By Rick Minter
Kyle Busch dominated the NASCAR weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, sweeping all three major races for the second time in his career.
Busch, who also swept at Bristol in 2010, is the only driver in NASCAR history to do that even once, at any track.
His weekend of domination began Wednesday night, when he won the Camping World Truck Series race, leading 109 of 203 laps despite a penalty for speeding on pit road.
On Friday night, he led 186 of 300 laps, once again coming back from a speeding penalty to take the lead from Daniel Saurez with 81 laps to go. Suarez finished second ahead of Elliott Sadler, Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier.
On Saturday night in the 500-lap Night Race for the Monster Energy Cup Series, Busch led 156 laps, including the final 56, to get the win over a surprisingly fast rookie, Erik Jones, who started from the pole and led 250 laps before finishing second ahead of Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch.
Busch now has 40 Cup wins, 91 in Xfinity and 49 in trucks, for a total of 180. He has 20 of those victories at Bristol, where he has won six in Cup, nine in Xfinity and five in trucks.
Kyle Larson, who led 70 laps before fading to ninth at Bristol, tweeted after the race about Busch, writing: “Love him or hate him I feel he is the most all around talented driver I will ever witness in my lifetime.”
In his winner’s interview, Busch was informed of Larson’s comments.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I appreciate that. It’s definitely an honor, a humbling statement.
“Larson is obviously arguably one of the most talented guys, as well, too, to hit our sport in a long, long time. People will continue to say that about him as well.”
While Busch dominated Saturday night’s race at the end, the outcome was far from certain most of the way.
“Those guys that were up there running in the front like Larson and Kenseth and Erik Jones especially, they kept us honest, made sure we had to go out there and get it done, achieve it,” Busch said. “I was driving for everything I had there the last 80, 60 laps, whatever it was, giving it everything I had.”
Not everyone at Bristol was with Larson in congratulating Busch. There were a fair number of boos from the grandstands. Busch pointed out that it’s nothing new for him.
“When I was at my local short track, I won 10 out of 15 races one year in my Late Model,” he said. “Driver intros were not always very pretty. So the locals at my local short track didn’t like me because I won too much.”
When he joined the Xfinity Series in 2003, the boo birds followed, even at his first race.
“I went through driver intros and I got booed,” he said. “I was like: ‘Why? What? I haven’t been here yet, give me a chance.’”
He blamed some of that on his brother Kurt, who was not among the sport’s most popular when he came along.
“My brother ruined that for me,” Busch said with a laugh. “I started out at a deficit already.
“There’s definitely positive, but there’s definitely still going to be those that want to be loud.”
Busch also offered praise for Jones, who he discovered racing his Late Model several years ago.
“I love Erik Jones,” he said. “He’s a phenomenal talent and a great race car driver.
“We knew that a long time ago. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing I found him or a bad thing I found him because one of these days, I’m going to lose to him and I’m not going to be thrilled, but I’m still going to congratulate him. I thought today was actually going to be that day.
“But he was awesome to race with. For as fast as we were, being up front, for as much as he wanted to win, I wanted to win, we gave each other room. We never touched each other. It was always smooth, clean, great. I really appreciated that from him.”
Jones said he was impressed with Busch’s sweep.
“It’s a great feat,” he said. “Obviously he puts himself in the situation to win a lot of those races. He still goes out and executes. It’s not easy to do.
“It’s every week, you know. People rag on him for the truck and Xfinity stuff, but he does a great job on the Cup side, too.
“Obviously he’s had a ton of speed all year long. He probably should have had way more than two wins this year. He’s really on it. He’s got it going on. He’s got it figured out.
“It’s hard to keep up with him at times.”