In a race fraught with tension, and with a pack of drivers with desperate agendas chasing him to the finish line, Kyle Busch held off Erik Jones to complete a sweep of all-three NASCAR touring series with Saturday night’s keystone victory in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series main event at the 0.533-mile concrete track, Busch capped a week that saw him win Wednesday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event and Friday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race.
Having accomplished the same feat at Bristol in 2010, Busch was the only driver in NASCAR history to achieve the three-series sweep in the same week at the same track. Now he’s the only driver to have done it twice.
Dicing through traffic on the final 79-lap green-flag run, Busch crossed the finish line 1.422 seconds ahead of Jones, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, who will join the race winner as a teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing next year.
“Man, Erik Jones put up a whale of a fight,” said Busch, who won for the second time this season, the sixth time at Bristol (most among active drivers) and the 40th time in his career. “That’s all I had. I was running with my tongue hanging out. My arms were Jello and my throat hurts, but man that’s awesome.”
“Can’t say enough about everybody on my Joe Gibbs Racing team. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and the guys are phenomenal. Car might not have been perfect, but I’m never perfect. I never feel like we’re perfect, but this Caramel Camry was fast. So proud of these guys, so proud of my team, so proud of Joe Gibbs Racing. So proud of Rowdy Nation, this one’s for you.”
One bobble by Busch in the closing laps, however, and Jones could have usurped a playoff spot and made the lives of playoff hopefuls Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer much more stressful.
When the final green-flag run commenced on Lap 422 after the eighth caution of the race for Landon Cassill’s hard crash into the Turn 1 wall, Jones took off, with Busch and Kenseth trailing him. Kenseth grabbed the second spot on Lap 428, but Busch soon regained the position and made what proved to be the winning pass of Jones on Lap 445.
On the same lap, Kenseth slipped past Jones into second, but with a deft touch with his front bumper on lap 465, Jones broke Kenseth’s momentum and regained the second spot.
On the playoff bubble with two races left, Kenseth had two hopes: to win for himself to clinch a playoff berth, and to keep Jones out of Victory Lane to keep the number of unique winners this season at 13, leaving three playoff spots open on points.
Kenseth, who will cede his ride in the No. 20 JGR Toyota to Jones in 2018, slipped to fourth at the finish but solidified his playoff position, moving past Jamie McMurray to eighth in the standings. But Kenseth provided the line of the night in the media center, after he was reminded that Jones had bumped him in the closing run.
“Takes my ride – and runs into me,” Kenseth quipped.
Jones, on the other hand, left the track thinking about what might have been.
Notes: With Denny Hamlin finishing third, Toyotas swept the top four finishing positions… Dale Earnhardt Jr. started 31st, struggled to find speed in his car and finished 23rd, three laps down, in his final ride at Bristol in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet… Chafing from the current absence of a contract extension despite his victory in the Daytona 500, Kurt Busch got fresh tires on Lap 417 and drove like a man with something to prove. In his 600th Cup race, Busch restarted 12th on Lap 422 and charged into fourth place before coming home fifth at the finish.
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