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WITH HIS cocksure attitude and wild-child driving style, Kyle Busch hasn't exactly won the affections of NASCAR fans—the 23-year-old Las Vegas native still draws the most boos at every track—but that's about the only thing he hasn't won lately.
With seven races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup starts, Busch leads the series in victories (seven) and top five finishes (12) and holds a 262-point lead in the standings over Dale Earnhardt Jr. What's more, Busch and his number 18 Toyota will start the Chase with a sizable lead (perhaps as many as 70 points) by virtue of the 10 bonus points a driver earns for each regular-season victory.
"He's going to be tough to beat regardless of whether he has those points," says Carl Edwards. "But if you give him a head start, that's not good."
As the series heads to Indianapolis for Sunday's AllState 400 at the Brickyard, it's time to ask whether anyone can catch Busch. Here are the three drivers with the best chance.
Johnson, who's fifth in the standings, was disgusted afterward. An inspection of his lap times shows that he had the fastest car in the field that night. His times were also consistently faster than Busch's at Charlotte on May 25, at Dover on June 1, at Michigan on June 15 and at Daytona on July 5. "We've been running better than the 18 team for the last few weeks, but the results don't necessarily show that because of some bad luck," says Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief. "We're not as strong as we were last year, but we're getting there. And Jimmie learned a few things [at Chicagoland] against Kyle, and that's ultimately going to help us win the championship."
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
That being said, the Cup is still Busch's to lose. He has won on every type of track, going back to early spring, and shows no signs of slowing. Cue the boo birds.
ONLY AT SI.COM Lars Anderson's Cup analysis and Mark Beech's Racing Fan.