Kyle Busch wants 2nd title to validate 2015 championship

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Kyle Busch came to Homestead-Miami Speedway to win a championship. If he comes up short, don't expect him to fake a smile and pretend he is pleased.

Busch is driven to collect trophies — he has 183 pieces of hardware across NASCAR's three national series — and after 15 years, he still struggles with losing.

"There's times when second is good enough, and there's times when second will be good enough this weekend as long as one of the other three isn't in front of me," Busch said.

Busch will race Sunday against Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick for the championship at Homestead. The highest finishing driver of the four will claim the title, and this format has shown that it typically takes a race victory to claim the Cup.

Harvick won the race in 2014 to win the title and Busch won the race in his 2015 championship season. Jimmie Johnson won his record-tying seventh title with a Homestead victory last season.

There's no doubt Busch will be chasing the checkered flag on Sunday and a second Cup title. He had a shot last year to repeat as champion but wound up third in the final standings.

He's not given up in his relentless pursuit of winning another championship for himself, in part because of the way he won in 2015. Busch was seriously injured in the season-opening Xfinity Series race that year, and despite missing a third of the season, he was granted a waiver to compete in the championship as long as he qualified for the playoffs.

Busch returned to his car and put together a streak of four wins in five races to earn his spot. He capped his abbreviated season with a Homestead win and the title.

"I think a second championship validates the first one," Busch said. "There's a lot of arguments being made that we didn't deserve the first one, we should never have been there for the first one. But the fact of the matter is we executed and did our job with the rules that were given to us, and we achieved. This would just kind of put ourselves in another elite group of guys and drivers and teams that have been really, really good over the years that have been able to go win championships."

Busch has earned his slot in the finale in each of the last three years, and this season was no different as he was the class of the field at Joe Gibbs Racing. He won five races this year in his Toyota, and three in the playoffs. Yet he's overshadowed by Truex, who won seven races for Furniture Row Racing, the team that is aligned with Gibbs.

Truex is the favorite to win this championship, and Busch doesn't mind.

"It doesn't do us any harm to not be the focal point," Busch said. "I feel we've been really strong this year. We've had good cars all season long. We've probably been arguably the best guy, the closest guy that's kept up with (Truex) all year."

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, believes Busch has matured tremendously over the last two years and the 32-year-old father and Truck Series team owner now does most of his talking on the race track.

"What I sense from Kyle is he's much more comfortable in his own skin right now. He's handled adversity much better," Wilson said. "2015 was obviously a crazy year for him, and I think his attitude was he was playing with house money. This year has been a regular year without any asterisk next to it. I've never seen him — he's just so chill and quietly confident."

But Wilson knows Busch won't be so chill should he come up short on Sunday.

"The part of Kyle that hasn't changed is his hunger, his competitiveness, his on-track performance has not weakened or lessened one degree since he won that championship," Wilson said. "He really wants to check that box the second time and put himself into another class of his peers."

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More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org/

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