It was the first race of the 10-race NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, and defending champion Kyle Busch and his M&M’S team began their quest for their third championship Sunday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway with a seventh-place finish.
While a solid top-10 is a good start, the final result didn’t nearly tell the story of the race for Busch and his No. 18 team. The M&M’S driver looked to be headed for at least a runner-up finish when an untimely caution during a late-race pit cycle caused him to start farther back in the top-10. With track position so precious and no other caution to bunch up the field, the defending Cup Series champion fought hard for a seventh-place finish and now sits 10th in the playoff standings following the first of three playoff races in the Round of 16.
The good news for Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is that the two remaining races in this opening round of the playoffs are two of his favorites – Richmond (Va.) Raceway and Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Busch has a combined 14 wins at those two tracks so, when he says both tracks are favorites, his success at both backs it up.
Saturday night’s 400-mile race at Richmond is, oddly enough, the first race this season at the .75-mile short track. The revamped schedule resulting from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic shifted Richmond’s traditional spring date to Darlington. Not surprisingly, Busch is chomping at the bit to get back to Richmond, where he has his best average finish of any track on the current schedule.
A quick look at Busch’s Cup Series statistics at Richmond shows six career victories – most among active drivers. In addition to those six career wins, Busch’s Richmond stat sheet shows 18 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s in 29 career starts, making him the most consistent active driver at the track.
The Las Vegas native also leads all active drivers in average finishing position at Richmond – 6.8. Next best is Kevin Harvick’s average finish of 7.9. Busch has completed all but one of the 11,629 laps available to him in his 29 Richmond starts. Of those, Busch has run in the top-15 for 10,347 laps, or 89 percent, which ranks second among active drivers.
Also, four of Busch’s six career Richmond wins came in consecutive spring races from 2009 to 2012, besting Richard Petty’s previous record of three Richmond spring-race wins in a row from 1971 to 1973. Busch’s other two Richmond wins came in a sweep of both races there in 2018. With his impressive statistics and records to back him up, it’s little wonder that a visit to Richmond is one of Busch’s favorite stops on the NASCAR tour.
So, as the series heads back to the “Capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia” for the second playoff race of 2020, Busch and the M&M’S team look to bring home their seventh win there. Whether or not they make it back to victory lane, history has shown they’ll have a great shot at it and clinch a spot in the next playoff round.