What a difference a year makes.
Kyle Busch didn’t qualify for the Chase in 2012. Now, he’ll enter this year’s postseason as no worse than the No. 3 seed among 12 drivers pursuing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Busch’s fourth victory of the year in Atlanta gives the Las Vegas native at least 12 bonus points when standings are reset following Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond.
Each Chase qualifier starts the postseason with a base of 2,000 points. Drivers finishing among the top 10 also receive three points per victory during the regular campaign.
Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Dave Rogers, disappointed that the No. 18 Toyota failed to make the Chase, competed as if they were among the final 12 teams.
“We missed the Chase but we didn’t give up. We didn’t just ‘lame duck’ the rest of the year and ride around,” Busch said of last year’s final 10 races. “We actually worked hard and pushed ourselves to be better. I think we did a good job of learning … what we could do and learning how we can contend and compete and that’s what we need to focus on this year is doing some of those same things.”
Busch is a four-time Richmond winner and ranks first in average finish (6.5) in the most recent 17 races at the 0.75-mile short track.
Matt Kenseth is the provisional top seed based upon his five victories in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is making the most of his first season with JGR winning at Las Vegas, Kansas, Darlington, Kentucky and – most recently – at Bristol.
Kenseth has led 16 of the season’s first 25 races including 140 in Richmond’s spring event en route to a finish of seventh.
Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson currently holds the No. 2 seed with four wins and a ranking of first in regular season points. Johnson’s momentum, however, has stalled during the past month with finishes of 28th, 36th and 40th in his past three starts.
Kevin Harvick is the remaining Chase qualifier with multiple victories (two). Carl Edwards has a single victory. Clint Bowyer is the only Chase-qualified competitor without a win in 2013.