Kyle Busch overcomes weather, Kyle Larson for victory
By Rick Minter
First it was Kevin Harvick dominating the 2018 Monster Energy Cup season, with three consecutive wins, at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Now Kyle Busch has the hot hand, as he wrestled the lead from Kyle Larson with six laps remaining in Monday’s rain-delayed Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway to score his second-straight win. It was the sixth of his career at Bristol, the 45th of his Cup career and the sixth straight race this season that he’s finished third or better, a string that includes three runner-up finishes.
Busch started on the pole at Bristol on Sunday afternoon, but spent much of the race chasing other drivers, including Brad Keselowski, who won the first two stages and led a total of 67 laps before a flat tire late in the race relegated him to a 23rd-place finish.
Then there was Kyle Larson, who led early but was involved in a spin with Ryan Newman before recovering to lead a race-high total of 200 laps.
Larson led Busch to the final restart with 22 laps remaining, but he couldn’t hold off Busch when it counted.
“I was just checked out there 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. … Not sure if the track changed a lot there or what, but I lost the balance on the car.”
Behind Busch and Larson was Jimmie Johnson, who finished third for the first top-five finish of the season for the seven-time series champion and his first since last fall at Dover.
Several other drivers had strong showings, including rookie Darrell Wallace Jr., who sped into the lead in his No. 43 Chevy on Lap 365 and was out front for six circuits for the first laps led of his Cup career. But he faded at the end, windting up 16th.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished fourth in a backup car that was patched up from early contact on the track, while Alex Bowman finished fifth for his first top-five Cup finish.
Two drivers who appeared poised for season-best runs were swept up in early accidents in the Food City 500.
Michael McDowell qualified a season-best ninth, but was knocked out of the race due to contact from a lap five incident.
“There are no excuses,” McDowell said Sunday. “We had a fast Love’s Travel Stops Ford and just to be out this early is really heartbreaking.”
Heartbreaking also described the fate of Ryan Blaney, who led 100 of the first 124 laps and was in front when he came upon the spinning cars of Trevor Bayne, Chris Buescher and Harrison Rhodes.
With his path blocked, Blaney slammed into Rhodes’ car and was unable to continue.
“I kind of saw them spinning low, and I thought that top was going to be OK and then they slid back up and got us,” Blaney said. “That stinks. I thought we had a good car and nothing to show for it.”