Kyle Busch: Is 'better than average' good enough?

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Probably at Richmond, where he won four straight spring races

Kyle Busch – winner of 130 races among NASCAR’s top three divisions – has seldom been described as average.

Busch (above), driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is not only better than average at most venues on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, he’s well above average when it comes to Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, site of Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400.

Why would he be described as well above average at Richmond? Busch’s numbers at the .75-mile short track tell the story. His most recent win there in May 2012 was the fourth of his career to go with four runner-up finishes and an amazing 12 top-fives in just 18 career Sprint Cup starts in Virginia’s capital city. The Las Vegas native has an average finishing position of 7.2, tops among active drivers at Richmond, where he sits ahead of JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, whose average finish there is 8.9. Busch has completed all but one of the 7,216 laps available to him at Richmond. Of those laps completed, Busch has run in the top-15 for 6,271 laps (86.9 percent), second-most among active drivers.

Busch’s first Sprint Cup victory there came in May 2009, when he became only the second driver in Sprint Cup history to celebrate a victory on his birthday, a feat first accomplished by Cale Yarborough, who did it twice. Yarborough won on his March 27 birthday at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway in 1977 and at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1983.

While he has been a dominant force over the years at Richmond, which included winning four consecutive spring races at the .75-mile oval, Busch will look to improve on his two outings there last season, which resulted in uncharacteristic finishes of 24th and 19th, respectively.

This weekend, Busch and the M&M’s team will look to get back to their level of performance at Richmond exhibited when they won four consecutive spring races from 2009 to 2012 to best Richard Petty’s previous record of three straight spring-race wins at Richmond from 1971 to 1973.

So with those impressive statistics and records to back him up, it’s little wonder that a visit to the “Capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia” is one of Busch’s favorite stops on the NASCAR tour. Especially since he’s been anything but average there.

KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:

What does it take to get around Richmond? “Richmond is getting a little trickier, it seems like, just with the asphalt kind of getting older and the way the cars are and the tire hasn’t really changed there in the last few years – we may be due for an update on that. The consensus of Richmond is, of course, just trying to get your car to turn, but also having really good forward bite. You have to be able to get off the corners at Richmond. You have to have good brakes, as well, and be able to turn the center. All of it correlates, everything that you want as a racecar driver, you’ve got to have most all of it and, if you don’t, then you better hope that you have more forward bite than the rest of them. That’s sort of the equation of Richmond – it’s a fun place to race, it’s really cool. As a driver, you wish that it could widen out and give you more options of being able to run around in different grooves but it hasn’t shown us that the last couple years. We’re hoping to get our M&M’s Camry back to form there from a couple of years ago.”

What is it about Richmond that suits your driving style? “I love Richmond – it’s one of my favorite racetracks and one of my best racetracks. I love being able to go there and, of course, we put on some pretty good races there. We won four spring races in a row and I would have loved to have made it five last year. It’s a neat racetrack and it’s certainly an excitement track and there is a lot of action that happens under the lights on Saturday night there.”

Why is Joe Gibbs Racing so strong at Richmond? “I think a lot of it comes from Denny (Hamlin), being that it’s his home track. I’ve been good there in Hendrick and JGR cars. But Denny and I really feed off each other an awful lot at Richmond. We use each other a ton there just to be sure we can beat the rest of the competition, of course. We do like similar setups there, unlike some other places we run. Richmond is one of those places where we both know what it takes to get around and we’re both similar to one another in that we both run well. And with Matt (Kenseth) with us now, JGR has a lot of experience there we can look to for help.”

What would it mean to win the Toyota-sponsored race at Richmond? “It would be cool. You always want to win any single race out there and I’ve won a few races at Richmond. It would really be special to have a Toyota in victory lane in Toyota’s race. I think all of us always want to see that. It’s no different than M&M’s would like to win an M&M’s race if they sponsored one. It certainly helps rally everyone at Toyota when we win. The goal each time we go out there and race is to get our sponsors to victory lane. Also, just being a racetrack that we’ve won a lot at over the years, whether it’s been Denny (Hamlin), myself or even the 20 car, I know they haven’t won there, but even if Matt (Kenseth) does win, it would be better having a Toyota there than someone else.”

Are you looking forward to running three races at Richmond this weekend? “I get a chance to start on Thursday in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at South Boston – his charity race. It’s just a fun race and you get to go out there and race with the best of the local Late Model racers from across that area and we always seem to put on a pretty good show. I like that race and think South Boston is a great place to be able to run at, too. And then we get to race the Nationwide car on Friday night and the Cup cars on Saturday night, so just a big three-day race weekend for me. I’m used to those, so it shouldn’t be anything different than what I’m accustomed to.”

Do you enjoy the atmosphere at Richmond? “I think the coolest thing about Richmond is the grandstands being all the way around the racetrack and it’s at the fairgrounds. People love coming there and supporting that racetrack. It’s been around for a long time. It’s a fast racetrack. It’s only a three-quarter-mile oval, but it has really high speeds that makes it fun for us drivers and makes excitement that’s fun for a fan. Martinsville is a short track and it’s slow, but Richmond is pretty quick.”

Joe Gibbs Racing

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags joe gibbs, kyle busch, m&ms, nascar, richard petty, sprint cup, toyota