HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – There are 23 tracks on the 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. And for most drivers and teams, there are some they look forward to competing on more than others.
For Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and his team, one of those tracks at or near the top of their list of favorites is Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, site of Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400.
Busch’s numbers at the .75-mile short track tell the story. His most recent win there in May 2012 was the fourth of his career there to go with four runner-up finishes and an amazing 13 top-fives in just 19 career Sprint Cup starts in Virginia’s capital city.
The Las Vegas native has an average finishing position of 7.0 at Richmond, tops among active drivers, Next best is Kevin Harvick, whose average finish there is 8.8. Busch has completed all but one of the 7,616 laps available to him at Richmond. Of those laps completed, Busch has run in the top-15 for 6,593 laps, or 86.6 percent, which is second-most among active drivers.
While he has been a dominant force over the years at Richmond, highlighted by a strong of four consecutive spring race wins, Busch and his team had two tough outings there in 2013 that resulted in finishes of 24th and 19th. Busch and the M&M’s team quickly got back on track, however, in this season’s first trip to Richmond in April, rallying from 16th over the final eight laps to bring home a third-place finish. It was his 13th top-five finish there.
This weekend at Richmond, Busch and the M&M’s team look to get back to the level of performance they exhibited there when they won the four consecutive spring races from 2009 to 2012, which bested Richard Petty’s previous record of three spring-race wins in a row there from 1971 to 1973.
With those impressive statistics and records to back him up, it’s little wonder that a visit to the “Capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia” is one of Busch’s favorite stops on the NASCAR tour.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What does it take to get around Richmond?
“Richmond is getting a little trickier, it seems like, just with the asphalt kind of getting older and the way the cars are, and the tire hasn’t really changed there in the last few years – we may be due for an update on that. The consensus of Richmond is, of course, just trying to get your car to turn, but also having really good forward bite. You have to be able to get off the corners at Richmond. You have to have good brakes, as well, and be able to turn the center. All of it correlates. Everything you want as a racecar driver, you’ve got to have most all of it and, if you don’t, then you better hope you have more forward bite than the rest of them. That’s sort of the equation of Richmond – it’s a fun place to race, it’s really cool. As a driver, you wish it could widen out and give you more options of being able to run around in different grooves, but it hasn’t shown us that the last couple years. We’re hoping to get our M&M’s Camry back to form there from a couple of years ago, overall, but also build on our third-place finish there in the spring.”
What is it about Richmond that suits your driving style?
“I love Richmond. It’s one of my favorite racetracks and one of my best racetracks. I love being able to go there and, of course, we put on some pretty good races there. We won four spring races in a row and I would have loved to have made it five last year. It’s a neat racetrack and it’s certainly an excitement track and there is a lot of action that happens under the lights on Saturday night there.”
Why is Joe Gibbs Racing so strong at Richmond?
“I think a lot of it comes from Denny (Hamlin), being that it’s his home track. I’ve been good there in Hendrick and JGR cars. But Denny and I really feed off each other an awful lot at Richmond. He was able to do the tire test there over the summer and they were able to learn some things that helped us, especially at New Hampshire in July. We’re hoping we can build on that this weekend and get one of our JGR Camry’s in victory lane. We use each other a ton there, just to be sure we can beat the rest of the competition, of course. We do like similar setups there, unlike some other places we run. Richmond is one of those places where we both know what it takes to get around and we’re both similar to one another in that we both run well. And with Matt (Kenseth) with us now, JGR has a lot of experience there we can look to for help.”
What did you learn from the first race at Richmond that you might be able to use this weekend?
“The tire will be a bit different, so some things we’ll just have to feel out a bit. We get a lot of practice on Friday morning, so Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and I are certainly looking forward to that and hope we can learn some things. The track is getting more worn out over the years, so you learn some things as far as pit strategy. But we’ll see how the Friday practices go and hope we can get our M&M’s Camry back to the level there that we are used to.”
Do you enjoy the atmosphere at Richmond?
“I think the coolest thing about Richmond is the grandstands being all the way around the racetrack, and it’s at the fairgrounds. People love coming there and supporting that racetrack. It’s been around for a long time. It’s a fast racetrack. It’s only a three-quarter-mile oval but it has really high speeds that makes it fun for us drivers and makes excitement that’s fun for a fan. Martinsville is a short track and it’s slow, but Richmond is pretty quick.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine