KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – In 1967, the three-point shot was introduced into basketball’s top leagues. In a game that was played on Nov. 13 of that year, the Indiana Pacers trailed the Dallas Chaparrals 118-116. With just one second left to play, Jerry Harkness, who was 92 feet from the basket, got a shot off that miraculously went in. And, with that, the Pacers won the game.
Since 2014, when NASCAR’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship went to its current playoff-style format, a win in the first 26 races gives drivers three points toward their postseason seed. After Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, each of the 16 drivers who qualify for this year’s Chase will have their point totals reset to 2,000 and will be seeded based on those bonus points earned prior to the start of the Chase.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is one of five drivers currently inside the top-30 who have just one win in 2016. With Saturday night’s race being the last of the regular season, Busch will attempt to do what Harkness did almost 49 years ago – score a three-point win before the buzzer sounds. That would advance him from 10th, where he is currently seeded, to sixth at the start of the Chase.
Having clinched his 2016 Chase berth with his win at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June, Richmond won’t be the pressure-filled, high-stakes race that it will be for other teams still fighting to make their way into the 10-race playoff that will crown the 2016 champion. There’s no win-to-get-in or other Chase-clinching scenario for Busch and his No. 41 team to study, plan for or worry about heading into the weekend. It’s all about the three bonus points on the line.
A quick glance at Busch’s stats at Richmond shows he cannot be overlooked as a threat to find his way to victory lane Saturday night. In 31 Sprint Cup starts there, Busch owns a pair of victories. The first came in September 2005, when Busch started fifth and led 185 laps en route to the win. Busch scored his second Richmond victory in April 2015. He turned in a dominating performance, leading six times for a race-high 291 laps, to score his first win of the 2015 Sprint Cup season. Busch also has a NASCAR Xfinity Series win there, which came in April 2012.
Up until April 2015, 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, in that race last year, he was finally able to take advantage of a dominant racecar and find his way to Richmond’s victory lane once again.
So, there’s no doubt Busch has the know-how and the determination needed to put his No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet in victory lane at the .75-mile oval and collect the three valuable bonus points in advance of the Chase.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
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.”
Why do you like racing at Richmond so much, and why do you think it suits your driving style?
“There are things you have to do on a short track to work on conserving the tires. Also, making sure you are good on the short run, making sure you are good on the long run, because restarts have become so much more important over the last couple of years. You don’t know if you are going to have a long run to finish the race or if you are going to have short run. You’ve just got to be ready for everything and it seems like, at the short tracks, the preferred lane on restarts is becoming more and more important. You hope you are on the inside lane when it comes down to one of the final few restarts and, that way, you are able to gain positions instead of having to be on the defense. Richmond is a fun track. They used to call it the action track. That was when the groove would widen out and get to two, three lanes wide. We always hope to get back to that and it’s a matter of finding the right tire and the right downforce combination to allow the cars to race competitively side-by-side in safe situations. That is what we want to do – put on a good show.”
What are your thoughts on all the changes Richmond has made to become more fan-friendly?
“The atmosphere at Richmond is more like a county fair with the setup and the fairgrounds and the way it feels around the track. There are different sponsor incentives they are employing and the way that you see all of our racing. I still think it’s exciting. I still think it is fun to watch and there is still a lot to gain from it. That is where we need to stay focused – restarts, and who is on what tire strategy and who is out there putting on a good show. That will help the fans want to come and see it live in person and feel that energy at the track.”
- Jonathan Paluga
Director of Marketing & Sales
Armor All & STP Brands