BRISTOL, Tenn. — Photographers and race fans were all lining the catch fence as Kyle Busch did his celebratory burnout, grabbed the checkered flag and bowed to the fans that braced the cold and wintery mixture weather to watch the remainder of the postponed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“Well, it means a lot, you know, to come to Bristol, a place where everybody expects you to do so well, expects you to win, that we’re able to get one,” Busch said. “I wasn’t sure there late in the going with 50 to go with the vibrations and everything that I was feeling that I was going to be able to have a shot. I wasn’t sure if we were going to go green the rest of the way or what was going to happen.
“But fortunately for us, unfortunately for some others, that caution did come out and we were able to come down pit road and put four tires on that things. We restarted second on that inside lane, and I wanted to stay out of the spray to not get anything on my tires but ended up towards the exit I got down into some of those marbles, and then when Larson launched and took off, I was just spinning the tires. There was just nothing for me to go with.
“So I struggled really bad on the restart. I thought that’s where I lost it. Just put my head down and tried to get back going, just tried to chase those guys back down and do what I could to get there. Larson looked loose. It looked like he was kind of battling it there for a little bit. The 17 kind of got to him first, and then I got to the 17 and was able to get by him and then get back up and catch Larson again. He slipped up a few times and was able to give me that opportunity to get there, and we made the most of it.
“When it comes down to the end, it’s crunch time, you’ve got to go. I wasn’t sure if I made my move too soon. I thought so. But our car was fast enough that Larson never had a shot to get back to us to repay the favor.
“It was a pretty good race, I thought. It was pretty fun. The bottom, the top, all around, everywhere, so hopefully we can continue to develop a good tire here that we can not have those long‑run issues where we keep getting that bounce feel and even put on a better show.”
Busch put the chrome bumper to Kyle Larson twice to retake the lead with six laps to go to score his 45th career victory. It breaks a tie with Bill Elliott for 13th on NASCAR’s all-time wins list.
Larson brought his car home second, after leading a race high of 200 laps.
“I was just checked out there on that long run,” Larson said. “It was really, really good there, and was just hoping it would go green until the end and then we pitted, and I was actually fine with that, too, because I knew we’d leave as the leader and restart on the outside. I just didn’t expect to get that loose that run there. The 17 (Stenhouse) almost got by me, was able to hold him off. I thought the grip was getting better, which it did a little bit, but not nearly good enough.
“Not sure if the track changed a lot there or what, but I lost the balance on the car.”
Jimmie Johnson finished third, his first Top-five of the season and first since Dover last October.
“Yeah, definitely a strong race car,” Johnson said. “We’ve been talking about our cars performing better and driving better and creating speed the last three weeks or so, but to finally back it up with a solid finish is exactly what we needed. And to see my teammates with positive comments about their cars the last few weeks and some good results yielding from all of that, we definitely have it rolling in the right direction.
“And specifically on the 48, last weekend there was a lot of excitement with the speed in our car, but we just had some bad luck on track and on pit road and a variety of things that went on. And to really be so buttoned up on race calling, pit stops, what I did in the car, the whole thing, I really feel like we’re rolling in the right direction now.”
Stenhouse and Alex Bowman rounded out the Top-five.
“The guys brought me a great Sunny D Ford all weekend long,” Stenhouse said. “We were really, really strong and I felt confident coming into the race yesterday and today. We fought adversity. We lost track position multiple times and had to pass a lot of cars to get back to where we were. Brian made a great call coming down pit road and taking tires before that long green flag run that we had. We got into second and I was hoping it would just go green to the end, knowing that we had better tires than the 42, who was the class of the field all day. Then we restarted there at the end. Brian said he didn’t get to really check the stagger on these tires and maybe make an adjustment with it. We didn’t take fuel and that sometimes tightens you up a little bit, but, all in all, a great weekend for us. Hopefully, this will kind of get us going and kick start us into next week and the rest of the season.”
Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman rounded out the Top-10.
Kyle Busch led the field to the green flag at 1:34 p.m. It took only four laps for caution to fly when Michael McDowell got loose, made contact with Daniel Suarez and spun in Turn 4. He also collected Alex Bowman and William Byron, who couldn’t react in time to avoid him. Martin Truex Jr. slammed into the back of Bowman.
“Not much to say, just one of those weekends you want to forget about and turn your focus 100 percent on the next race,” Truex said after the race.
Back to green on Lap 10, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bogged the inside lane down, allowing Ryan Blaney to move into second. From there, he passed under Busch going into Turn 1 on Lap 16 to take the lead. But with 10 laps to go to the competition caution on Lap 50, rain returned and blanketed the track. Caution flew five laps later. NASCAR brought the field down the backstretch four laps later and displayed the red flag. It was lifted after 25 minutes and 25 seconds.
The race went back to green on Lap 60, but caution flew again in Turn 3 when Erik Jones got loose, made contact with Stenhouse and spun him.
Restarting on Lap 67, the race settled into a long-run rhythm with Blaney working to navigate lap traffic one-by-one in classic Bristol fashion.
While Brad Keselowski caught him and battled him for the lead with six laps left in the first stage, however, Chris Buescher turned Trevor Bayne into the wall, who then bounced off and into Buescher, hooking him into the outside wall, triggering a five-car wreck on Lap 120 that took out race leader Blaney.
“I didn’t see much to be honest with you. By the time I could see anything they were already turned right and there was nowhere to go,” Blaney said. “Seeing the replay, I don’t know, people not cleared clearing themselves and then wrecking and take the leader out, so that’s unfortunate. Our car was pretty good today. We just kind of got held up there and we might not have been as strong at the end of that run, but I thought we could have at least held on for that stage and never got the chance. The positives you look at is that we had a good car and that’s something to hold your head high about.”
After a six-minute, 29-second red flag, NASCAR ended the first stage with a one-lap shootout, won by Brad Keselowski.
Kyle Larson exited pit road with the lead and led the field back to green on Lap 135. Chad Finchum spun out in Turn 4, but caution wasn’t thrown. When Trevor Bayne spun out and hit the wall in Turn 4, however, caution was thrown on Lap 155. Jones took over the race lead when he and the Top-six cars chose not to pit.
As the field circled around, waiting to restart, the rain slightly intensified to the point NASCAR brought the field back down pit road and red-flagged the race a third time.
Back to green on Lap 170, Larson pulled away from Denny Hamlin in second and started lapping everyone in his path. This continued until caution flew for the sixth time on Lap 200, once again for rain.
The weather this time was more severe and forced NASCAR to postpone the rest of the race to the following day.
After a slight delay close to the original 1:02 p.m. scheduled restart time, the field rolled off pit road shortly after 1:30. Everyone but Larson opted to pit.
The race restarted at 1:43 p.m. on Lap 217. For the final 33 laps of the second stage, Larson drove away as he did the day before. Keselowski kept chase with him, however, put the chrome bumper to Larson going into Turn 3, took the lead and won the stage.
Denny Hamlin exited pit road with the lead and led the field to green on Lap 263. Hamlin pitted from the lead two laps later with a loose wheel, handing it back to Keselowski.
He, Larson and Kyle Busch dueled for the lead from Laps 280 to 325, with Larson taking it from 292 to 325 and Busch onwards, after Larson got turned by Ryan Newman exiting Turn 4.
Reed Sorenson brought out the caution with 147 laps to go when he spun out and rear-ended the outside wall in Turn 3. With bad weather approaching and the race past the point of being an “official race,” Daniel Suarez opted to stay out and take the lead.
The gamble failed, and he lost the lead by the time he exited Turn 4 to Keselowski with 134 to go. Darrell Wallace Jr. took a stint out front, passing him going into Turn 1 to take it with 125 to go. Busch passed him in Turn 2 to retake the lead with 120 to go.
The battle came down to him and Larson with less than 80 to go. After close to 20 laps of pressure, Larson put the bumper to Busch going into Turn 1 to take the lead with 63 to go. After Larson cleared the lap traffic, he drove away to a half-straightaway lead over Busch. Keselowski slammed the wall in Turn 2 with 30 to go, bringing out the caution and forcing everyone onto pit road.
Larson exited ahead of Busch and led the field back to green with 22 to go. Busch didn’t get going on the bottom and Stenhouse usurped him for second. While Stenhouse got to Larson’s bumper once, he couldn’t make the pass and got passed by Busch with 15 to go. With six to go, Busch put the chrome bumper to Larson twice, made the pass for the lead going through Turn 3 and drove on to victory.
NUTS & BOLTS
The race lasted three hours, 26 minutes and 25 seconds, at an average speed of 77.465 mph. There were 18 lead changes among eight different drivers, and 13 cautions for 113 laps.
Busch leaves with a 59-point lead over Logano.C1808_UNOFFRES