HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Every year in late April across the United States, signs of spring begin to appear all around. Flowers and trees start to come into bloom, the grass begins to grow, the weather becomes warmer – and, of course, Kyle Busch posts a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) returns to Richmond for Saturday night’s Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 looking for his fifth consecutive spring event win at the .75-mile oval. Last April, the Las Vegas native brought home his fourth straight spring victory at Richmond to go with four runner-up finishes and an amazing 12 top-fives in just 16 career Sprint Cup starts in Virginia’s capital city.
Busch’s average finishing position of just 5.4 is tops among all active drivers at Richmond, including JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, whose average finish there is 8.1. Busch has completed all but one of the 6,410 laps available to him in his 16 career Richmond starts. Of those laps completed, Busch has run in the top-15 for 6,607 (87.5 percent) of them – second-most among active drivers at the track.
While he has always had strong runs at Richmond since joining the Sprint Cup ranks in 2005, Busch’s first Sprint Cup victory didn’t come until May 2009, when he became only the second driver in Sprint Cup history to celebrate a victory on his birthday, a feat first accomplished by Cale Yarborough, who did it twice. Yarborough won on his March 27 birthday at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway in 1977 and at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1983. Since his first Richmond victory in 2009, Busch has finished out of the top-five just once, coming home fifth, second, sixth, and 16th, respectively, in the fall races the past four seasons after winning the spring race each year.
While his May 2 birthday isn’t until five days later this year, the soon-to-be 28-year-old would like nothing more than to add another Richmond win to his resume and celebrate his birthday a little early in victory lane Saturday night in the “Capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia” – and, yes, continue this very special rite of spring.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Is Richmond a race you always feel confident you can win? “It always seems to be a race kind of between Denny (Hamlin) and myself. We’ll see how Richmond goes, but I love going to Richmond, for some reason. I’ve just kind of taken to that place. I know what I need in my car to run well there. The guys have done a good job making good adjustments through practice and sometimes we try to dial ourselves out, but we get honed back in on what we know works there. By having a good notebook, I think that really helps. A couple guys have been there testing and what not – the speeds seem to be fast. It should be exciting when we get back there with this new 2013 M&M’s Camry.”
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’ve won four in a row with the last four spring races and I would love to make it five this time around. 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 in Richmond. 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 other mile-and-a-half tracks or two-mile tracks where we don’t run very similar setups. 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.”
What are the differences you might expect with the NASCAR Gen-6 2013 Toyota Camry at Richmond this weekend? “I think the new Gen-6 race car with the 2013 Camry that I’m driving be a little bit faster. We’ve seen the testing speeds from Richmond being quicker than in years past and I think that’s just these new cars being a little bit lighter. They are also carrying a little more downforce than what they had in years past. That’s good though and that’s fun when the cars drive well and you can run side-by-side a little bit more and race a little bit more and put on a good show.”
Are you looking forward to running three races at Richmond this weekend? “I get a chance to start on Thursday in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown – his charity race. It’s just a fun race and you get to go out there and race with the best of the local Late Model racers from across that area and we always seem to put on a pretty good show. I like that race. And then we get to race the Nationwide car on Friday night and the Cup cars on Saturday night, so just a big three-day race weekend for me. I’m used to those, so it shouldn’t be anything different than what I’m accustomed 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 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.”