BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Busch was in the race Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, so of course, he won.
Busch grabbed his third Cup win of the season, eighth overall at Bristol, and 10th this year spanning all three of NASCAR’s national series. He beat his older brother, who said if given the chance in Sunday’s race, he’d have wrecked him so that Kurt Busch was the one celebrating in victory lane.
“He told me in victory lane and I told him ‘You can’t tell people you’re going to wreck them before you do it because when roles are reversed that person is going to wreck you because you already told them you were going to wreck them,’” Kyle Busch said. “So I guess if I’m ever running second to Kurt, I’m going to wreck him. I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way.”
The Busch brothers lined up side-by-side on the final restart, but Kurt Busch had nothing to slow Kyle Busch’s steamrolling of the competition this year. They’d inherited the lead as the first in line not to pit for tires during the 11th caution, and it set up a final shootout between Bristol’s two winningest active drivers.
“He gave it one hell of a fight,” Kyle Busch said. “Busch and Bristol, sounds familiar.”
Kurt Busch is a six-time winner at the .533-mile high-banked oval and lamented the loss over the P.A. system. When he said he would have wrecked Kyle Busch, the crowd roared and affirmed Kurt Busch’s frustration with the final results. He’s emerged as the top driver in the winless Chevrolet camp with seven finishes of 12th or higher in his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing.
“That one is tough. I really wanted to beat him. I was going to wreck him,” Kurt Busch said. “Figure he could give a little love to his brother. I wanted that one bad. Feel like him right now — I’m all mad because I didn’t win.”
The wins go to Kyle Busch, seemingly all the time this season, in anything he drives. Along with teammate Denny Hamlin, they’ve given Joe Gibbs Racing five wins through the first eight races. If a Gibbs car doesn’t win, then a Ford from Team Penske has, and that organization has the other three Cup victories this year.
The win was probably going to go to either Penske driver Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano until a late caution forced teams to choose. They could go in for tires or stay on track and try to maintain their position for the final 13 laps. The leaders — Logano and Keselowski — went to pit road, while Busch and his big brother moved to the front of the field.
“It was a no brainer for us,” said crew chief Adam Stevens. “We were just going to take our chances. I didn’t think we would inherit the lead. That made it a little bit easier on us.”
The pit strategy set up the storybook final ending to a weekend spent honoring Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, the all-time winningest driver at Bristol with 12 victories. He used this venue to announce he’ll retire as Fox Sports’ lead analyst after 19 seasons, and his success at making the concrete jungle his playground was celebrated as Waltrip waved the green flag to start the race. Waltrip also was wired by the network to give his trademark “Boogity! Boogity! Boogity! Let’s go racing, boys!” call from the flagstand.
But Waltrip, an unapologetic Kyle Busch fanatic, barely had time to catch his breath before an accident on the second lap brought action to a halt. Caught up in the commotion? Kyle Busch, who had a damaged Toyota that sent him to pit road for repairs.
Team owner Joe Gibbs saw Busch spinning and thought, “Oh, my gosh, our day is going to end early.”
“I think with Adam and Kyle, they have a way of fighting through adversity,” Gibbs said. “Adam told Kyle right off the bat ‘Hey, the car is not really hurt.’ I think it probably took something away from the car, but they just did a great job fighting all day.”
Because what was once Waltrip’s domain now belongs to Kyle Busch, and not much can stop him these days, especially at Bristol.
So it was fitting, then, that he found himself out front in an entertaining, old-fashioned Bristol barnburner. The race had 11 cautions, 21 lead changes and the 47 green-flag passes for the lead were the most since NASCAR began tracking that statistic in 2005.
The race also had a very familiar face in victory lane.
Kyle Busch and his brother have combined to win the last four Cup races at Bristol, and Kyle Busch has 22 total wins at the track. But success is measured in the Cup Series, and Kyle Busch has trophies to collect to catch Waltrip.
“It ain’t 12, that’s for sure. So I got more to go. We’re getting there,” Kyle Busch said.
Kevin Harvick’s car failed inspection three times before the start of the race to draw race-crippling penalties. NASCAR ejected his engineer from the event, forced Harvick to give up his 13th-place starting spot and drop to the back of the field and serve a pass-thru penalty at the start. It was certain to drop him several laps behind the leader immediately, but a caution on the second lap of the race as Harvick was on pit road mitigated the damage.
Harvick had a myriad of issues during the race and at one point dropped four laps behind the leader, but he had scrambled to the lead lap for the final restart and managed to finish 13th — exactly where he would have started if his car had not failed inspection.
Aric Almirola’s race lasted just two laps before William Byron wiggled into him and sent Almirola’s car into the wall. The damage ensured him a last-place finish after starting sixth.
Almirola chalked the incident up to second-year Cup driver Byron’s inexperience and potential “panic” when cars began to pass him at the start of the race. Byron started second on the front row.
“He spun his tires on the start … and he just lost it,” Almirola said. “He got loose underneath me, lost it and ran right into the side of us and wrecked us. Part of that comes with experience, I guess.”
Another short track, Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. Kyle Busch won last year in a streak of three consecutive Cup victories.
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