Kyle Busch looking to bounce back by defending at Richmond

LAT Images #18: Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry M&M’s Hazelnut

After a couple challenging weeks behind the wheel, Kyle Busch welcomes the opportunity to restore his Playoff course this week at Richmond Raceway, where he is the defending race winner. The Monster Energy Series Regular Season Champion has suffered back-to-back rough outings in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – a season-worst 37th-place finish at Indianapolis two weeks ago and a 19th place in the Las Vegas Playoff opener last week.

Although Busch’s work this season earned him the top ranking to start the Playoffs, the tough luck at his home track of Las Vegas has now dropped him to fourth in the standings – 19 points behind the points leader, his JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. It’s the lowest Busch has been ranked since the first Las Vegas race of the season, when he was also fourth in the standings. The upside for the 2015 Monster Energy Series champion is that he led the points for 14 weeks. And he leads the Monster Energy Series with six victories at this week’s venue, Richmond Raceway.

Busch swept both Richmond races in 2018 and is coming off an eighth-place finish at the track in April. He has top-10 finishes in eight of the last 10 races. And he is one of only four active drivers to win a Richmond race from the pole position (2010). He has the best average finish (7.0) in the field since 2005 and boasts the second-best driving rating – 110.2, compared to Kevin Harvick’s series-best 110.4.

Since 2005, Busch has a series best 17 top-five finishes in 28 starts at Richmond – 60 percent of the time he finishes in the top five. His six career wins is twice that of any driver in this week’s field. His victory in May 2018, from the 32nd starting position is the farthest on the grid a race winner has started in the track’s 126-race history.

Busch’s four wins this season have come at ISM Raceway, Auto Club Speedway, Bristol-1 and Pocono-1 – however that last win was June 2. He’s been runner-up at Sonoma and Kentucky since then.

The good news for Busch is that both his 13 top-five and 21 top-10 efforts are tops in the series. And the 15 bonus points Busch earned for winning the regular season title carry over to the next Playoff round.

“It’s kind of an insurance policy,’’ Busch said. “We all pay for insurance to hopefully never have to use it, but it’s there just in case.

“For us, we’ve done a great job of being able to build those points up throughout the regular season and it’s nice to be able to have that point structure in place to kind of give you the opportunity to have your early season success help you through the postseason. I think it’s the most-fair structure that we’ve had through the Playoff era.’’

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