It doesn’t matter if it’s Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association or the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing – it’s good to be hot when the playoffs start.
Football’s 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2010 Green Bay Packers were the lowest seeds, but won the Super Bowl. Hockey’s Los Angeles Kings were the lowest seed in the 2012 playoffs but won the Stanley Cup.
Who can forget baseball’s Miracle Mets of New York who in 1969 won 24 of their last 32 games in the regular season and beat the Baltimore Orioles four games to one to win the World Series.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has one win and is 13th in points with one race remaining until NASCAR’s 10-race playoffs start next week at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. But he is coming off back-to-back top-five finishes after placing fifth at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and third last weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
He hasn’t finished lower than 13th in his last five races and has three top-10s. And Busch is hoping to have another successful event in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
In 33 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Richmond, Busch owns a pair of victories. The first came in September 2005, when he started fifth and led 185 laps along the way. Busch scored his second Richmond victory in April 2015 driving an SHR-prepared racecar.
He turned in a dominating performance, leading six times for a race-high 291 laps and holding off his teammate Kevin Harvick, to score his first win of the 2015 NASCAR Cup Series season at Richmond. In addition to his success in NASCAR’s top touring series, Busch also has a NASCAR Xfinity Series win at the .75-mile track, scoring the victory in April 2012.
But Richmond has been a bit fickle for Busch, who has had a handful of races in which he flirted with additional victories but wound up with less-than-stellar results. It was a trend the Las Vegas native changed, however, in the spring Richmond race just two years ago when he was finally able to take advantage of a dominant racecar and found his way to victory lane once again.
Busch is hoping he and the Haas Automation/Monster Energy team are ready for the 10-race playoffs that will determine the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Why do you like racing at Richmond so much, and why do you think it suits your driving style?
“There are things you have to do on a short track to work on conserving the tires. Also, making sure you are good on the short run, making sure you are good on the long run, because restarts have become so much more important over the last couple of years. You don’t know if you are going to have a long run to finish the race or if you are going to have short run. You’ve just got to be ready for everything and, it seems like, at the short tracks, the preferred lane on restarts is becoming more and more important. You hope you are on the inside lane when it comes down to one of the final few restarts and, that way, you are able to gain positions instead of having to be on the defense. Richmond is a fun track. They used to call it the action track. That was when the groove would widen out and get to two, three lanes wide. We always hope to get back to that and it’s a matter of finding the right tire and the right downforce combination to allow the cars to race competitively, side-by-side, in safe situations. That is what we want to do – put on a good show.”
What is the hardest thing to figure out at Richmond?
“For me, it’s turn four. The races I’ve won there, I had a good car on the exit of turn four. Races I’ve lost or ran poorly, my exit of turn four wasn’t that good. It’s really a tough corner to get good traction put down.”
The playoffs start next week. Your thoughts on the playoffs?
“We’ve had a couple of good runs but, still, we’ve got 11 weeks ahead of us. We treated last weekend like it was the playoffs. Richmond will be the same thing this week.”