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Kyle Busch Learns from Gordon, Johnson

In the run up to the 2006 season, Kyle Busch acknowledged that, despite having won twice in the final three months of 2005 – in the process, becoming the youngest winner in NASCAR history – he still had some important lessons to learn.

Foremost on Busch’s mind: patience. In racing parlance, that meant he had to learn not to over-drive his car, he needed to come to grips with the idea that if you have a 12th-place car, then you darn well better bring that puppy home 12th and not do something silly in an effort to finish fifth.

The 21-year-old’s place in the 2006 Chase has made it abundantly clear that he took his lesson to heart. Still, that isn’t to say there aren’t still some things he needs to learn. Fortunately, he has role models like four-time champion Jeff Gordon and perennial challenger Jimmie Johnson to look to for guidance.

“You look at Jimmie,” Busch says. “He’s been successful every season he’s been in the NEXTEL Cup Series, he’s finished in the Top 10. He definitely knows a little bit about how to race and how to go about the season and how it plays out, how to work with it.”

Johnson also knows how to deal with seemingly insurmountable adversity, having rebounded in 2004 from 247 points down with six races left to come within eight points of the championship. Indeed, if ever Busch needed to listen to his teammates, now might be the time: consecutive finishes of 38th and 40th have dropped him from fourth in points to 10th.

Busch may or may not win the championship in 2006, but whatever happens, it’s hard to believe he won’t gain invaluable experience in the next eight races. Indeed, there’s incalculable value in simply enduring and undergoing the process; whatever painful lessons learned here will likely benefit him in the very near future. Or in the here-and-now.

In the span of nine days, Busch has already radically altered his outlook. In the immediate aftermath of his second poor finish, he intimated he thought his chances of winning the championship had evaporated. He’s already tempered that assessment.

“You never know until it’s over,” he says. “We won’t know until [the last race of the season], but right now we have a big hole to dig out of.”

It’s a subtle-but-important distinction; because of what he did in 2004, Johnson knows in his heart that almost nothing is insurmountable. Busch has already begun to understand that that’s another lesson he still needs to learn, both for himself and his team.

“Hopefully, [someday] there won’t be as much that I’ll have to learn,” he says.