Richmond Weekend Preview: Kyle Busch in search of first win

Kyle Busch. (Getty Images)

The last two seasons, only seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (10) won more races than Kyle Busch, who visited Victory Lane nine times.

Eight races into the 2017 campaign, Busch is still searching for his first checkered flag.

He’ll be one of the favorites in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway (2 p.m. ET on FOX), a track where he leads active drivers with four victories.

Despite owning the active wins lead at the .75-mile oval, Busch hasn’t won there since 2012.

“We’re hoping to get our M&M’S Camry back to form (at Richmond),” said Busch, who finished second in last year’s Toyota Owners 400 after being shoved from the lead by then-teammate Carl Edwards. “We were very good last spring, but we’d like to get another victory there, for sure.”

In 23 Richmond starts, Busch also claims 15 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. Among active competitors, he boasts the top average finish (7.0) and driver rating (110.8), along with the second-best average running position (7.7) at the Virginia short track.

“I love Richmond,” Bush said. “It’s one of my favorite racetracks and one of my best racetracks. I love being able to go there and, of course, we put on some pretty good races there. We won four spring races in a row and I would have loved to have made it five or more. It’s a neat racetrack and it’s certainly an exciting track and there is a lot of action that happens there.”

Busch hopes Richmond can vault him up the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings. Right now, he ranks 11th – 146 points behind 24-year-old standings leader Kyle Larson.

“(Richmond is) only a three-quarter-mile oval, but it has really high speeds that makes it fun for us drivers and makes excitement that’s fun for a fan,” Busch said. “Martinsville is a short track and it’s slow, but Richmond is pretty quick.”

Hemric poised for Xfinity run

Following a breakout season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Daniel Hemric is beginning to hit his stride in his first NASCAR XFINITY Series campaign.

Last Saturday at Bristol, the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet driver produced a season-best fifth-place finish, grabbed his first stage win, and earned the $100,000 NASCAR XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash bonus.

Daniel Hemric (Getty Images)

Through seven races, Hemric sits fifth in the series standings – 80 points behind leader Elliott Sadler – on the strength of three top-10 finishes. He’ll attempt to build on his strong Bristol showing in Saturday’s ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway (1 p.m. ET on FS1) – a place where he’s never raced.

Hemric is not worried about having to navigate a new track.

“The amount of teammates I have to lean on at Richard Childress Racing is going to be a big advantage for me heading into Richmond,” he said. “A lot of the guys we have inside our shop have run there a lot of times, they have experience in the day races and the night races, and have been a part of that scenario. Looking at the short track race package, we could take what we learned at Phoenix and Bristol and apply it to Richmond. On the backside of that, my wife, Kenzie, ran pretty well at Richmond in the NASCAR K&N Series. I’m going to lean on her for a bit of advice as well and make the most of the weekend.”

A major key to Hemric’s success this season has been his strong qualifying. He has a 10.0 average start and has begun a race lower than eighth only once all season.

“I’ve felt really strong about our short-track package so far this year,” Hemric said. “We’ve never really been that far off, we just have to maximize our speed a little bit differently. We’ve done a good job of having speed off the truck at these places. We have to put ourselves in position, maximize our data and the rest will fall into place.”

Race Weekend Guide

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: Toyota Owners 400

Place: Richmond International Raceway

Date and Time: Sunday, April 30 at 2 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 100), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 200), Final Stage (Ends on lap 400)

What to Watch For: Dale Earnhardt Jr. competes in his first race after announcing his retirement at the conclusion of the 2017 season. … Jimmie Johnson attempts to win his third consecutive race. Another win – the 83rd of his career – will tie him with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time list. … Denny Hamlin goes for his second straight Richmond win. … Standings leader Kyle Larson looks to extend his 27-point advantage over second-place Chase Elliott.

NASCAR XFINITY Series

Race: ToyotaCare 250

Place: Richmond International Raceway

Date and Time: Saturday, April 29 at 1 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 187.5 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 75), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on lap 250)

What to Watch For: Richmond marks the third of four NASCAR XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash races this season. Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric took home the $100,000 bonus in the first two Dash 4 Cash races. … Elliott Sadler attempts to increase his 16-point lead in the standings over his teammate William Byron. … NASCAR Next graduate Kyle Benjamin makes his series debut in the No. 20 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing.

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