Busch's Richmond success bolsters hopes

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
2:03
PM ET

AP Photo/Russell LaBounty
Kyle Busch won earlier this season at Richmond, his fourth win in the last seven races at the track. Busch enters the Chase cutoff race with a 12-point lead over Jeff Gordon for the final Chase spot.

With just one race remaining until the field is set for the Chase for the NASCAR sprint Cup, plenty of big names are still looking to punch their tickets to the field.

The top nine drivers in the Sprint Cup Series standings have locked themselves into the top 10 in points. Tenth-place Tony Stewart is guaranteed at least a Wild Card berth, and Kasey Kahne has all but locked up one of the Wild Card spots.

That leaves just one Wild Card spot, with drivers like Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman fighting for the final berth. Busch enters Saturday’s race with a 12-point advantage over Gordon, but those two, along with Newman, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano, could all likely make the Chase with a win.

But the race is at Richmond, and that plays right to Kyle Busch’s strengths.

Busch has won four of the last seven Sprint Cup Series races held at the “Action Track,” including the race earlier this season. Those four victories in just 15 races leave him already seventh all-time in wins at Richmond. To compare, Richard Petty is the record holder with 13 Richmond wins, but he did so in 63 starts.

Even when Busch doesn’t win at Richmond, he’s still a force to be reckoned with. Busch has finished sixth or better in each of the last seven Richmond races, and in 13 of his 15 career starts at the track, giving him a 4.7 career average finish there.

Among drivers with at least five career Richmond starts, nobody has a better average finish than Busch’s mark, just ahead of Hall of Famer Lee Petty’s 4.9.

In NASCAR Cup Series history, only two drivers have averaged better than a fifth-place finish at a single track with a minimum of 15 starts at the track: Busch at Richmond, and Cale Yarborough at Nashville, with a 4.67 mark just ahead of Busch’s 4.73.

Busch’s biggest obstacle to racing his way into the Chase might be the calendar.

In 87 career Sprint Cup starts in September-November, Busch has just two wins, both coming in 2005 for his first two career wins, for a 2.3 career winning percentage in those months. To compare, Busch’s win percentage for the rest of the season is 11.3.

All four of his Richmond wins have also come in the spring race at the track, and all three of his career finishes outside the top five at Richmond have come in the September race there.

But history is on Busch’s side to maintain his Chase spot.

In the last five seasons, only one driver has raced his way into the Chase field in the “regular season” finale, that being Brian Vickers in 2009, who knocked out Matt Kenseth and held off Kyle Busch at Richmond.
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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