HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 4, 2012) – During his team’s magical run to the 1983 NCAA men’s basketball tournament championship, the late North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano first made famous the now-familiar phrase, “Survive and Advance”.
Since then, each and every March during the NCAA tournament, the phrase continues to be used by coaches and television analysts alike in describing the necessity of surviving each game in order to live on to play another day, ultimately accruing six consecutive wins to earn the grand prize: the national championship trophy.
In recent weeks, Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has been doing his own version of “Survive and Advance” as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has made its way toward Saturday night’s 26th and final race of the regular season at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship starts.
Back-to-back sixth-place finishes at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, respectively, have put Busch in position to clinch the second of two wild-card entries into the Chase, as he is the highest-ranking driver in points with one Sprint Cup win. But just 12 points separate him from Jeff Gordon, the next-closest competitor behind him in the standings also with a win this season.
While Busch’s position in points helps him control his own destiny by surviving and advancing Saturday night at Richmond, a win would guarantee him a spot in the Chase. The good news for Busch is that his Richmond record is not too shabby. In fact, he’ll head to Richmond for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 as the winner of the last four spring events (2009 through 2012) at the .75-mile oval. This past April, the Las Vegas native brought home his fourth career Sprint Cup victory at Richmond to go with four runner-up finishes and an amazing 12 top-fives in just 15 career Sprint Cup starts in Virginia’s capital city.
That gives Busch an average finishing position of 4.7 at Richmond, tops among all active drivers including JGR teammate and native Virginian Denny Hamlin, whose average finish is 7.3. Busch has completed all 6,010 laps available to him in his 15 Richmond starts. Of those laps completed, Busch has run in the top-15 for 5,292 (88.1 percent) of them – second-most among active drivers at the track.
While he has always had strong runs at Richmond since joining the Sprint Cup ranks in 2005, Busch’s first Sprint Cup victory there came on May 2, 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. Since then, Busch has finished no worse than sixth at Richmond from 2009 to 2012, including his wins in the last four spring races, and finishes of fifth, second and sixth, respectively, in the fall races the past three seasons.
If Busch’s recent form at Richmond holds true this weekend – and provided neither fellow single-win drivers Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman nor Joey Logano win on Saturday night – he’s a virtual lock to clinch the coveted wild-card berth into the Chase, needing to give up no more than 12 points to Gordon and no more than 40 points to Ambrose.
But while the motto for the weekend may be “Survive and Advance,” Busch knows he can make things a whole lot simpler by employing the “Win and You’re In” strategy Saturday night, which is certainly within the realm of possibility, the way things have been going there.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your expectations for Richmond? “I don’t know. We were in this situation in 2009 and we had to go to Richmond and finish five spots ahead of Brian Vickers and we finished fifth, which was great, but Brian Vickers finished eighth, so we missed the Chase that night. Not necessarily one that you bank on going there and getting a win or anything like that. You feel like you can run well, but you can’t guarantee it, either. Again, you just do what you’ve got – do what you need to do to run as well as you can. There are definitely never any guarantees you’re going to show up to the racetrack and win. You’ve just got to work hard, communicate with your crew chief the best you can and not get too frustrated when things aren’t exactly correct. But, yet, be determined enough that you can get them fixed and get out there and make the most of your opportunities with our M&M’s Camry this weekend.”
What is your outlook for Richmond? “Richmond is definitely a place where we would like to win. Obviously, that would really make things easy as far as getting us into the Chase. If we’re not able to win, then we need to know what our game plan is going to be as far as staying ahead of Jeff (Gordon).”
What is it about Richmond that suits your driving style? “I’m not sure exactly what it is about Richmond that fits my style. When I first went there in the Trucks, I was terrible. And then they repaved the place and I went there in a Nationwide car with Hendrick Motorsports and pulled off a win right away. It’s been a good track for me ever since then with both the Nationwide and the Cup Series and I have just taken a liking to it. You have to be so technical there. The speeds are really high, but yet it’s a short track. You really have to be on top of your game to be sure the car stays under you.”
Do you feel confident you can make the Chase? “I feel OK. I’m not saying I’m for sure going to be in at all. Anything can happen. Jeff (Gordon) is no slouch at Richmond, either. He will be fine. I feel like he’s the guy we’re racing – the 24 car. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out. Jeff could give us a run for our money.”
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 mile-and-a-half tracks or 2-mile tracks where we don’t run very similar setups. Richmond is one of those places where we both know what it takes to get around and we’re both similar enough to one another that we both run well.”
You’ve had plenty of success at Richmond over the years with an impressive average finish of 4.7. Is there a way you drive the racecar there that has helped you? “At Richmond, you try to be easy on the brakes getting in so you don’t lock up getting into the corner or get too loose getting into the corner. It’s really particular there. The center (of the corner) always seems to be a little tight with these cars. And the exit, today, has been so loose. Nobody has any forward bite coming up off the corner, so it’s pretty bad. That should make for a pretty interesting race. It’s a fun short track. It’s pretty fast and it usually spreads out, and you’ll get a lot of grooves to choose from. You can pretty much count on the usual exciting short-track race when you go there.”
Do you think you can contend for the championship if you make the Chase? “I don’t see any reason as to why we wouldn’t be able to go out there and contend for the championship if we were given the opportunity to make the Chase. We’ve just got to solidify our chances in Richmond and do everything right the way we know how to do it and be a Chase contender when the checkered flag flies this weekend, and then from there go on into the final 10 weeks and bust our butts to put together 10 great weeks. There’s no reason why we can’t. I don’t see our competition, nor the way that we’ve been running, as the reason we’re in the 12th position. It’s just due to dumb circumstances.”
Source: Joe Gibbs Racing