RICHMOND, Va. — It’s a fine line Kyle Busch must drive on Saturday night.
It’s filled with many possible wrong turns and no clear path to victory.
In fact, while a victory in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway would ensure his participation in this season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, a win by another driver already locked in the Chase would help Busch’s cause as well.
“There’s definitely never any guarantees you’re going to show up to the race track and win,” said Busch, who holds one of two wild card spots in the Chase.
“You’ve just got to work hard, communicate with your crew chief the best you can and not get too frustrated when things aren’t exactly correct, but yet be determined enough that you can get them fixed and get out there and make the most of your opportunities.”
While Busch has remarkable statistics at Richmond (he has won four of the last seven races), in NASCAR the game is always changing and there are no guarantees of repeated success.
While it is important to keep mindful of your competition – in this case Jeff Gordon is Busch’s nearest challenger for the wild card – teams generally prefer to run their own race.
And while it is true all of Busch’s title hopes rest on the results of this one race, becoming overly obsessed about it can be just as detrimental as not being prepared.
“The guys have a pretty good plan week-in and week-out. You just can’t change things or force things,” said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing.
“We’re in great shape but things happen that are unexpected. Part of it is that preparation of being ready for the unexpected.
“For the most part, though, you we just need to do what we’ve been doing.”
Busch has been competitive all season but a string of three consecutive weeks of engine problems hurt him significantly in points, where he now must rely on a wild card to make the Chase.
Consecutive sixth-place finishes at Bristol, Tenn., and Atlanta have made Busch the highest-ranking driver in points with one Sprint Cup win. Just 12 points, however, separate him from Gordon, also with one win this season.
Gordon battled last weekend at Atlanta with Busch’s JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin, for the win but came up short.
Even Hamlin was aware at the time of the ramifications of a Gordon win.
“I knew how desperate (Gordon) was, but he knew that we could not let him win,” Hamlin said. “There’s just – it was critical for our team to not let Jeff get a win.”
Now, Busch must ensure that one more time.
“I feel OK. I’m not saying I’m for sure going to be in at all. Anything can happen,” he said. “Jeff (Gordon) is no slouch at Richmond, either. He will be fine.
“I feel like he’s the guy we’re racing – the No. 24 car. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out. Jeff could give us a run for our money.”
Even if Busch is among the 12 drivers contending for the championship once Saturday night’s race is over, the next battle awaits.
While he will be seeded either 11th or 12th if he does earn a wild card spot, Busch still believes he and his No. 18 Toyota team can be legitimate title contenders.
“I don’t see any reason as to why we wouldn’t be able to go out there and contend for the championship if we were given the opportunity to make the Chase,” Busch said. “We’ve just got to solidify our chances in Richmond and do everything right.
“Then, from there go on into the final 10 weeks and bust our butts to put together 10 great weeks. There’s no reason why we can’t. I don’t see our competition, nor the way that we’ve been running, as the reason we’re in the 12th position.
“It’s just due to dumb circumstances.”