Kyle Busch (sixth) and Denny Hamlin (ninth) were the highest finishing Toyota drivers in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) race at Richmond International Raceway.
Busch and Hamlin both earn spots in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff beginning next Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Busch leads the Chase standings with 2,012 points and Hamlin earned the final ‘wild card’ spot and will start 12th with 2,000 points.
The finish marked Hamlin’s third-straight top-10 finish and the Chesterfield, Va. native’s eighth top-10 in 12 starts at the Virginia short track.
Camry drivers Casey Mears (17th) and Bobby Labonte (20th) also earned top-20 finishes in Saturday’s 400-mile event.
Toyota driver David Reutimann started from the pole and went on to finish 26th following damage to his Camry.
Other Toyota drivers in the field included Martin Truex Jr. (30th), Brian Vickers (33rd), Joey Logano (35th), Kasey Kahne (38th), Michael McDowell (39th) and Joe Nemechek (41st).
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 6th How was your race? “We battled through big adversity, but we made it happen. We got a decent finish out of it. I can’t say enough about all of the guys on this 9-11 tribute scheme, the car that we had tonight. It was fun to race it. I wish we were a little bit better. I felt like we were really good in the beginning of the night and kind of dialed ourselves out a little bit the more the race went there, but got it back there close to the end. Just got used up off the bottom and then fell back a few spots and just rode from there.”
What would it mean to get a good start next week at Chicagoland? “We’ve got to turn a corner here a little bit. Mile-and-a-half stuff, Chicago in particular wasn’t great to us the past couple of years. I’m looking forward to Chicago. I like going there. Just running the Truck race and then we’ll be ready with the Cup race. I think that we’ve got a great team and we’ve got a great leader with Dave Rogers (crew chief) and these guys are excited about it. They don’t get too high and they don’t get too low so we just make sure we keep doing our job and working as hard as we can just digging in and paying attention to details and I think we’ll be alright.”
How were you able to battle back from adversity to earn a top-10 finish tonight? “Well if tonight wasn’t one of those nights, I don’t know what was. We fought through everything it seemed — loose wheel, going to the back, driving back up through there. We got to the top-10. It’s so tough the more and more you get into these races, because guys have worked on their cars to pass cars and once we got back to the top-10 then we came to pit road a little early and got bit by the caution. Just a hard fought battle tonight and certainly we had to battle through more adversity than we would have liked to, but that’s what’s going to make us better. That’s what’s going to make us stronger, so I can’t say enough about all these guys on the 9-11 tribute car tonight. It was fun to drive that thing and I wish we could have got a little bit better there. It seemed like middle part of the race we were down on ourselves and out a little bit trying to free the car up and make it where it would roll the bottom. And then we went back the other way and started tightening it up and got a little bit better, but there at the end those front two guys (Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards) were just flawless. They were flying and we couldn’t keep up with them. Glad to come home and have a decent run here, but when I got used up off the bottom there with the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and fell back to sixth, I just didn’t have enough to get back though there.”
Does it mean anything to you to go into the Chase as the point leader? “Not unless you can’t build on a strong foundation here in the first three or four races. We proved failure in 2008, so we can’t have that again.”
Were guys impatient early in the race? “It seemed like all night guys were impatient. Just guys that seemed to not have anything to lose were just going for broke and certainly that was us too, but I think we were a little smarter about it and we had to battle through. We had a loose wheel, come back from that and then we had a run there through the middle of the race where we were really good and battled up through there and then we came to pit road and had the caution come out as soon as we came down pit road. We just didn’t quite do what we needed to do tonight in order to get a good finish, but still salvaged a sixth. Sixth won’t be bad in the Chase if you can keep doing those but this is one of our best tracks so sixth here kind of doesn’t float very well.”
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 9th What happened early on in the race? “It’s amazing how we were able to battle back. This car is absolutely destroyed. Any other race track we would be down 20 laps, but they just worked on it. Got it off the race track and the splitter is broke off, the hood is broke and it’s just a mess and somehow we salvaged today. It looked like when the 33 (Clint Bowyer) wrecked I checked up, someone hit the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), the 88 hit me and we just pounded the wall. So, right off the bat we knew we were in big trouble. Still had an amazingly fast car.”
How were you able to recover from the early accident? “I mean it was an unbelievable comeback. This car really is destroyed. Shock mounts are all messed up. The splitter is broke off of it. It’s just amazing how fast we got this car considering the circumstances. My pit crew just did an amazing job. That’s all there is to it. They got the splitter somewhat off the racetrack and we were just able to just motor up through there.”
What are your chances for a championship? “Well, everything from here is a bonus. We’re starting last in the Chase, so now we’ve got 11 spots to move up.”
Will a run like this give you some momentum going into the Chase? “I hope so. The plan is to come out of here with a smooth day. It was not smooth by any means, but we just fought hard. Did an amazing job fixing the car. Our car is destroyed. That tells me how fast our car was going to be if we didn’t get in that wreck we would’ve been up there contending for a win but a top-10 in these circumstances, I’ll take it.”
What is your mindset going into the Chase as the ‘wild card’? “I mean, there’s only one place to go from where we’re at right now, and that’s forward. We’re very fortunate to be here, obviously, with the tough season that we’ve had and the ups and downs and the DNFs and what not. It’s kind of a second lease on life for us and our season. Obviously we’re coming into the Chase now with three consecutive top 10s which I’m not sure we’ve done that all year long. We’ve got some momentum. Who knows what’s going to happen next week.”
How will the Chase change with the new points system this year? “Well, I think that track position is a little bit more important this year than it was last year and so on and so forth. It’s just a steadily evolving — these cars, we’re getting them so good now that everyone is so equal. I think that the pit crews and the crew chief has a bigger role in this year’s Chase than what they did in years past. So it’s not all about having the fastest car and the best driver. There’s a big strategy part that plays out in each and every race. It seems like it’s happening more this year than what it has in years past.”
CASEY MEARS, No. 13 GEICO Toyota Camry, Germain Racing Finishing Position: 17th
BOBBY LABONTE, No. 47 Scott Brand Toyota Camry, JTG-Daugherty Racing Finishing Position: 20th
DAVID REUTIMANN, No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing Finishing Position: 26th
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 56 NAPA Brakes Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing Finishing Position: 30th
BRIAN VICKERS, No. 83 Red Bull Toyota Camry, Red Bull Racing Team Finishing Position: 33rd
JOEY LOGANO, No. 20 Home Depot/Celebration of Service Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 35th What happened to take you out of the race? “Something internal, that’s for sure. We weren’t real fast with our Home Depot Toyota. I thought we were going to be a lot better in this race. We’d take off really good for a few laps and then the car just got tight. I thought we were at least going to hang in there for probably a top-15 finish. I just felt the last 20 laps something broke internal and it was running down a cylinder and then eventually it just blew up there on the caution. It’s unfortunate that’s the way it’s going to end here.”
KASEY KAHNE, No. 4 Red Bull Toyota Camry, Red Bull Racing Team Finishing Position: 38th What happened to take you out of the race? “I haven’t seen it. I have no idea. I just know that I was on the outside going into the straightaway and then I just started to turn in and then the 83 (Brian Vickers) hit me pretty hard. Honestly, he got hit by someone else, but I haven’t seen it so I don’t know what exactly happened. It was kind of a weird deal.”
MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 66 HP RACING Toyota Camry, Gunselman Motorsports Finishing Position: 39th
JOE NEMECHEK, No. 87 AM FM Energy Toyota Camry, NEMCO Motorsports Finishing Position: 41st