- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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Can anyone stop Kevin Harvick at Richmond International Raceway? No one's been able to the past three Busch Series races there, and Harvick will look for his fourth straight win at the Virginia track in Friday night's Circuit City 250.
If he gets the job done, no one will be able to accuse Harvick of taking the easy road to Victory Lane. Instead of jumping back behind the wheel of Richard Childress Racing's No. 21 Chevrolet, he'll be looking to take a team he co-owns, with his wife DeLana, to the front at a non-restrictor-plate track.
Bobby Labonte won in the No.77 Chevrolet last week at Talladega and Tony Stewart has won twice at Daytona in the No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. entry, but the team hasn't won anyplace else. And Harvick has never won a Busch race in one of his own cars.
If Harvick's able to change that, he'll break a deadlock with Harry Gant for the most consecutive Busch Series wins at RIR.
"I don't think there is any added pressure," Harvick said. "Any time I get in a race car I get in to win. I'm not really superstitious, so breaking records and things like that don't get to me. I just go drive and do the best that I can.
"If we were able to win four in a row, it would be really special because it would come in a KHI car. I've never won in one of my own Busch cars and that would definitely be special to me."
Edwards is the last driver to have reached Victory Lane before Harvick started his run, as Edwards and Elliott Sadler battled to the finish in May 2005. This year, Edwards is running away with the standings and is having a blast.
"To me it's really fun over there. We're doing great and everything is going well," said Edwards, who leads Harvick by 433 points.
Considering Harvick isn't running a full Busch Series schedule this year, Edwards' lead over the next full-time driver, Dave Blaney, is 496 points.
"The team is having a blast and when I walk over there and get in that car I've got a smile on my face and, to me, that's what it's all about," he said. "If you can have that much fun racing, you've got the world beat."
The commanding lead has greatly lessened the pressure Edwards feels when he's in the Busch car.
"It makes it really fun because when you run fifth like we did at Phoenix, you still think about it being a good points day and moving forward," Edwards said. "When you're having a good points race or you're doing well in the points, it's like you've got an extra card in your pocket. It's always nice, so if your day is mediocre, that kind of helps."
Kyle Busch's days have largely been anything but mediocre in the series, as he's run up front more often than not. A win, however, has eluded the driver and he wound up on his roof at Talladega before his car went rolling along the grass.
It's a clip that will long be on the highlight reel along with his last-lap crash at Las Vegas while trying to beat Jeff Burton. Busch Gardens is among his sponsors this weekend and that at least lightened the mood a little for a driver with every right to be frustrated.
"I've always loved roller coasters," Busch said. "They get your adrenaline flowing. It's kind of like being in the race car. ... Hopefully sometime this year I'll get a chance to check out some of the coasters they have at the parks. I don't know if they can compare to what I went through in Talladega, but I'm sure they'll be more fun."
For Hamlin, the pressure at Richmond is largely self-imposed. He tries harder than usual at the track, if that's possible, though he hopes a different approach this year will positively affect the outcome.
"I know it's not just another race for me," Hamlin said. "When I go to Richmond, there's definitely a lot more pressure. I'm constantly looking in the stands at the people cheering me on and that means a lot to me.
"I take a lot of pride in trying to run well there because I spent so many years watching from there. When I do have a good run there, it means just a little bit more there than it does anywhere else."
And in an attempt to have a pair of good runs at the track this weekend, Hamlin's changing his approach.
"In the past, I really spent a lot of time doing appearances and seeing a lot of people during race week," he said. "[This year] we're clearing the schedule and taking the time to relax. I think that will probably make me better on race day.
"When you see everyone and you shake hands and you take care of this person or that person, it takes a little bit of your concentration. So I think taking the approach of relaxing and doing my business there, I think we'll run better."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.
Kevin Harvick's favorite track? In the Busch Series, it's got to be Richmond International Raceway, where Harvick guns for his fourth consecutive victory Friday, writes Mark Ashenfelter.