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David Smith crunches the numbers for the Federated Auto Parts 400
“Momentum” is an overused buzzword in sports. Writers, commentators and athletes are quick to drop it into conversation, but, at best, it’s a myth created to build one’s confidence.
Momentum, as in “With that Atlanta win, Kyle Busch sure has a lot of momentum going into the Chase,” isn’t real. It’s all perception. Momentum doesn’t win NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races; good drivers and teams do. When a team is really good, they are often good at a variety of racetracks. Such is the case with Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing bunch, who everyone should anticipate being good in this weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway. Why? Because he is, quite simply, really good at Richmond.
Brace yourselves for the momentum chatter afterwards, but independent of prior races this season, Busch will be the rabbit after which the masses are attempting to catch on Saturday night.
666 Kyle Busch has led a devilish grand total of 666 laps across the 13 Richmond races in the Gen-5 and Gen-6 eras.
That total amounts to 12.7 percent of all laps, which comes as no surprise for the driver with a serious penchant for leading laps. He leads all drivers in Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) at Richmond with a 5.615 rating, having won four times with his most recent score a lark of sorts in the spring of 2012 after front-runner Carl Edwards was penalized for a restart infraction.
Lark or not, the win served as the highlight of a season in which he failed to make NASCAR’s playoffs. He has already clinched a Chase berth this season. Specifically to this weekend, it’s logical to surmise that if a driver and team can win a race at Richmond in a down year, they can assuredly take home the trophy after the ship has been righted.
Expect Busch to keep that perceived “momentum” going into the Chase. In actuality, he isn’t just a lap-to-lap trailblazer at Richmond, he’s also a more productive finisher than any other driver there. A victory would be in the cards regardless of his team’s recent run of success.
10 The only driver to score 10 top-10 finishes in the last 13 Richmond races is Kevin Harvick, the track’s most recent winner.
Harvick has been beastly at the 0.75-mile, D-shaped track. He has three total Cup victories at Richmond with two coming in the Gen-5/Gen-6 eras. With a 34th-place finish from 2009 omitted, his average finish in the 12 remaining races is 7.9 (a finish deviation of 4.9). He doesn’t need the win per se, but the track falls firmly in his wheelhouse and if his passing prowess (he holds a series-best 54.11 percent pass efficiency) remains intact, he’ll be a contender as the race draws to a conclusion.
23.6 Dating back to the fall race of 2010, Martin Truex Jr. has averaged a 23.6-place finish at Richmond.
Truex’s victory earlier this season at Sonoma might prove pivotal for his Chase-making hopes because the last five races at Richmond were tough sledding for the No. 56 team. Now with a broken wrist, through which he suffered to earn a third-place finish last Sunday night at Atlanta, the typical RIR obstacles become more difficult. His example proves why it’s prudent to win races during the 26-race regular season. Without the victory, he is three spots out of Chase contention and in need of a wild card-punching win that shouldn’t be expected to come at RIR.
-0.173 Greg Biffle’s PEER in 13 Gen-5/Gen-6 era starts at Richmond is a paltry -0.173, ranking 42nd out of 49 drivers with at least four starts.
Biffle and his No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing team, with a better cushion than Truex, are currently ninth in the point standings (and hold one win to their name) and hoping to preserve it for the purposes of making the Chase. If Biffle does his usual Biffle thing at Richmond, though, holding down the automatic Chase invite might prove problematic. In order to clinch a spot outright, he must finish better than ninth; however, he has finished ninth or better just once in the Gen-5/Gen-6 eras. His average finish over the span is 20.1, leading to such a low track-specific production rating.
6.5 The recently replaced Juan Pablo Montoya has averaged a 6.5-place finish in the four races leading up to this weekend’s tilt.
Dating back to Watkins Glen, Montoya has been a high-volume producer with a 6.000 PEER through the four-race span. The “roll” he’s on, which coincides with his job hunt, might continue at Richmond. In April’s race there, he led 67 laps and looked poised to score his first oval-track win before a late caution and pit stop relegated him to a fourth-place finish following a hectic restart. In totality, Montoya is a serviceable producer at Richmond with a 1.500 PEER across the last 13 races.
For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.