Busch Finishes Solid Sixth at Richmond
M&M’s Driver Earns No. 1 Seed in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup
Kyle Busch finished a solid sixth in Saturday night’s Wonderful Pistachios 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
It was his 16th top-10 finish of 2011 and his 12th top-10 in 14 career Sprint Cup starts at Richmond. More importantly, it earned Busch the top seed in the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Richmond marked the last race of the regular season, as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup now begins. This marks Busch’s fifth appearance in the Chase. He finished a career-best fifth in 2007.
It was fun to drive that thing and I wish we could’ve got a little bit better there.
“It’s been a good 26 weeks and we’ve certainly built off some pretty good consistency,” Busch said, “but we’ve got to make sure that we can keep that going and be able to do it in the next 10 weeks.”
Busch, whose Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) car sported an American flag paint scheme sans sponsor logos to pay tribute to 9/11, started 13th and was third on lap 69 when a loose right-front wheel caused him to make an unscheduled pit stop under green.
Having to pit under green dropped Busch to 33rd in the 43-car field, one lap behind the leaders, but he didn’t stay there long. His Toyota Camry rocketed up the leaderboard and he nearly gained his lap back unassisted before a caution on lap 116 earned him lead-lap status via the lucky dog rule, which gives the first car one lap down the opportunity to get back on the lead lap.
He restarted 28th and drove his way to the top-10 by lap 220. Unfortunately, while he was on pit road on lap 245, the caution came out, and when all the pit stops for the lead-lap cars cycled out, he was forced to restart 22nd on lap 253.
Once again he drove his way to the front and cracked the top-10 on lap 295 and remained there the rest of the race. He would reach as high as third before settling for a hard-earned sixth-place result.
“It was just a hard-fought battle tonight and, certainly, we had to battle through more adversity than we would have liked to, but that’s what’s going to make us better, “Busch said. “That’s what’s going to make us stronger, so I can’t say enough about all these guys on the 9/11 tribute car tonight and to everyone at M&M’s for their support. It was fun to drive that thing and I wish we could’ve got a little bit better there.
“It seemed like the middle part of the race we were trying to free the car up and make it where it would roll the bottom (of the corner). And then we went back the other way and started tightening it up and got a little bit better, but there at the end those front two guys (eventual winner Kevin Harvick and second-place Carl Edwards) were just flawless. They were flying and we couldn’t keep up with them.”
Busch’s JGR teammates – Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, and Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry – finished ninth and 35th, respectively. Logano’s car suffered an engine problem and he was only able to complete 296 of the race’s 400 laps.
Hamlin’s 10th top-10 result of 2011 and his eighth in 12 career Sprint Cup starts at the .75-mile oval was good enough to put him in the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, as he leaves Richmond 12th in the standings. The top-10 drivers in the standings after Richmond were admitted to the Chase, while Hamlin and Brad Keselowski were added via the two “wild card” slots which put the two drivers with the most wins between 11th and 20th in the standings in the 11th and 12th Chase spots.
Keselowski’s three wins gave him the 11th spot, while Hamlin’s victory in June at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn coupled with him being the highest-placed driver with one win between 11th and 20th in the standings earned him the 12th and final spot.
Busch, who is seeded first in the standings, clinched his Chase spot in August following his victory at Michigan. Logano did not make the Chase and is 22nd in points.
Harvick’s win in the Wonderful Pistachios 400 was his 18th career Sprint Cup victory, his fourth of the season and his second at Richmond.
Edwards finished .139 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Jeff Gordon, David Ragan and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five. Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Hamlin and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 15 caution periods for 85 laps, with nine drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.
Richmond marked the last race of the regular season, as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup now begins. This is Busch’s fifth appearance in the Chase and he finished a career-best fifth in 2007. Hamlin will be making his sixth Chase appearance and he finished a career-best second last season.