I encourage you all to head over to Fronstretch.com and sign up for the free daily newsletter. Here are a few tidbits from Saturday's edition with news and notes from the Richmond International Raceway.
Sprint Cup News and Notes
by Jay Pennell
Can Junior Break The Streak At Richmond?
Sitting third in the standings, Dale Earnhardt Jr. comes into this weekend’s race in Richmond facing a 101-race winless streak that extends back to 2008. With three wins at Richmond, many see this weekend as yet another potential opportunity for the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet to end the winless draught.
However, since his third Richmond win in 2006, Earnhardt Jr. has not fared so well on the 0.75-mile track. Despite battling Kyle Busch for the win in 2008, Earnhardt Jr. has only one top 10 at Richmond in his last nine races. Since contending for the victory in both 2008 races, Earnhardt has gone on to finish 27th, 21st, 32nd and 34th. Not exactly the kind of numbers that would indicate a strong run in the works.
Yet for Earnhardt Jr., these statistics are more indicative of his overall struggles, not just at Richmond.
“I’ve run good at a lot of race tracks in my career, but if you take out the three or four (tracks) that are my best, I struggled at all three or four of them in the last couple years. My last couple years I have struggled every weekend and it’s not a good reflection of how well I can do at this place. Hopefully with the changes we’ve made that seem to be working everywhere else and I hope they work this weekend.”
Even though he has put together two top 5s and five top 10s, Earnhardt Jr. is not ready to celebrate his success.
“I hope I can come into the next race and keep up the consistency and do it again and do it again. I don’t have time to worry about anything else other than to just keep going,” he said. “It’s a lot of pressure to try to keep going and to try to keep up with all the expectations everyone has for you.
“When we accomplish certain goals like winning a race, winning a couple races, or make the Chase, or win a race in the Chase, or battle for the championship – those are the things I can get excited about and get happy with, I’ll enjoy those moments. I’m happy to be consistent, but we still have another step to go.”
Kurt Busch Still Searching For Answers And A-Plus Performances
Through the first eight races of the season, Kurt Busch has been among the frontrunners and sits fifth in the points. Yet despite his strong runs, Busch is still searching for improvement in all areas of his team. Critical of his team, the engineering and their in-race adjustments week-in and week-out, Busch knows if he wants to hoist the Sprint Cup Series trophy at the end of the year it will take A-plus performances and nothing less.
“There are different areas all over the place that you always have to continue to look at and evaluate,” he said. “If we don’t have an “A” or an “A-plus” in that category, we need to work on it.”
Among the things Busch says his team needs to work on heading into the summer stretch is tweaking the chassis to help the front end turn better in the corner. Coming off a championship season in the Nationwide Series with Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing is trying to incorporate some of the same front end technology used on the Nationwide side of things last year into their Cup program this year – with mixed results.
Looking at nearly all areas of the organization, Busch described team owner Roger Penske as using a feather to “polish things here and there.” Through testing, continued work with the engineers, engine builders and pit crew, the goal is to run top 5 each and every week.
“We find improvement all the time, especially these next few weeks with our testing schedule,” Busch said. “We’re going to hit Indianapolis, Gresham Motorsports Park and Road Atlanta. We’ve got three tests in three weeks coming up. We’re just trying to move forward and not sit still. You always have to keep looking, whether it’s front end geometry, whether it’s a road course, getting that forward bite. You name it; we’re out there working hard for it.”
Nationwide Series News and Notes
by Jay Pennell
Chris Buescher Thrust Into Nationwide Debut
When the telephone rang on Thursday and young Chris Buescher was told to grab his stuff and head to the airport, he thought he was in trouble. The 18-year-old Roush Fenway Racing development driver was preparing to run this weekend’s race ARCA race when he was summoned to the Richmond International Raceway to fill in for the ailing Trevor Bayne.
Hospitalized for symptoms from an insect bite following the Texas race, Bayne was suddenly hospitalized again prior to the Richmond race. Struggling with bouts of fatigue and nausea, Bayne is currently being evaluated in a North Carolina hospital as doctors try to find answers. While the thought is the symptoms are a result of the insect bite, nothing has been confirmed.
“Obviously Trevor wanted to be in Richmond and he’s upset about not being able to compete. However, his health is our top priority and we insisted that he have these tests to get to the bottom of his symptoms,” team president Steve Newmark said in a team release Thursday. “We will work to provide you with further updates as they become available.”
Jack Roush said he had not talked to Bayne on Friday, adding he had not put any thought to keeping Buescher in the car past this weekend. Team officials explained they were talking all precautions to ensure Bayne’s health and letting the doctors do what they need to do. According to one team official, Bayne never fully recovered from his initial hospital visit, with the symptoms – fatigue, nausea, etc. – getting worse and worse.
ARCA regular Chris Buescher – the cousin of James Buescher – has been tapped as Bayne’s replacement for the weekend, making his first Nationwide Series start of his career. At only 18 years old, Buescher has only 17 ARCA starts, with two wins last season both coming at the Toledo Speedway.
Preparing to race this weekend in Salem, Buescher suddenly found himself piloting a car he had never driven at a track he had never raced at. The move occurred so fast, Buescher was seen at the track for practice in an apparently borrowed firesuit with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s name on it.
“We planned on running some of the speedways in ARCA this year, and trying to run the full schedule, we’re still going to run Salem tomorrow and Sunday,” he said. “As of two days ago this wasn’t even planned at all. It’s a little earlier than expected, but I’ll take it. I’m excited, a little nervous, but I think it’s a good car and we’ll run good.”
Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and David Ragan express concern for Bayne’s condition, but were confident the Daytona 500 champion would pull through.
“I don’t know exactly what is going on with Trevor,” Edwards said. “I got to know Trevor a little bit like you guys have here lately and he is a real strong young man physically, mentally, emotionally. I think whatever they find out through all of this I am sure he will deal with it better than any of us expect. He is a heck of a guy. We are all behind him 100-percent.”
One of Bayne’s closest friends, fellow driver Michael McDowell would not go into any specifics about Bayne’s condition. Refusing to say whether or not the illness was related to an insect bite, McDowell had a look of concern on his face, but remained steadfast to respect his friend’s privacy.
Buescher finished a solid 17th without incident in Friday's race. For more information, be sure to check out the full interview with Jay Pennell only on Frontstretch.