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Forward Bite: How aggressively should Kyle Busch race to be Chase eligible?

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350

Patrick Smith

NBC Sports’ Dustin Long and Nate Ryan are back for another edition of Forward Bite where they debate various NASCAR topics and share their unvarnished (and sometimes unpopular) opinions.

Here’s their take this week … what’s yours?

Now that Kyle Busch has his victory, how conservatively should he race in the next 10 races to make the top 30 in points to be Chase eligible?

Dustin: He should race as aggressively as he always has. Don’t give me any of this garbage about taking it easy and points racing these next 10 races. One never knows when they might need an extra point. He should be aggressive in making passes for position or taking the lead to gain a bonus point. Should he make the Chase, he’s not just looking to participate. More wins equals more bonus points. Kyle should not hold back. Thinking that he has to do so is just plain wrong.

Nate: This is nuts, Dustin. Banking the victory at Sonoma absolutely should shift the focus of Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens to points racing as much as possible. That isn’t to intimate that Busch should take it easy behind the wheel, but a prudent approach must be applied to decision-making behind the wheel and atop the pit box. For the next 10 races, there is no scenario in which the potential reward of a victory would outweigh the risk of squandering a top 15 finish. Though it hardly meshes with the reckless abandon upon which he has built his brand, Busch must use discretion with every pass, and Stevens can’t take any gamble that leaves him off sequence on strategy. If they play it safe, Busch’s talent still will keep him in the top 20 of every race, which should be enough. He achieved greatness at Sonoma; now it’s time for Busch to worry about just being good.

Dustin: Look, Nate, maybe in your scenario everything is nice and wonderful with puppy dogs and Popsicles, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll make the Chase at this point. Yes, three of the last four years he’s bettered the average he likely needs to make the top 30 in points to get into the Chase, but tiptoeing around the track won’t get it done. The simple thing is to keep doing what he’s been doing. He doesn’t need to change. For a guy like Busch, it’s not just about making the Chase but winning the championship and a few extra bonus points could help him toward the endeavor. Look, he’s playing with house money - how many really thought he would have a chance to make the Chase after missing so much of the season. I say he should go for broke.

What’s more surprising - that all four cars at Joe Gibbs Racing have won this year and all four cars at Hendrick Motorsports have not or Tony Stewart’s struggles this season?

Dustin: Tony Stewart’s woes continue to amaze me, especially with how fast teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have been this season. Stewart hasn’t been competitive in many races. Sunday’s race at Daytona might be one of the last races he truly has a chance to win this season. Just think about that. If his team doesn’t find speed on the bigger tracks, he might be left with trying to win at the short tracks and Watkins Glen and that could be it. Who would have thought that?

Nate: Though their magnitude raises an eyebrow, Stewart’s struggles were foretold given how he has performed the past two seasons. It’s more inexplicable how Joe Gibbs Racing has managed to put more drivers in victory lane this season than Hendrick despite being at a clear disadvantage on handling and horsepower. There are only a few tracks where such deficiencies have been overcome, and JGR has maximized its opportunities at virtually all of them – Bristol (Matt Kenseth), Martinsville (Denny Hamlin) and Sonoma (Kyle Busch). Edwards’ fuel-mileage victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway is indicative of how well the organization has done at maximizing its opportunities to win, and that’s a marked turnaround from recent seasons when the team was building better cars but getting burned by a lack of quality control. With this season’s pinpoint execution, JGR has bought itself a few months to focus on preparing for the 2015 Chase and match its savvy with greater speed.