Kyle Busch wasn’t the only driver to overcome adversity during Sunday’s running of the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
But he was the only one to end up in victory lane.
The race winner was involved in a multi-car crash on the second lap of the 500-lap affair, sustaining damage to the rear of his car. But he patiently worked his way back through the field and took his first lead at lap 384.
The key to the win came late: Busch collected his third win of the season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and his eighth overall at Bristol Motor Speedway when he chose track position over fresh tires during the 11th and final caution of the race.
“I don’t know, we’re crazy; we just do what we do [to] try to win,” said the driver of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, climbing out of the car on the front stretch.
The final run to the checkered flag was set up after Kyle Larson got into the wall with less than 25 laps remaining to bring out the yellow flag. Joey Logano and Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, running 1-2, hit pit road, as did several others in the lead pack.
Kurt Busch finished second, unable to close the gap to his younger brother in the final laps. Image by Harrelson/LAT
But Kyle Busch, along with older brother Kurt, opted to stay out, as did Daniel Suarez and Paul Menard, all restartng first through fourth when the field went back to green with just 14 laps remaining.
“It’s pretty awesome to be able to snooker those guys, get our win today here at Bristol,” the younger Busch said. “I love this place.
“It was fun to battle out the brother there at the end. I know we didn’t quite get to side-by-side racing it out; I saw him looking at the top. I’m like, ‘I better go.’ I got up there, was able to make some ground.”
“It was a no-brainer for us,” crew chief Adam Stevens said afterward when asked about the call not to bring his driver to pit road.
After the race, Busch paid tribute to three-time series champion and FOX NASCAR analyst Darrell Waltrip, who won 12 times at the Tennessee venue.
“It ain’t 12, that’s for sure,” Busch said of his win total at BMS. “So I’ve got more to go.”
There were issues on the final restart — Keselowski was penalized for failing to follow a NASCAR directive — but none affecting the leading pair.
The Fords, including Bowyer’s No. 14 and Logano’s No. 22, were in the hunt all afternoon. Image by Kinrade/LAT
Logano, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin completed the top five, while Menard, Clint Bowyer, Suarez, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson were sixth through 10th respectively.
“I really wanted to beat him,” Kurt Busch said of the battle with his brother. “I was going to wreck him. He already won [this year]. I figure he could give a little love to his brother. I wanted that one bad…
“I’m happy that we were in position to do it,” Kurt added. “This group of guys — we’re not quite ready to win yet, but that was close.”
The win was Busch’s 54th overall in the Cup series. His previous wins this season came at ISM (Phoenix) Raceway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
He led 71 laps, including the final 19. He also overcame an early spin that saw his Toyota swept up in a five-car incident on just the second lap of the 500-lap race.
The race was the eighth of the season, and all eight have been won by drivers from either the JGR or Team Penske camps.
It was a battle reminiscent of past contests held at Bristol, with plenty of contact as well as lead changes. Blaney was the lap leader at 158 while Logano paced the field for 146.
Ty Dillon was a surprising winner of the opening stage, edging Bowyer with a last-lap pass. Logano won the second stage.
Several teams, including those of Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, battled loose wheel issues. Others were merely forced to deal with damage typically associated with the close-quarters racing that has been the norm at BMS.