Kyle Busch has a tendency to cause controversy, dominate races and make history. At the Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, he did all three by winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday, the Nationwide Series event on Friday and the Sprint Cup race on Saturday.
In the Truck Series, Busch was able to come from the back of the pack in the truck he owned, in the Nationwide Series, he turned Brad Keselowski late in the race and Saturday night he dominated and the pit crew got the job done to score the weekend sweep.
Taking the checkered flag, Busch’s spotter, Eddie D’Hondt, came over the radio saying, “We are in the presence of greatness.”
“This is awesome,” Busch said with a broom in hand for the weekend sweep. “I love the opportunity to come out here. I love Bristol and I love winning. And to do it for the first time ever in NASCAR, to sweep the weekend, man, that’s pretty awesome. I don’t know what to think. I’ve been trying to do this since I got to NASCAR, since I got my NASCAR career. Fortunately, tonight, I was able to get it done, be the first one to do it. I’m the first in a lot of things.”
Starting in the 19th spot, Busch quickly made his way through the field, picking cars off high and low. Thanks to hard work in the pits and a great handling car, Busch took the lead for the first time on lap 172 by going three-wide under Jimmie Johnson and the lapped car of Elliott Sadler.
While the No. 48 team was able to get Johnson out ahead of Busch on pit road under the fourth caution of the day, it did not take Busch long to get the lead back. On the restart, Busch and Michael Waltrip Racing’s David Reutimann split the No. 48 exiting the second corner. Busch emerged with the top spot, where he spent 188 of the next 189 laps.
When Johnson was turned into the outside wall on a restart on lap 262 by Juan Pablo Montoya, Busch’s biggest threat seemed to disappear. However, as laps clicked away and Busch worked through traffic, the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet driven by Jamie McMurray began to creep towards the front.
Working his way past Clint Bowyer for third and then Reutimann for second, McMurray set his sights on the lead and closed on the back bumper of the No. 18. As Busch struggled to lap Keselowski, who refused to lay down for the No. 18, McMurray radioed the crew saying, “This could get good.”
Looking to the inside of Busch, McMurray could never get the advantage as Busch’s car was too strong on the high side. Adjusting, McMurray took the high line in turns 1 and 2 and made the pass on Lap 389 as the crowd jumped to their feet cheering him on.
As green-flag pit stops cycled through with 100 laps to go, McMurray slowed to pit with the lead. Busch saw McMurray’s conservative approach and did a great job beating the No. 1 car to the timing line, passing him to the outside before they two cars entered pit road.
“I was very self-conscious not to get caught speeding entering pit road,” McMurray said, fearing a pass-through speeding penalty. “So I was a little bit cautious coming in, and Kyle was able to get beside me.”
Originally planning to pit two laps later, Busch saw the No. 1 car slow to pit road and knew he could not afford to give McMurray the advantage of fresher tires.
“When anybody comes in and puts on fresh tires they’re normally about a second faster,” Busch explained. “So you can’t give up that time. If McMurray came in and got off pit road, he’d be able to run a second faster lap time than I would have, which is an awful lot of distance. I knew I needed to come in with him.”
“But I was able to out brake him and get to his outside and get to pit road, get slowed down, and we had a really good pit stop.”
After fast stops by both teams, McMurray had to slow as he exited his stall to avoid hitting the No. 29 of Kevin Harvick, who was trying to get in his stall for service.
“It was amazing because he beat me out of the pits and just that little bit was like five cars that got stuck in between us,” McMurray said, claiming that slowing for Harvick did not hurt him as much as his conservative entrance.
“My car just didn’t feel as good that last run, and I was having a hard time even passing the lap car, so that really let him spread it out, and I think David actually short pitted. I didn’t even know that he was leading the race. I thought I was in second actually.”
“I exited really hard and really fast, too, where I think when I came out I was half a straightaway plus on him, but you know, the [No.] 00 actually jumped us because he pitted before us, so he could see the distance that he was behind me when he pitted, and then when we all came out of the pits he was still ahead of me a ways,” Busch added. “So that’s the distance I’m talking about, and I couldn’t give that up to the [No.] 1.”
That heads up call by Busch behind the wheel gave the No. 18 the advantage once again as all the ground McMurray had made up was for naught. However, a heads up call by Reutimann and crew chief Rodney Childers to short pit gave the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota the lead for the first time all day.
Despite battling food poisoning all weekend, Reutimann ran in the top five for the majority of Saturday night’s 500-mile event. Leading with less than 100 laps to go, Reutimann used the high side to his advantage, shutting the door on each of Busch’s advances. Finally, on lap 429, Busch was able to stick his nose under the No. 00, forcing him to bobble off turn 2 and reclaimed the top spot.
“Reutimann was fast, and he was good. And I’m not going to say why I beat him because then he’ll fix it, but it has to do with behind the wheel,” Busch said. “He wasn’t driving the place right, I’m sorry. If he fixes how to drive this place, he’d be right there with me.”
Leading the final 72 laps, Busch was able to silence the estimated crowd of 155,000 fans that booed him wildly during driver introductions.
“I feel like I just come out here to do my job,” Busch said of the fans reactions. “I do what I’m supposed to do, and to win races is my job and what that entails. And secondly, it’s to make JD (Gibbs, team president) happy and Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the sponsors and those guys happy. And then thirdly, it’s to try to sell souvenirs. The fans are what drives this sport and what makes us go round and get us here every week. So it’s cool to have them here, and they’re passionate about who they like and who they don’t like.
“I feel like to me I’ve been in this position since the upstart of my career, since I was 16, and it hasn’t changed, and I don’t foresee it changing any time soon.”
Reutimann was able to hang on to finish second, while McMurray came home third. Both Bowyer and Kasey Kahne were able to overcome pit-road speeding penalties to round out the top five.
For McMurray and Bowyer, the top-five finish gave a shot in the arm to their Chase hopes. With Mark Martin struggling all night and finishing 23rd, Bowyer was able to hold on to 12th in the standings and McMurray jumped to 13th, 100 markers behind Bowyer and one ahead of Martin.
“I’ll let Bono [Manion] worry about it,” McMurray said of making the Chase. “He certainly is worried about it, and I remember the stress that goes along with that, and I’m really fortunate this year that we were able to win those two big races (Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400) because if we don’t make the Chase, it’s not going to be devastating.”
Thanks to an 11th-place finish, Jeff Gordon became only the second driver to lock himself in the Chase, joining points leader Harvick.
“We’ve had a heck of a season,” Gordon said. “Very consistent runs and strong runs. We haven’t won yet, I still think we have a heck of a shot at the championship. I am really happy to be in the Chase again. Right now we are focused on wins and bonus points and I’m a little disappointed with an 11th place finish tonight but it wasn’t from a lack of effort, that is for sure.”
With only two races before the 12-driver Chase field is set, the Sprint Cup Series takes the weekend off next week before heading to the Atlanta Motor Speedway and the ‘regular-season’ finale in Richmond.