RICHMOND, Va. -- You would have thought Kurt Busch would have been elated at his third-place qualifying effort for Saturday's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.
After all, in the previous two races -- at Texas and Bristol -- Busch had failed to advance past the first round under the knockout format. He started those races 30th and 27th, respectively.
But in the first round of time trials on Friday, the driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet posted the fastest lap of the day at 125.815 mph before securing the third spot in the final round.
But was Busch overjoyed at his performance? Not outwardly, at least.
"I thought it was three good runs," Busch said matter-of-factly. "The car had a good bit of rear grip to it, which has been our struggle, so I'm really happy that (Friday's) practice run and the qualifying runs showed us that the car's got the grip level. Now we just need to make sure the balance stays with it.
"We're just trying to be more consistent and not have any weak areas. And I think the changes they made, we're trying to adjust to the weaker areas. So that should help us."
Busch's average qualifying position this year is 20.1, but he has picked up on average 11.5 spots during the races, heading into Richmond. Busch's average finish of 8.6 is significantly better than his career average of 16.3.
GOODYEAR UNVEILS CHARLOTTE SIDEWALL HONORING FALLEN HEROES
On Saturday afternoon outside the Richmond Raceway media center, Stu Grant, Goodyear's general manager of worldwide racing, unveiled a special sidewall that all Goodyear tires will display for the Charlotte races on Memorial Day weekend.
This is the 10th year Goodyear will replace its familiar "Eagle" branding with an inscription honoring the United States military and fallen heroes. This year's tires will display the lettering "Honor and Remember," a national Virginia-based organization whose mission is to "perpetually recognize the sacrifice of America's military fallen service members and their families."
"Goodyear and the military have always had a strong association," Grant said.
"We supply ground tires for a lot of military vehicles. We supply aircraft tires to a lot of military aircraft around the world. We've got programs to supply this kind of consumer tires to military bases around the world, and we've got a corporate initiative to hire veterans.
"Supporting the military is one thing, but what we want to do is also to support the fallen. That's why we're partnering up with Honor and Remember. They're a terrific organization. They recognize the fallen, but in addition, they recognize the families of the fallen with a positive message."
--Honorary pace car driver Ronde Barber, a former Pro Bowl defensive back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said Friday at Richmond Raceway that his identical twin and ex-New York Giants running back Tiki Barber could beat him in a foot race.
"Back in the day, Tiki was always a little bit faster than me," Ronde said. "He's turned into a marathoner. He's like Jimmie (Johnson). He runs the New York Marathon. I think he's going to Paris to run a marathon. So I don't think that I can outrun him. However, he drives around New York with a bunch of big SUVs or whatever. I have the sports cars at my house. So I think I'm the better driver."
--Eight cars, including those of second-place qualifier Erik Jones and three-time Richmond winner Denny Hamlin, failed post-qualifying inspection on Saturday and had their times disallowed. Joining Jones and Hamlin at the rear of the field were Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Gase, Chase Elliott and Matt Tifft.
The cars of Elliott, Hamlin and Tifft all failed twice, and their teams suffered the additional penalty of the ejection of a crew member from the track. With the demotion of Jones, Kurt Busch earned the outside-front-row starting position next to pole winner Kevin Harvick.
--By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.