Busch looks to rebound at Richmond

Ex-Cup champ was 19th last week in play­off opener

The Morning Call - - VARSITY - By Hank Kurz Jr.

RICHMOND, Va. — The NASCAR play­offs didn’t start the way Kyle Busch wanted. An early swipe of the wall at Las Ve­gas and slow lapped traf­fic rel­e­gated him to a mid­dle-of-the-pack fin­ish that dropped him from first to fourth in the cham­pi­onship race.

Now, the series has moved to Richmond Race­way, where no one else in the field can touch Busch’s six ca­reer vic­to­ries, but also where Joe Gibbs Rac­ing team­mate Martin Truex Jr. won in the spring and team­mate Denny Ham­lin has won three times.

Busch ran into the back of Gar­rett Smith­ley af­ter work­ing his way back up to fourth place, then faded to a 19th­place fin­ish at Las Ve­gas. He lashed out at Smith­ley after­ward, but said he was over it within about 12 hours.

“Richmond’s Richmond. Ve­gas is Ve­gas. It’s done and over with,” he said Fri­day. “That’s past. We’re mov­ing on.”

Busch and the Gibbs or­ga­ni­za­tion have dom­i­nated NASCAR’s top series all sea­son, win­ning 14 of 27 races, and work well to­gether. Truex has won five times, Busch and Ham­lin have won four each and Erik Jones has won once.

“We share ev­ery­thing, the teams, the crew chiefs, the driv­ers,” Truex said Fri­day. “We share ev­ery­thing so ba­si­cally we’re team­mates as good as we can be, then once the race starts on Satur­day night, that’s when it’s ev­ery team for them­selves. You race as hard against your team­mates, al­most, I guess, as hard as you race ev­ery­body else.”

On a team hav­ing so much suc­cess, that co­op­er­a­tion is crit­i­cal, Ham­lin said.

“I think it’s in all of our best in­ter­est to share ev­ery­thing as much as we can and feed off of each other,” he said. “Usu­ally, when some­one has good in­for­ma­tion it re­lates to the other and the other peo­ple can put that in their car and then when they find some­thing bet­ter yet, that goes back to the other guy. It’s just a cir­cle of trust.”

Truex won last week and leads the cham­pi­onship race, and Busch fell 19 points off the pace. Ham­lin is sev­enth and Jones holds down the fi­nal spot in the 16-driver play­offs with two races left be­fore the field is cut to the top 12.

Just above Jones in the cham­pi­onship race is Clint Bowyer, who started first last week but fin­ished 28th.

The week since has been dif­fi­cult for Bowyer, who spent time in Kansas af­ter the death of his grand­mother.

“I’ve had a long week and re­ally haven’t had a chance to think about where we’re at or what’s com­ing,” Bowyer said. “I knew Richmond was com­ing. I knew we have a good base pack­age here. I knew that we needed to get here and fig­ure it out from there. I was con­fi­dent with what we were go­ing to show up with, con­fi­dent in our equip­ment, our fun­da­men­tals.

“The sil­ver lin­ing is I do re­ally like this track,” he con­tin­ued. “I wish we had five of th­ese around the coun­try, you know. I wish a lot of those mile-and-a-half tracks were more this size for me, my driv­ing style, ev­ery­thing else.

“It puts a smile on my face ev­ery time I walk in the gate here.”

A bad start to the play­offs, Bowyer said, doesn’t change the pres­sure he feels to fol­low up with suc­cess.

“The pres­sure’s al­ways there. It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s Week 1, the Day­tona 500,” he said.

■ Brad Keselowski won the pole for Satur­day night’s race.

Keselowski earned his sec­ond ca­reer pole at Richmond and the 17th of his ca­reer with a lap at 127.185 miles per hour. It will be his 16th top-10 start in 28 races this year, and he’ll be look­ing to match his per­for­mance in 2014 when he won here from the pole po­si­tion.

“The car drove very, very well,” Keselowski said, adding that he didn’t par­tic­i­pate in the two day­time prac­tice ses­sions be­cause the con­di­tions were go­ing to be so dif­fer­ent with the sun not quite so high in the sky. “We’ve had ex­cep­tional short-run speed here the last few times, again this week­end, but then the races seem to be play­ing out with long runs.

“If we can just hold on with the short-run speed we have on the long runs, we’ll be in good shape for this week­end.”

Kevin Har­vick fin­ished sec­ond at 126.559 mph, fol­lowed by Chase El­liott, Busch and Bowyer.

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