RICHMOND, Va.—When it comes to lapped traffic in NASCAR racing, Kyle Larson offers some sage advice: Deal with it.
With the current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series aerodynamic package, it has become increasingly difficult for drivers to pass. Add to the equation the discrepancy between the cars of the high-dollar squads at the front of the garage and the teams just making a living, and it’s a recipe for frustration—as was the case for Kyle Busch at Las Vegas when Garrett Smithley was in his line, and Busch ran into the back of Smithley's backmarker.
On a short track such as Richmond, passing won’t be any easier.
“Passing is harder this year, because I think early in the runs, it’s a little easier because you can get the draft going and things like that,” Larson said. “Once it spreads out, we’re all carrying so much throttle, it’s hard to get runs.
“And then you’re also fighting being in traffic and trying to get downforce in your car, and you’ve got less downforce in your car compared to the guy in front of you, compared to how it used to be with the smaller spoiler. When people say it’s harder to pass, it is when it does start to get strung out, where you’re relying on your car rather than the draft.
“Here at Richmond, it’s going to be pretty close to impossible to pass.”
Larson rolls off 13th in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 where he’ll have a much easier task than fellow Playoff driver Joey Logano, who will have to come through traffic from 28th. In 21 starts at the .75-mile track, Logano has never started that far back in the pack.
“I thought we were good in race trim, actually,” said Logano who finished second in the spring at Richmond Raceway. “I thought our speed is good as anybody, so that’s encouraging. We just have to get through the field, which if I stay patient, we should be OK.”
Logano’s even-keel demeanor should help with that challenge. Since joining Team Penske in 2013, Logano has finished outside the top 10 at Richmond twice, but he has also scored two wins and eight top-five finishes in 13 starts.
Penske teammate and polesitter Brad Keselowski agrees that patience is the name of the game.
“If you get long runs, it becomes an easy track to pass at, because the mechanical grip is pretty low,” Keselowski said. “You really have to drive the cars, and the aero grip kind of evens out because everybody is in traffic.
“So on the long runs I think there’s a fair amount of passing, but certainly having the patience and discipline for that to be realized is tough for us as race car drivers.”
Kyle Busch, who led the Toyota contingent in qualifying, rolls off fourth on Saturday. Certainly, “patience and discipline” haven't always been his strong suits.
“No, I’m definitely not very good with frustrating moments,” Busch said. “It’s hard. You pour your life and soul into thi,s and this is what you do and what you want to do and be successful at, and you want to go out here and prove and show people what they all hype up and talk about that.
“Yes, it’s true that I can be one of the best here, and it’s frustrating when I’m not able to come out of races or seasons with the goals that you anticipate or the goals that you think you can achieve. It’s quite frustrating in that regard.”
Still, in this race last year, Busch was able to come from the back of the field after the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry was sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. By Lap 287, Busch took the lead and won the race.
But the new aero package has been a thorn in his side all season long. In the spring, Busch also started the race fourth, won the first stage and finished eighth. After stealing the headlines this week for perfecting his Marshawn Lynch impression at Vegas, a victory—or at least a solid finish on Saturday--could go a long way toward quieting his critics.
“We practiced really, really similar to how we did here in the spring,” Busch said. “We were good when we were out front here in the race, but we had a little bit of trouble passing, so we’ll see if we didn’t make some gains on that.”