NASCAR Barometer: Busch Drives Away in Richmond

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Drives Away in Richmond

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kurt Busch dominated Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led nearly three-quarters of the scheduled laps, and eased away from a charging Kevin Harvick in the final miles to secure his first victory of the season. Joey Logano led just about all of the other laps in Sunday's race, but simply didn't have the handling to keep up with the SHR teammates, and turned his pole-sitting qualifying effort into a fifth-place finish.

After delaying the scheduled start of the race from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon because of rain, the drivers seemed to have more control over their emotions than most other short-track excursions. The race saw long green-flag periods that challenged teams to ensure they made exacting adjustments on pit lane, and any false move spelled a ticket backward in the order. The relatively few cautions favored the faster cars, and four top the top-10 qualifiers filled out the top-5 finishing order. Only Jimmie Johnson worked he way into that tier after starting lower than 10th.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch - Busch had the dominant car in Richmond on Sunday. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led the most laps in any race of his career on Sunday when he extended his lead in the closing laps to win his first race of 2015, and his first since being suspended at the start of the season for off-track issues. Busch has been very fast since his return to the series, and he was confident

Kurt Busch dominated Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led nearly three-quarters of the scheduled laps, and eased away from a charging Kevin Harvick in the final miles to secure his first victory of the season. Joey Logano led just about all of the other laps in Sunday's race, but simply didn't have the handling to keep up with the SHR teammates, and turned his pole-sitting qualifying effort into a fifth-place finish.

After delaying the scheduled start of the race from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon because of rain, the drivers seemed to have more control over their emotions than most other short-track excursions. The race saw long green-flag periods that challenged teams to ensure they made exacting adjustments on pit lane, and any false move spelled a ticket backward in the order. The relatively few cautions favored the faster cars, and four top the top-10 qualifiers filled out the top-5 finishing order. Only Jimmie Johnson worked he way into that tier after starting lower than 10th.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch - Busch had the dominant car in Richmond on Sunday. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led the most laps in any race of his career on Sunday when he extended his lead in the closing laps to win his first race of 2015, and his first since being suspended at the start of the season for off-track issues. Busch has been very fast since his return to the series, and he was confident that as long as he maintained that speed he would put his car in Victory Lane. He did just that on Sunday. Next week he looks forward to Talladega, where he is one of the better drivers on restrictor-plate racetracks. Busch has never won at the Alabama track, though.

Joey Logano -
Logano leapt to the lead from the pole when the green flag finally waved for the Toyota Owners 400. He led every single lap until the competition caution at lap 50. Things weren't meant to be for the No. 22, though. Logano simply didn't have the equipment to keep up with the speed of the Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, and was forced to battle for a top-5 finish instead. Sunday's result was Logano's third top-5 in the last four races, making him look like a championship favorite more and more each week. Logano has yet to win at Talladega, but was a force to be reckoned with in Daytona. The Penske driver has two top-5s and four top-10s from 12 career starts at the Alabama superspeedway.

Kevin Harvick -
Harvick may have had an opportunity to reel in and pass Busch had there been more laps remaining in Sunday's event. There was just too much distance between Busch and Harvick in the closing laps on Sunday, though. Harvick settled for a second-place finish, which marked his return to the top 10 after last week's crash in Bristol. Harvick can't be too concerned with an off week, though. The defending champion continues to be the favorite just about every week, and it would be somewhat of a surprise if he weren't again this week in Alabama. Harvick has a Talladega win from 2010 along with consecutive top-10 finishes in the most recent two races there. Harvick should be one of the top contenders again this week.

Jamie McMurray -
McMurray finished Sunday's race in Richmond in the top-5, his third top-10 finish in the last four races. Had circumstances played out just a little differently, he may have found himself in Victory Lane. The team will take Sunday's top result, though. It wasn't too many seasons ago when McMurray was struggling just to score top-20 finishes. The team is definitely back on song, and looking likely to strike a victory in the near term. That win could come this week. McMurray already has two Talladega wins to his credit. He is strong when the cars are fitted with restrictor plates, and should be one of the top drafters this coming week. Fantasy players should expect a top performance from the No. 1 this weekend.

Clint Bowyer -
Has Bowyer finally gotten the monkey off of his back? The Michael Waltrip Racing driver put together two weeks of respectable performances, scoring consecutive top-15 finishes. Sunday's Richmond finish of ninth was Bowyer's best finish since the season-opening Daytona 500. The finish will mean big things for this team as they search for a way back to the top of the order. Bowyer has built momentum at the perfect time to head to Talladega, a place where he and his MWR machinery can be counted among the best. Bowyer has two Talladega wins to his credit, and an average finish of 14.4. Bowyer should be one to count on again this week.

DOWNGRADE

Tony Stewart - After a decent result in Bristol Stewart was unable to repeat again in Richmond. The owner/driver admitted that this new generation of car with less horsepower was challenging him, and his spin on Sunday added more misery to his disappointing season. The former champion was credited with a 41st-place finish when all was said and done in Richmond. Another week to resurrect his hopes will come as a blessing for him. He needs something to break his direction. Stewart has been to Talladega 31 times, picking up a win, nine top-5s, and 13 top-10s. His average finish at the track is 17.6. Talladega should mask Stewart's issues with the car, but his confidence is low.

Danica Patrick -
Patrick was turned sideways twice before Sunday's race completed half of the scheduled distance. She was turned once on track, then narrowly missed another spinning car, and was then tagged by Clint Bowyer on pit road. The early-race excitement was certainly more than she bargained for. She never fully recovered, and was forced to battle in the middle of the traffic throughout the afternoon. Her efforts only amounted to a 25th-place finish, which was her worst since Phoenix. Patrick has been showing improvement, but has it all to do in Talladega. Of her four career starts at the track, she has zero top finishes and an average result of 26.8. She is getting better, but not enough to count on every week.

David Ragan -
The clock is ticking on Ragan's opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing. The veteran driver was tapped to replace the injured Kyle Busch, but Gibbs has already said that he would like to see Erik Jones in the car before Busch's return. How many more races will Ragan have in what may be his best ever machine in the series? Rumors suggest he may find another substitute role at Michael Waltrip Racing for Brian Vickers, but he will want to do well for Gibbs first. Ragan finished 23rd on Sunday, making his third consecutive finish outside of the top 10. The pressure is building, and time is limited. Talladega could be a spot for him to really show his mettle, but will the stress overcome him?

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin sat out the majority of the Bristol race two weeks ago with a muscle spasm, but started off his weekend in Richmond with a dominating performance in the Xfinity Series. When the biggest prize of the weekend was on tap Sunday, however, he faltered. Hamlin struggled throughout Sunday's race, and rolled to a disappointing 22nd-place finish. While he has a win in the bag, Hamlin has been locked out of the top-10 since he won in Martinsville. In fact, aside from that win, Hamlin only has two other top-5 finishes to his credit this season. There have been five races where he has finished worse than 20th, too. Fantasy players are right to question Hamlin's commitment, and he needs to rediscover his consistency.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Chase Elliott - Elliott drove a very mature race in Richmond on Sunday, gathering experience before he takes over the wheel from Jeff Gordon in 2016. Elliott is a champion in his own right, and could be the future of the sport. The young second-generation driver drove a consistent race on Sunday, coming home in 16th position. The effort was Elliott's second Sprint Cup effort, and he significantly improved his finish from Martinsville where he finished 38th. Elliott certainly has a long road to travel, but his early talent shows signs that he could be one of the stars of the future. The action he sees in 2015 will pay dividends in 2016, and entering the pinnacle of the sport with Hendrick Motorsports could mean great things.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
NASCAR Barometer:  Daniel Suarez Wins Photo Finish in Atlanta
NASCAR Barometer: Daniel Suarez Wins Photo Finish in Atlanta
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Ambetter Health 400
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Ambetter Health 400
NASCAR DFS:  Ambetter Health 400
NASCAR DFS: Ambetter Health 400
NASCAR DFS Trucks: Fr8 208
NASCAR DFS Trucks: Fr8 208