Eyes on the Prize
HUNTERSVILLE, North Carolina (Sept. 14, 2021) – The annual night race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway has long been a staple on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. In fact, many argue that the annual 500-lap race is slowly and steadily evolving into a crown jewel race on the calendar.
Kyle Busch, for one, had this race circled on the calendar even before the season. The driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has at least eight reasons why he’s been looking forward to Bristol and its role in the 2021 Cup Series playoffs. His eight wins at the “Last Great Colosseum” are the most among active drivers, and only his older brother Kurt is close to that Bristol victory tally with six.
A ninth Cup Series victory at Bristol would send the younger Busch brother into a tie with some all-time greats of the sport. Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and Rusty Wallace all ended their careers at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” with nine victories. If Busch was to achieve nine Bristol wins, the next milestone would be Darrell Waltrip’s all-time record of 12 wins at the Tennessee short track.
A win Saturday night for the M&M’S driver would not only add to his career total at Bristol, but also vault him directly into the Round of 12 of this year’s Cup Series playoffs. Heading into this weekend’s race at the .533-mile concrete oval, Busch sits just eight points above the cutline to advance to the Round of 12, set to start next weekend at Busch’s hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Busch, the two-time Cup Series champion, holds the distinction of being the only driver in NASCAR history to win all three national series races in a single weekend, which he’s done twice at the Bristol bullring. He captured the “Bristol Triple” in 2010 and 2017, when he swept NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, Xfinity Series, and Cup Series races. In addition to his eight career Cup Series wins, Busch has 14 top-fives and 19 top-10s in 31 career starts at Northeast Tennessee’s “Thunder Valley.”
While he is a factor any time he travels to Bristol, it’s interesting to note Busch didn’t immediately take to the place. During his rookie year in 2005, he posted finishes of 28th and 33rd. But his record since then has been impressive, to say the least. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol Cup Series win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that race and, from 2008 to 2011, nobody was better at Bristol than Busch. He scored four wins and six top-10s from 2008 until another change to the track surface prior to the August 2012 race weekend. Busch seemed to recapture the magic from his four years of dominance there as Bristol’s new racing grooves have better suited his driving style the past several seasons, leading to three wins, a runner-up finish and just one finish outside the top-five since the 2017 night race.
So, as Busch and the M&M’S team head to Bristol this weekend, a ninth victory there would not only put him alongside NASCAR Hall of Famers Earnhardt, Yarborough, and Wallace, but also send him to the next round of the playoffs so he can take another step toward a third Cup Series championship.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your thoughts heading to Bristol Saturday?
“I would like to get back to victory lane at Bristol, no doubt. We’ve had some decent runs there the last several years and hope we can do the same there this year. We were obviously there earlier this year but that was a completely different kind of race on the dirt surface. We have not shown the short-run speed at Bristol, but we’ve always kind of been good after about 30 laps or so, and our cars seems to really come in and run strong. It’s always a great racetrack to circle on the calendar and know it’s a time where we can shine. We also have M&M’S on board again this weekend, so hoping we can have a solid finish and get us through to the next round.”
What makes Bristol Motor Speedway so unique?
“Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the best racetracks on the circuit. All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins and the close-quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile racetrack with us 40 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time, and sometimes a frustrating time when things don’t always go your way.”
With no practice, does experience and success help give anyone an advantage on Saturday night?
“Obviously, with the success we’ve had there over the years, I feel really good about going there. But we make a lot of adjustments typically when we get there. We go through practice, we are really fine-tuning a lot of different things and being nitpicky about a bunch of it to make sure we get it to where we want it for the race. Bristol is an important place because, if you are going to run the bottom for a while with that traction compound that’s put down there, as that wears, the groove is definitely going to move up around the top toward the end of the race and you have to be ready for a lot of versatility. So you definitely have to understand some of those adjustments during practice is a big deal and we won’t have that, so we just have to get after it right at the start of the race. I know our guys are up to the task and hope we can have a good M&M’S Camry and have it with enough adjustability in it so we can make the right changes and have a shot at the win there.”
What is your first memory of Bristol and what is your best story of success?
“I remember my first time. It was in an Xfinity Series car at a test session for Hendrick Motorsports. I remember I needed about 27 laps before I thought I was going to knock the wall down, with all the optimism and pumped-up feelings I had about going there. But after that, it’s been pretty fun. We’ve had some challenging times there, but also I’ve had some good times there. Looking to continue that on Saturday night with our M&M’S Camry. What’s the highlight? You can’t dismiss the sweeps there. I would say that the first one was really, really awesome and really, really special, and the second one was special, as well.”
● Event: Bass Pro Shops Night Race
● Time/Date: 7:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday, Sept. 18
● Location: Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway
● Layout: .533-mile oval
● Laps/Miles: 500 laps, 266.5 miles
● Format: Stage 1: 125 laps / Stage 2: 125 laps / Final Stage: 250 laps
● TV/Radio: NBCSN/ MRN/ SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Meet the No. 18 M&M’S / Joe Gibbs Racing Team
Primary Team Members:
Driver: Kyle Busch
Hometown: Las Vegas
Crew Chief: Ben Beshore
Hometown: York, Pennsylvania
Car Chief: Nate Bellows
Hometown: Fairfax, Vermont
Spotter: Tony Hirschman
Hometown: Northampton, Pennsylvania
Over-The-Wall Crew Members:
Gas Man: Matt Tyrrell
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Front Tire Changer: Blake Houston
Hometown: Enochville, North Carolina
Jackman: T.J. Ford
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Tire Carrier: Joe Crossen
Hometown: Salisbury, North Carolina
Rear Tire Changer: Jeff Cordero
Hometown: Salem, Connecticut
Road Crew Members:
Race Engineer: Seth Chavka
Hometown: Soldotna, Alaska
Truck Driver: Chris Miko
Hometown: Bronx, New York
Truck Driver: Tom McCrimmon
Hometown: Spicer, Minnesota
Mechanic/Tire Specialist: Justin Peiffer
Hometown: Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Mechanic: Scott Eldridge
Hometown: Warsaw, Indiana
Notes of Interest:
● Playoff Points: Busch has racked up 22 important playoff points he can take with him through each round. He sits 10th on the playoff grid with 11 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s as he is eight points above the top-12 cutline with Bristol serving as the final race in the first round of the 2021 playoffs.
● All in the Stats:Busch has eight wins, 14 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s and has led a total of 2,593 laps in 31 career Cup Series starts at the Bristol concrete oval. Busch’s average Bristol finish is 12.8.
● Alone in Ninth: With Busch’s win at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June, the two-time Cup Series champion scored his 59th career win in NASCAR’s top series as he moved past Kevin Harvick into sole possession of ninth on the all-time win list. Next up on the win list is Dale Earnhardt, the seven-time Cup Series champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer who won 76 races during his storied career.
● 222 and Counting: Busch will be aiming to add to his record 222 overall wins among NASCAR’s top three series this weekend at Bristol. In addition to his 59 Cup Series wins and 102 in the Xfinity Series, Busch has 61 wins in the Camping World Truck Series.