Kurt Busch shatters 58-race drought with night-race victory
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
After several lackluster editions in recent years, the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway regained much of its magic Saturday night.
There was a villain, Kyle Busch, who was involved in three on-track incidents and drove like a madman throughout the 500-lap race. He put on some amazing moves, but also drew choruses of boos.
There also was passing aplenty, with 19 official lead changes and lots of other action on the track.
In the end, there was a surprise winner: 40-year-old Kurt Busch, who got his sixth career Cup victory on the half-mile oval and his first since the spring of 2006. It was his 30th career Cup victory overall and his first since the 2017 Daytona 500.
But it was younger brother Kyle who was the center of the attention up until the last few laps.
The younger Busch spun on the third lap of the race and went two laps down. His crew patched up his No. 18 Toyota as best they could, and Busch began his comeback.
At the caution period for the end of the race’s second 125-lap stage, Busch got the free pass and rejoined the lead lap. Despite his car being so battered and damaged that it took extra long pit stops for his crew to refuel it, by Lap 443, Busch was challenging Martin Truex Jr. for second place when he contacted Truex’s rear bumper and sent him sliding down the track and eventually into the oncoming car of J.J. Yeley.
Truex was done for the night and initially was angry with Busch, but later accepted part of the blame for the incident.
He said he should have moved race leader Clint Bowyer aside before Busch got to him.
“I probably should’ve bumped the 14 (Bowyer) out of the way just to get the lead, and I wouldn’t have been in that position,” Truex said. “Sometimes you’re the nice guy and you get knocked out of the way. We’ll just have to race him a little harder next time.”
Busch, undaunted, continued on until Lap 483, when he, Chris Buescher and Jimmie Johnson went three wide racing for third place. There was contact, and Busch and Buescher both wound up with flat tires. Johnson acknowledged on Twitter that he should have given the two more room. Busch wound up finishing 20th.
With the action behind him simmering down, Kurt Busch was left to battle Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson for the win.
On the restart following his brother’s final incident, Kurt Busch drove away from Bowyer initially, while Kyle Larson, on much fresher tires, charged from fourth place to second.
But Larson was unable to close on Busch and wound up second over Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Bowyer.
Larson said he just didn’t have a winning car, despite winning the pole for Saturday’s race.
“I was happy about running second, but just disappointed because I had a lot of confidence going into this race and thought our car was really good,” he said.
Busch’s win locked him into the Cup Series playoffs, which begin after the upcoming races at Darlington Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Also securing spots among the 16 playoff drivers were Larson, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski, none of whom have won a race this season.
In his winner’s interview, Kurt Busch noted how special a win at Bristol is for a competitor.
“This track brings out the best in everybody,” Kurt Busch said in his winner’s interview. “Just to come here, to feel that Saturday night atmosphere, racing under the lights, it brings you back to the roots. … When you come to the Holy Grail of short tracks, you want to win it.”
Busch also said he was glad to get the win with his dad, Tom Busch, in attendance.
“I’m always a little bit more nervous when my dad is at the track,” he said. “He’s watching, sees every move.
“There are things you do on restarts he taught me from the beginning. The Saturday night atmosphere is family — brings out the best in you. Glad we were able to deliver.”
The win was the first in Cup for Busch’s crew chief, Billy Scott, but his driver predicts there are more to come.
“It’s time now. We’ve been a consistent team, but we’re starting to crest that corner of now we need to win.”
Busch said his 30th career Cup win fulfills one of his bucket-list wishes. Now there’s another within reach: the Southern 500 at Darlington on Sept. 2.