KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – For Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Haas Automation Racing team, this is it.
This is the race that has been circled on the calendar for months. Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway is the race the team has been working toward since the green flag dropped on the 2014 season 25 races ago at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
This is the last race before the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship field is set.
With Busch and the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team having already clinched a berth in the 2014 Chase thanks to their win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in March, Richmond isn’t the pressure-filled, high-stakes race that it could be. There’s no win-to-get-in or Chase-clinching scenario for Busch’s No. 41 team to study, plan for or worry about heading into the weekend.
Instead, their ticket to the Chase is already punched and they have one plan for Saturday night. Win.
A win at Richmond would move Busch ahead of the five other single-race winners of the 2014 season thus far. The 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their point totals reset to 2,000, and will be seeded based on bonus points – three per regular-season win. That would enable Busch, currently seeded 11th, to jump to eighth.
So, it’s all about the three bonus points for Busch this weekend. In 27 Sprint Cup starts at Richmond, Busch has one win – in September 2005, five top-five finishes and nine top-10s. Busch also has an April 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series win at Richmond.
There’s no doubt that Busch has the know-how and the dogged determination needed to put his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS in victory lane at the .75-mile oval known as “The Action Track” and collect the valuable bonus points in advance of the Chase.
Last fall’s Richmond race could be a perfect example of the tenacity and determination with which Busch will approach this weekend’s festivities. Last year, as the Sprint Cup Series rolled into Richmond for the final regular-season race, Busch needed to either win or collect enough points via his finish to make the Chase field, which was to be set at 12 drivers.
Busch started on the outside pole and led 73 laps en route to an impressive second-place finish. While he fell just short of the win – .668 seconds to be exact – the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion made the Chase and, at the same time, made history. It was the first Chase berth for a single-car team since the Chase was introduced in 2004.
This weekend, Busch hopes to improve by one position on last September’s performance, collect another win and add some more bonus points to his tally in preparation for the playoffs. After all, winning is what it is all about.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
In this race last year, you raced your way into the Chase via your second-place finish. Does it have a different feel for you heading into this weekend knowing that you’re already locked into the 2014 Chase lineup?
“It’s always a good feeling when you go into the cutoff race locked in, or if all you’ve got to do is start the engine and take the green flag, or finish 42nd or better. Those are the good days. That means you’ve had a solid season, and you’re not on that edge of needing help to make the playoffs because we all know what can happen when you’re right on that edge. Goofy things can happen that can see you miss the cutoff. So, for us, it’s a race to pat ourselves on the back. Yes, if we’ve got our Haas Automation Chevrolet dialed in, we’re going to give it all we’ve got and go for the win. But, it’s not the end of the world if we don’t, and we can almost use this race as a breather to be better prepared for Chicagoland Speedway next week.”
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