KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (April 20, 2016) – Should Kurt Busch, the driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), be able to do this weekend what he did one year ago – notch his first win of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season Sunday 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 proverbial weight 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.
Busch returns to the .75-mile oval as the defending winner of the Richmond 400. A repeat performance is certainly possible, as a quick glance at his stats at Richmond show that he cannot be overlooked. In 30 Sprint Cup starts at Richmond, Busch has two wins, six top-five finishes and 11 top-10s, and has led 748 laps. Richmond has, at times, been a strong venue for the 27-time race winner.
Up until last year, when Busch led six times for a race-high 291 laps and held off SHR teammate Kevin Harvick for the win, Richmond had been a bit fickle for the Las Vegas native. While Busch had flirted with victories, he’d also had runs that were less than stellar. But it was in this race last year that he was finally able to take advantage of a dominant racecar and find his way to victory lane there once again.
After starting third in the rain-postponed 400-lap race, Busch took the lead for the first time on lap 95 and maintained the top spot for the next 35 circuits around the .75-mile oval. Busch would go on to exchange the lead a handful of times with Harvick over the next 100-plus laps, but he never dropped lower than third in the running order. Busch took the front spot for the last time on lap 354, leading the final 47 trips around the Richmond oval en route to victory lane.
Should Busch be able to do as he did last year – notch his first regular-season win this weekend at Richmond – he 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.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What was your key to success at Richmond in this race last year?
“The way that the race played out for us is, it was a daytime race and everybody was set up for nighttime. Our setup really loved the track and daytime race. I could just hug the white line all day long. Just didn’t want to get but a few inches off of it. Just lap after lap after lap, it was almost like a checklist of brake, turn, acceleration. You have to be really smooth at Richmond, not to chew up the tires.”
What are your thoughts about this race being a planned daytime race?
“It will be fun to switch it up and to create different excitement. We have gone there forever where it’s a Friday practice and qualifying and then a race on Saturday night. Now the schedule will be spread out and I hope the fans in that area enjoy the atmosphere at the fairgrounds on an all-day Sunday. That is the whole feel about Richmond, the fairground feel; it just feels like you are going to a cool place that really entertains a large group of people.”
How do you think it might change the racing with it being a day race?
“I think it is really just about switching it up – anything we can do to create a different variety and to break up some of the monotonous schedule that we have. If you throw in a day race, hey, it could be different sometimes – we get rained out and have to get moved around. This is just a planned ‘let’s juke it up.’”
What is the hardest thing to figure out at Richmond?
“For me, it’s turn four. The races I’ve won there, I had a good car on the exit of turn four. Races I’ve lost or ran poorly, my exit of turn four wasn’t that good. It’s really a tough corner to get good traction put down.”
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