44 teams added key personnel, like team manager Brian Whitesell, and put down roots in a new state-of-the art facility.  Each move has played a significant role in building the chemistry that’s been the driving force behind an impressive 2005.

That close-knit group culture has been most evident in the fast-developing relationship between driver and crew chief, who immediately hit it off after being paired following the 2004 season finale.

“Alan and I are two young guys who are just eager to go out there and do well and do the best we can week in and week out,” Busch said.  “We both have the same goals.”

Gustafson, who recently celebrated his 30th birthday, believes his Hendrick Motorsports crew already has a solid foundation as it finishes out 2005 and looks to make the Chase next year.

“I tell (the team) every week that they can do it and they are just as good as the rest of these guys who are winning races each week,” Gustafson said.  “We have the cars, we have the driver and we have the team, so there isn’t any reason why we can’t continue to perform like we have been.”

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