Kyle Busch’s hopes to rediscover magic touch at Richmond take big hit in qualifying

RICHMOND, Va. – For a driver with a two-race winning streak, Kyle Busch wasn’t exuding confidence when he took questions from reporters Friday afternoon at Richmond Raceway.

Busch used to own the spring race at Richmond. He won it four straight years from 2009 through 2012. In each of those years, the race fell on or near his May 2 birthday, and Busch was unabashed about gifting himself with the Richmond trophy.

But times have changed, and so have NASCAR rules. In recent years, Busch hasn’t been able to find the edge he enjoyed during his heyday at the .75-mile short track. And with six dry years in the interim, Busch can hardly remember what it feels like to celebrate in Richmond’s Victory Lane.

“The success is almost forgotten it’s been so long ago,” he said. “So we certainly want to get back to our winning ways and doing a better job of being up front and winning here at Richmond. We’re just kind of missing a little bit.

“There were some rule changes years ago that had some things kind of taken away from our camp and things that we were doing that made us a little bit better than our competition.”

Not surprisingly, Busch eyes Kevin Harvick, a three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner this season, as his foremost competition so far this season. In Friday’s opening practice for the Toyota Owners 400 on Saturday (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Harvick posted the best consecutive 10-lap average speed. Busch was fourth.

“Man, I think we’re pretty equal honestly,” Busch said of comparisons between his No. 18 Toyota and Harvick’s No. 4 Ford. “I think I’ve got to give them the notch a little bit. I think they’re a little bit better than we are. I think (Kyle) Larson’s right there as well, too.”

Point taken. Harvick is a three-time winner at Richmond, but he hasn’t been first to the checkered flag since 2013. Larson, on the other hand, won last year’s fall race at Richmond and posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final practice.

Kyle’s shot at winning took a big hit Friday as he struggled in qualifying failing to advance to the second round for the first time since the Texas spring race last season. He’ll start 32nd Saturday.

“We didn’t make a mock-run in practice and we thought the spread would be about three-tenths and (Kevin) Harvick ran a .74 or something like that,” Busch said. “And we ran a .05 and it wasn’t. It was faster than that and we only ran two laps trying to make sure we preserve our tires for later on – deeper into the session. A bunch of those guys ran three laps and obviously we needed that third lap. It would have picked up. For some reason the tire here today, even in race trim, your fastest lap was the seventh lap. It takes a while for everything to come in and we were trying to shortcut it a little bit and didn’t work out for us. So we’ll come from the way far back.”

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