KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Should Kurt Busch, the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), be able to notch his first win of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, he would be able to add his name to a short list of distinguished drivers who know that, when they return to “The Action Track” in September, they will do so with a lot less pressure on their shoulders.
For the drivers who are able to score regular-season victories, they know their presence in the postseason is all but secured. With the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format, a win virtually guarantees a driver and his team a berth in the Chase, provided they are among the top-30 in driver points.
The six drivers who have already all but secured their presence in this year’s championship battle are among of the sport’s most decorated perennial championship contenders. There are nine Sprint Cup championships among four of those drivers dating back to the 2003 season, and the other two made it to the final race of the 2014 season as part of the four-driver Championship Round of the Chase that determined the 2014 Sprint Cup championship.
Joey Logano. Jimmie Johnson. Kevin Harvick. Brad Keselowski. Denny Hamlin. Matt Kenseth.
When looking at that list, it would be difficult to bet against any of them and their chances of becoming the 2015 Sprint Cup champion. However, there’s a lot of racing to be done before the final Chase field is set at Richmond in September and the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. For Busch, he’d like nothing more than to score his first win of the season this weekend, which would be his second at the .75-mile racetrack, and add his name to that distinguished list and get people talking about his chances of contending for his second Sprint Cup championship.
Busch’s 2015 season is off to a strong start. He’s been a weekly contender and has yet to finish outside of the top-15. His average finish is 10.2, and he’s led a total of 229 laps, 119 of which have come at short tracks. Busch has shown the focus needed to contend for races early on and, now, it seems to be just a matter of time before he breaks through and secures his spot in the Chase.
Should he be able to notch his first regular-season win this weekend at Richmond, Busch knows his return there in September won’t be the pressure-filled, high-stakes race that it could be. There would be no “win-to-get-in” or some detailed Chase-clinching scenario for the No. 41 team to study, plan for or worry about heading into that weekend.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What’s the toughest part about racing at Richmond?
“All of it has been pretty tough for me, but the toughest part of that track has always seemed to be the exit of turn four. It’s really hard to get the traction put down just right to not be just flat-out dead sideways all the way to the start-finish line. It’s really hard to get the speed through three and four and carry the traction off of turn four. So, going into this weekend, that’s something I know I’ll be looking for right from the start of practice on Friday.”
What are your thoughts on racing at Richmond?
“You know, this has always been a tough place for me. Even with the win there, I still just find it to be one of the more difficult tracks to get a handle on. It’s a short track but it’s pretty unique because, other than the fact that it’s less than a mile in length, it really doesn’t compare to a Martinsville or Phoenix. It’s pretty wide whereas, at some of our other short tracks, you are dealing with one-lane racing grooves. It’s almost like a 1.5-mile track that has been packaged into a three-quarter-mile track. It’s a place where you can get caught in the outside lane on restarts but you won’t necessarily fall back 10 or more positions like you would at a Martinsville because, if your car is handling, you are able to maintain position. The last few times we’ve been there, though, the bottom is the place to be. Aside from it being the shortest way around the track, you can get more aggressive in the bottom lane and, if you have to, you can move people to advance your position.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine