ThatsRacin

NASCAR: There are good reasons Kyle Busch likes racing at Richmond International

Kyle Busch controls the speed of his car by feathering the throttle. That approach seems to work well at Richmond.
Kyle Busch controls the speed of his car by feathering the throttle. That approach seems to work well at Richmond. AP

Kyle Busch is the undisputed king of Richmond International Raceway, host of this weekend’s race in the NASCAR Cup series. But when he first raced at the three-quarter-mile oval in Virginia in 2001 in a Truck series race, he was a long way from ascending to that throne.

“I think I knocked every wall down,” he has said. “It was a pretty gnarly day for me.”

The Cup series’ first trip to Richmond International this year comes at an opportune time for Kyle Busch.

He finished 22nd , three laps down, still an impressive showing considering he was only 16. By the time he debuted there in a stock car in the Xfinity series in 2004, he had figured the place out, picking up his first career win in that series. He was fast from the very beginning in his Cup car, too: His first five finishes were top 5s.

Today, Busch’s numbers at Richmond are incredible, even by his lofty standards. His average finish is 7.0, the best among active drivers by more than three spots. It’s also his best average finish at tracks at which he has raced more than six times.

Early in Busch’s career, he was a classic win-or-wreck-trying driver. He drove so hard for so long that he inevitably wrecked sometimes, if not often. He didn’t know, and he showed little interest in learning, how to pace himself. His stats reflect that all-or-nothing approach. For example, at Bristol, through Monday’s race, he has five victories, but he also has eight finishes of 28th or worse and has finished off the lead lap nine out of 24 races.

At Richmond, he has seen no such bad races. Of 9,223 laps run in 23 starts, he has completed all but one. He has finished outside the top 20 only once (24th in the 2013 spring race). The Cup series’ first trip there this year comes at an opportune time for Busch. After an up-and-down start to the 2017 season – he sits 11th in points, with zero wins, two top fives and three finishes of 22nd or worse – he needs a strong finish to solidify his spot in the playoff hunt.

Kyle Busch controls the speed of his car by feathering the throttle. That approach seems to work well at Richmond.

If you polled drivers about their favorite tracks, whichever he or she is best at would be No. 1.

No. 2 would often be Richmond, and that’s in part because it features racing unlike any other venue on the circuit. For obvious reasons, it is one of Busch’s favorite tracks.

Busch is famous, or maybe infamous, for using as little brake as possible (and sometimes even less than that.) He instead controls the speed of the car by feathering the throttle. That approach seems to work well at Richmond.

Richmond is considered a short track, but it races like an in-between track – not quite a short track but not an intermediate track either. It features some close-quartered, bump-and-run racing a la Bristol and Martinsville, but not as much. A good car at Richmond carries speed through and off of the corners, just like at an intermediate track … but not as much.

KyleBuschFamilyFile
Kyle Busch jokes with his son Brexton, right, as he talks with his wife, Samantha, center, on pit road before the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Randy Holt AP

Keep an eye on …

Martin Truex Jr. His career numbers at Richmond are terrible. His average finish is 20.5, his second worst only to Daytona, and easily the worst among contending drivers. He has finished on the lead lap in only half of the 22 events he has entered there. But he has showed signs of improvement lately, with top 10s in five of the last eight races.

Good, for starters

Jamie McMurray’s average starting position in 2017 is 6.6, which is 11.8 spots better than his career average. Two poor finishes because of crashes have dropped his average finish to 15.5. In the other six races, his average finish is 9.6.

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