By Toby Christie, Editor – Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie
Throughout his career, Kyle Busch has won seven times at Bristol Motor Speedway, and along the way he has led a staggering 2,233 laps there. The 32-year-old driver did not add to either of those totals in Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race at Bristol, but his showing was possibly more impressive and frustrating than any of his previous 26 starts at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile.
Rolling off the grid in the third position, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Busch, a Las Vegas native, would lead early and often at his most successful racetrack. But then on lap 2, Busch lost control of his race car and slid to a stop on the back stretch.
“I was trying to stay out of the [VHT Traction Compound] because I knew it was going to be slick to start with and I got a little more into the glue that lap and every lap I was going to try to work my way down,” Busch explained later. “The guys on the outside were kind of pinching you a little bit and when I got to the glue, it slipped right out of the glue and back up the race track and whoever was on my outside, I hit them in the door and went around.”
Cars went high and low to avoid the No. 18 Toyota, but it was inevitable. Several clipped him in the front including Martin Truex Jr. Then Busch was t-boned in the driver’s side door by Jesse Little, while Michael McDowell and Gray Gaulding piled in to rip Busch’s back bumper cover off the car.
In total, 14 cars were involved in the lap two melee, and Busch would go down two laps while his team made repairs.
After 194 laps of being two laps down, Busch finally began to make some progress. When a spinning David Ragan brought the yellow out on lap 196, Busch stayed out of the pits and opted to take a wave around. He was now just one lap down.
With less than 50 laps until the second stage of the race was over, Busch began a hard fight with Kevin Harvick for the free pass position. When the yellow flag was displayed on lap 250, Busch was in 20th-place, which was good enough to get him the free pass.
Busch and the No. 18 team were back in business, despite having no rear bumper, and having significant damage to many other areas of their race car.
In the final stage of the race, Busch drove like a man possessed, who was hell bent on righting the wrong that happened on lap two.
By lap 283, Busch had broken into the top-15, and when the caution came back out for Reed Sorenson slamming into the wall on lap 350, Busch was inside the top-10.
It was under this caution that the team discovered that previous damage had begun hindering their ability to fuel the racecar, and for the rest of the night they wouldn’t be able to change tires and fill fuel at the same time. Due to the issues under this set of stops, Busch was seven gallons short of making it to the end of the race on gas.
Gas tank issues, or not, Busch rocketed into the top-five with 100 laps to go.
With 88 laps remaining, Busch got around Chase Elliott for third. All that was left in front of the No. 18 was Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.
Busch tracked down Truex, and they battled hard for second place. Unfortunately, with 70 laps to go, Busch misjudged coming out of the turn and clipped Truex which was enough to send Truex into the inside wall. Truex then careened back across the track into a defenseless JJ Yeley ending both of their nights.
“Totally my fault, man, I feel terrible about that,” Busch said after the race. “Obviously, I just misjudged it by a little bit – four inches, six inches, whatever and I got in the gas and was coming up off the corner and was going to slide in behind [Truex] and I didn’t think I was next to him yet and I clipped him and sent him for a whale of a ride. Hopefully, he’s alright and everything is okay there. I hated that I clipped him, I know he could have had a good shot to win the race too.”
Under this caution, Crew Chief Adam Stevens called for four tires and fuel for Busch, which meant his pit stop would be lengthy. This 20-plus second pit stop would drop Busch to 11th with 55 laps left in the event.
Busch put his head down for one last charge to the front, for the most improbable Kyle Busch comeback ever. But it wasn’t to be.
Busch went three-wide for sixth spot with 24 laps remaining. Jimmie Johnson, who was on the bottom lane didn’t appear to know that Chris Buescher, who was in the middle lane, had Busch to his outside. Johnson pushed into Buescher, which sent Buescher into the side of Busch’s No. 18. Both Buescher and Busch would slice tires.
Busch would spin out with 23 laps to go. He would attempt to drive away, but the rim of his left rear tire just dug into the Bristol track surface. After a couple of caution laps, Busch received a push from a tow truck.
The comeback was over. Busch would finish 20th.
While his brother Kurt gave fans a smoke show, celebrating his sixth win at Bristol, Kyle was busy fielding questions about how he was able to come through the field all night with such ease.
“That was just me,” Busch paused, “and this team and never giving up and being able to drive up through the field like that. This M&M’s Camry was fast, even torn up and wrecked and everything else, it was fast. We had a shot to win the race there, just got to racing with guys three-wide and couldn’t get clear of them…”
While the end box score doesn’t look super impressive, and he didn’t make a friend in championship contender and JGR satellite teammate, Martin Truex Jr., Busch once again showed why he is regarded as one of the best raw talent racers we have ever seen come through NASCAR on Saturday night.
This very well could be considered the best race he’s ever driven. On the other hand, it could also be considered the most frustrating race of his career as well.
Photo by Jim Fluharty/HHP for Chevy Racing