HAMPTON, Ga. - Kurt Busch is the only driver among the 10 in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship who's done everything right. But he admits that might not be enough to help him win his first championship.
Jeff Gordon is 96 points behind heading into today's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. And following the deaths of 10 family, friends and teammates of car owner Rick Hendrick last Sunday, he knows Gordon will be driven by emotion in the final four races.
"There's definitely incentive on their side to pull the strength from within to do better this weekend," Busch said. "I think the whole NASCAR community is going to do the same. Obviously it's a tragedy and we all have our emotions with it."
On Friday, Gordon said he hopes to turn the crash into the kind of inspiration that can lead him to his fifth championship.
"I've never been so inspired and driven in my life," Gordon said. "This is an important weekend for us for so many different reasons. I can't think of anything that could drive us harder, stronger than this loss. We want it bad, no matter what. We work very hard for it, but I just think there's something that's going to allow us to dig a little deeper to try and make a difference, whether it be for the families that are grieving to try to ease their pain, or for those who are looking down on us.
"This means something that is a negative, we're going to try and make something positive out of it."
Gordon and the other four Hendrick Motorsports teams return to work just days after the brother, son, and two nieces of car owner Rick Hendrick were buried.
If Busch is going to build on his lead during today's race, his Sharpie Ford will have to find more speed. He qualified 22nd at 187.722 mph.
Gordon qualified 10th at 189.280 mph, but he was only 33rd-fastest during Saturday's session.
Ryan Newman will start on the pole for the third consecutive week. He ran 191.575 mph around the 1.54-mile quad-oval during Friday's time trials.
Joe Nemechek will start second after qualifying at 191.318 mph, while Elliott Sadler is third at 191.080. Carl Edwards is fourth at 190.988, Greg Biffle qualified fifth at 190.561, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is sixth at 189.876, Mark Martin is seventh at 189.740, Jimmie Johnson is eighth at 189.500, Kevin Harvick is ninth at 189.448 and Gordon is 10th.
Busch has been a strong finisher. In fact, if the current format for determining the championship had been in place during the last four years, Busch already would have won two titles.