RICHMOND, VA. - In a season where Kyle Busch is struggling — by his standards — in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, a date with Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night is like a very early Christmas gift.
Busch has no wins and only one top five finish in eight NASCAR Sprint Cup races so far this season. He sits back in 13th spot in the championship, 94 points behind leader Greg Biffle.
He admits that he has had trouble finding his zone so far in 2012, something that hasn’t happened much in his seven-year Cup career.
“We haven’t had the runs that we are looking for quite yet,” he said Thursday. “I’ve been missing a little bit of comfort in our cars, but I feel like we’re slowly gaining it back.
“I look for a certain feel in the car and we just haven’t quite hit on it, yet. We’ve kept working at making that better. We’ve been working hard at gaining some spots in the points. We’ve got some really good racetracks for us coming up, so I feel confident in the progress that I have made.”
But if there is an event where he can turn his season around it is the Capital Cities/Virginia Is For Lovers 400 at the three-quarter mile oval at Richmond.
Busch is a back-to-back-to-back defending spring race champion at RIR and he won each of those three races in dominating fashion.
Even when he is not winning in the Virginia state capital Busch always seems to bring his Toyota home with a good finish as witnessed by his four second-place finishes and 11 top-fives in 14 career Cup starts.
“I’m not sure exactly what it is about Richmond that fits my style,” Busch said. “When I first came here in the Trucks I was terrible and then they repaved the place and then I came here in a Nationwide car with Hendrick Motorsports and pulled off a win right away.
“It’s been a good track for me ever since then with both the Nationwide and the Cup Series and I have just taken a liking to it.”
It also helps that he can share information with JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, who is also no slouch at RIR with a pair of wins and six top-five finishes in the No. 11 Toyota.
Busch admits the information he gets from Hamlin has been a big part of his success.
“I think a lot of it comes from Denny,” Busch said. “Denny and I really feed off each other an awful lot in Richmond. We use each other a ton 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 that we both know what it takes to get around and we’re both similar to one another that we both run well.”
Busch said one of the things he likes about Richmond in that even though it is a short track, it has loads of speed with the progressive banking, making it a true driver’s track.
“You have to be so technical,” he said. “The speeds are really high, but yet it’s a short track. You really have to be on top of your game to be sure that the car stays under you.”
The secret to his success, Busch said, is being able to save his brakes and at the same time have a set up that keeps him from too much fender bending with the other 42 cars on the track.
“You try to be easy on the brakes getting in (the corners) so you don’t lock up or get too loose,” he said. “It’s really particular there. The centre (of the corner) always seems to be a little tight with these cars.
“And the exit has been so loose. Nobody has any forward bite coming up off the corner, so it’s pretty bad. That should make for a pretty interesting race.
“It’s a fun short track. It’s pretty fast and it usually spreads out, and you’ll get a lot of grooves to choose from. You can pretty much count on the usual exciting short-track race when you go there.”
X-GAMES HERO MAKES NASCAR DEBUT
Travis Pastrana will make his long awaited NASCAR Nationwide Series debut Friday night in the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond International Raceway driving the No. 99 RAB Racing Toyota.
Pastrana, a huge star in the action sports arena, was to start last year at Richmond but suffered a badly broken leg driving a rally car in the 2011 X-Games in Los Angeles.
This season he has been racing in NASCAR’s developmental K&N Pro Series, something he said opened his eyes to what it will take him to win in Nationwide.
“I’ve gotten my butt kicked by literally 15-, 17-, 18-year-old kids on a weekly basis, so there’s definitely a lot of young talent coming up,” Pastrana said Thursday. “I’m super excited to learn the ropes.”
Part of that, he admits, is getting seat time in the bigger, faster Nationwide cars and, more importantly control the natural aggressiveness that made him a huge X-Games hero.
“It’s just a matter of getting out there, not getting in trouble, but still trying to be aggressive and not just getting taken advantage of in the first couple of laps,” Pastrana said. “I think for me, it’s going to be wanting to get aggressive and go as I’ve always done, but at the same time think don’t crash, don’t make a fool of yourself and don’t cause any trouble.
“My goal is to stay and be on that lead lap in the end. If we can do that and not crash, it would really set a lot of confidence for me going into (his next start).”