"Consistency - it's all about consistency - that's the way it was back in 2004 and that's what it'll come down to once again this season," said Busch, who finished 11th on Sunday at Kansas and now trails points leader Mark Martin by 91 points with seven races left in the 2009 battle for the championship. "What you did before the Chase kicked in is ancient history now. You have to be bringing your ‘A game' to the track each and every week. You have to be leading laps to get the bonus points and put the numbers on the board at the end of the day.
"If you're not winning, you better be putting up those top-five and top-10 finishes, that's for sure," said Busch, who has a 7.3 average finish in the first three Chase races. "It's easy to figure out all the right numbers. If you finish fifth one week and 15th the next, that works out to a 10th-place finish in just those two races. At the extremes, if you blow an engine one week and finish 40th and come back to win the next week, that works out to a 20th-place finish (in just those two races) and you still have a ton of ground to make up."
During his successful run to the 2004 Sprint Cup title, Busch won three races overall, compared to Johnson's eight. But a quick comparison of their final 10 Chase races certainly adds credibility to Busch's stressing the importance of consistency. Four of Johnson's wins came in the final 10 races to Busch's single win during that period. However, Busch recorded six top-five finishes and nine top-10s compared to Johnson's five top-fives and seven top-10s.
But the most compelling statistics showed that while Johnson's 12.8 average finish during the "regular season" topped Busch's 13.8, during the final 10-race run to the championship, Busch posted an 8.9 average finish to Johnson's 10.2.
"We were so consistent during the nine other races that we overcame blowing an engine at Atlanta," said Busch. "To have finished 42nd in that race and still have the average finish we did for the 10 races overall really speaks for how consistent we were." (With the Atlanta finish removed, Busch posted a 5.2 average over the nine other races.)
So how does the competition stack up this season? Can you afford to have one bad finish in the 10 Chase races?
"The media guys were asking me what kind of average finish I thought you would need to have a shot at the championship this season and I told them I'd feel comfortable if we could get through the Chase with about a 7.0 to 7.5 average," Busch said. "Would that allow you to have one bad race? If you do, you'll need to have every other finish in the win, top-five or maybe top-10 column in order to keep that overall average up there - or down there in this case.
"It's really shaping up to be so close that you can't afford to have a disastrous day, like with a crash or blown engine that puts you back there finish 40th or so. It could very well be that you can't afford to have anything worse than a 25th-place finish.
"I've been saying all along that our team's biggest challenges for the remainder of the year will be Charlotte and Martinsville, but the major wild card for all the teams will be the race at Talladega," said Busch. "When you stop and think about it, a team could have all top-fives and top-10s and see getting caught up in one of the big crashes at Talladega really take a toll. But, you have to look at it as it's the same thing for all of us.
"Like I said, if we can head into Homestead with a good enough record to be at averaging a 7.5 finish or so, I think we'll have a shot at it," said Busch.
What about the business at hand in this weekend's Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club Speedway in Southern California?
"We're coming into Fontana really optimistic after finishing fifth there back in the spring race," said Busch. "It's such a fast track and you carry such speed into the corners that you really have to stay on your toes. That's the way it has always been at Fontana. We qualified fourth and ran in the top-five throughout the race during our last visit and we're hoping to be able to do that well again this time around."
In 14 career starts at the 2.0-mile Auto Club Speedway, Busch has one win, four top-five finishes and six top-10 finishes. He has a 12.0 average start and a 12.9 average finish. Most impressive is his 99.9 percent lap completion average (3,751 completed of 3,755 total laps).
This weekend's schedule at Auto Club Speedway begins on Friday with practice from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. PDT. Friday's 3:40 p.m. single round of qualifying will set Sunday's 43-car starting field. Saturday's schedule offers practice sessions from 10:30 a.m. till 11:15 a.m. and from 11:45 a.m. till 12:45 p.m. Sunday's Pepsi 500 (250 Laps, 500 miles) has a scheduled 12:15 p.m. PDT starting time and features live coverage by ABC-TV and MRN Radio.