KYLE BUSCH Back in the Chase HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 7, 2010) - What a difference a year makes. Heading into the 26th and final race of NASCAR's "regular season" in 2009, Kyle Busch was on the outside looking in and trying everything he...
Back in the Chase
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 7, 2010) - What a difference a year makes.
Heading into the 26th and final race of NASCAR's "regular season" in 2009, Kyle Busch was on the outside looking in and trying everything he could to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. He went on to score a top-five finish in that 26th race of the season at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, but still came up eight points short of earning a coveted Chase berth. For Busch, as is the case for most all drivers who don't come away with a top-12 position in the points after the 26th race, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
This year, Busch is not only solidly in the Chase for the fourth time in his six-year Sprint Cup career, he also has a little bit of momentum on his side as NASCAR's version of the postseason is once again just one race away. After his seventh top-five finish of the season Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., Busch remained in third-place in the standings and has an insurmountable 376-point cushion over 13th-place.
Perhaps the best news heading into Saturday night's Air Guard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond for Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is that last race of the regular season takes place on a racetrack where the talented 25-year-old has enjoyed much success.
Busch's numbers at the .75-mile short track tell the story. His most recent win there last May was the second of his career at Richmond to go with three runner-up finishes and an amazing nine top-fives in just 11 career Sprint Cup starts there. The Las Vegas native has an average finishing position of 5.5, tops among active drivers at Richmond. And he has only two finishes worse than fifth while completing 3,937 laps in the top-15 (89.3 percent) to place him second among active drivers at Richmond.
Prior to his Sprint Cup victory at Richmond last May, Busch swept both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup races there in May 2009, then followed that up with third- and fifth-place finishes, respectively, in last September's Nationwide and Sprint Cup events. Busch's Nationwide Series totals at Richmond include three wins, eight top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in 13 career starts.
So, little wonder that a visit to the "Capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia" is one of Busch's favorite stops on the NASCAR tour.
Along with crew chief Dave Rogers and the entire M&M's team, Busch hopes to keep the momentum rolling after back-to-back top-five efforts the past two race weekends, which included his third Sprint Cup win of the season at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway that capped a historic sweep of NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide races, as well. A fourth Sprint Cup win this weekend would add another 10 bonus points to his Chase seeding and break a third-place tie with points leader Kevin Harvick, who also has three wins. Four-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson and JGR's Denny Hamlin lead all competitors with five wins apiece.
No matter the outcome on Saturday, however, Busch is safely Chase-bound. My, what a difference a year makes.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Now that you have clinched your berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, are you planning your approach to the 10-race Chase?
"How do you plan it? If I sat down and planned it, we would win every one of them and we'd be the champions. Plans don't quite work out that well. For us, we feel pretty good about some of our upcoming races. We put another 500 miles together at Atlanta, so that makes us feel pretty good about how we have run there the last couple of times. Then, Richmond should be alright. I've always run well there. Loudon (N.H.), we ran pretty well there in the spring and that was nice to see. Dover, we won. I feel like our struggle spot is probably going to be Kansas. Hopefully, we can get through there, and then, of course, Talladega is always a crap shoot."
Is there any anxiety when you are on the bubble to make the Chase like you were last year?
"It's pretty much there all the time, whether you are in or out. You're trying to figure out how you can make yourself better at the racetrack, how you can talk to your crew chief better about knowing how to go faster at the racetrack, or communicating better, and all that stuff. It weighs on you. You always want to try to finish the best you can. The communication is the starting point, and being able to get a good handle on the racecar. And then, from there, you have to have no mistakes. You've just got to come through and complete the day."
What was your approach at Atlanta and what will your approach be for Richmond? To win races or gain momentum?
"Both of those. You want to make sure you can get a win - if not two - hopefully, to get yourself a little higher. If we got four, it would help us sit just below the top guys - Denny (Hamlin) and Jimmie (Johnson). Momentum is a big key. We ran strong at Atlanta and that is something we can build on in our mile-and-a-half program, and that's something I haven't been so good at this year. Denny's been good, we haven't been that good. But we've been good at the short tracks. We're hoping to just kind of keep all of that going and build some stronger race cars for the Chase."
Do you enjoy racing at Richmond?
"I like going to Richmond. It's a fun racetrack. It's a nice short track that we get to go and run at. For me, the success I've had there, I'm not sure why, but it's just been a good place for me to run. I'm excited about getting back there with not a lot of pressure this year, hopefully, to get another run in the top-five and try to go after a win with our M&M's Camry like we did there in the spring."
You've had plenty of success at Richmond over the years with an impressive average finish of 5.5. 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."