Kyle Busch used a classic bump-and-run move on Kyle Larson to take the lead with just over five laps to go Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Busch went on to hold off a last lap surge from Larson to score the win in the rain postponed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500.
It marked the second straight Cup Series win for Busch, who took the victory in last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I was breathing hard there those last 20 laps, whatever it was,” said Busch as snow began falling over victory lane. “That was a heck of a run right there with the 42 (Kyle Larson) – chasing him down, being able to get to him, being able to get by him and then trying to hold him off with some lap traffic ahead of us. I can’t say enough about this Skittles Toyota Camry. Adam Stevens (Crew chief) and my guys, they continue to impress and do an amazing job for me and give me great race cars week in and week out. We knew we were going to have a great long run car. We just had to get there and had to get some long runs.”
After being delayed by a day due to weather, Busch fought tire wear and the competition over the final 296 laps after racing resumed Monday afternoon.
Larson appeared to be the class of the field. He was the leader when the race was halted by rain on Sunday, and stayed out to retain the lead when the race resumed. The only seeming bump in the road for Larson came when he made contact with the car of Ryan Newman on lap 323, sending Larson spinning.
Larson retook the lead from Busch after a brief caution for rain with 110 laps to go. He would pace the field until lap 494, when the nudge from Busch moved him out of the way.
For Busch, he would lead off and on during the day, notably taking the top spot from rookie Darrell Wallace, Jr. with 120 to go. After losing the lead to Larson, Busch’s No. 18 Toyota was notably having issues on the long run.
With 30 laps to go, Busch thought he had a tire going down, and was preparing to pit when the caution flag came out for a flat tire by Brad Keselowski.
That opened the door for the bump-and-run finish.
Busch said his car was running the best it had all day at the end of the race.
“I know Larson was a little bit loose right there. It seemed like he was over driving and trying to hold the bottom, but he was slipping out of the bottom and I got a huge run on him and got to him and it was just on. I knew I might as well just take the opportunity that I got right now. I knew it was a little early ‘cause you tend to try to want to think about saving that bump and run deal for the last lap, but I just took my chance with it and if he got back to my rear bumper, then so be it. I think that’s fair game and being able to race that way. Fortunately, I was able to run away from him and he couldn’t get back to me.”
For Larson, it was another near miss for victory lane at Bristol, a track where he has led 562 laps in his MENCS career, but has yet to score a win.
I was really, really good on that long run,” Larson said. “And yeah, as soon as we restarted there, I was extremely loose. The No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.) got to my inside. I just really didn’t have any grip. I thought it would tighten-up for me and I could get going, but it never really did and I was just really loose. I hate that I didn’t win. It’s another one at Bristol.”
For Jimmie Johnson, it was a sunny day despite the clouds, as the seven time series champion scored his first top five of the season with a third place result.
“Yeah, it really is a great boost,” Johnson said. “I’ve said for weeks now that we’re getting better and it’s great to finally have a result to back that up. We’ve had decent Fridays and really good Saturdays and then some bad luck in the races. Although we had plenty of bad luck over the course of the four or five days that we’ve been here, we were able to pull through and get a great third place finish. So, I’m very proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and thank everybody on this Lowe’s For Pros team and let’s get home and get out of here. It’s snowing again.”
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. came back from a spin and a pit road penalty – not to mention losing a lap – to contend for the win. Stenhouse, Jr. charged to second after the final caution, and was nudging Larson’s back bumper for the lead. In the end, he would finish in fourth place.
“We were really, really strong and I felt confident coming into the race yesterday and today,” Stenhouse, Jr. said. “We fought adversity. We lost track position multiple times and had to pass a lot of cars to get back to where we were. Brian (Pattie, Crew Chief) made a great call coming down pit road and taking tires before that long green flag run that we had. We got into second and I was hoping it would just go green to the end, knowing that we had better tires than the 42, who was the class of the field all day.”
Alex Bowman finished in fifth, giving Hendrick Motorsports two cars in the top five.
Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Newman rounded out the top ten.
As good as the day was for those drivers, it was a disappointing day for others. Keselowski won the first and second segment of the event, and was running in the top three when the handle started to go away on his car. Shortly after losing a lap, a blown tire with 30 laps to go sent him into the wall. He would finish 23rd.
“The tire came apart on that restart and we were trying to bring it on home, but it just didn’t come together,” Keselowski said.
One of the fastest cars all day was the No. 11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin. He charged to the lead on a lap 262 restart, but would head to pit road under green four laps later with a tire issue. After making up his lost lap late in the going, Hamlin would rally for a 14th place finish.
Sunday, before the rains came, was unkind as well to several other contenders. A multi-car crash on lap four gathered up several cars, including Dawsonville, Georgia’s Chase Elliott and defending series champion Martin Truex, Jr. After repairs, Elliott would soldier home to a 29th place finish on Monday, some 27 laps down. Truex, Jr. would restart the race on Monday, but was not running at the end. He was credited with a 30th place result.
Ryan Blaney was leading the race on Sunday when he was gathered up in a multi-car crash on lap 117, ending his day. He had led 100 laps before the incident.
“By the time I could see anything they were already turned right and there was nowhere to go,” said Blaney on Sunday. “Seeing the replay, I don’t know, people not cleared clearing themselves and then wrecking and take the leader out, so that’s unfortunate. Our car was pretty good today. We just kind of got held up there and we might not have been as strong at the end of that run, but I thought we could have at least held on for that stage and never got the chance.
“The positives you look at is that we had a good car and that’s something to hold your head high about.”
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, TN
Food City 500 – April 15-16, 2018
1. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 500.
2. (6) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 500.
3. (17) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 500.
4. (4) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ford, 500.
5. (8) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 500.
6. (19) Aric Almirola, Ford, 500.
7. (39) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 500.
8. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 500.
9. (10) Joey Logano, Ford, 500.
10. (30) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 500.
11. (12) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 500.
12. (23) David Ragan, Ford, 500.
13. (7) Paul Menard, Ford, 499.
14. (25) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 499.
15. (21) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 499.
16. (20) Darrell Wallace, Jr. #, Chevrolet, 499.
17. (18) A.J. Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 499.
18. (11) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 498.
19. (31) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 498.
20. (29) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 498.
21. (24) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 497.
22. (2) Kurt Busch, Ford, 496.
23. (3) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 495.
24. (33) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 495.
25. (34) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 494.
26. (13) Erik Jones, Toyota, 494.
27. (35) * D.J. Kennington, Toyota, 482.
28. (32) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 475.
29. (16) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 473.
30. (26) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota, Accident, 458.
31. (28) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 448.
32. (36) * Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Accident, 342.
33. (38) * Chad Finchum(i), Toyota, Accident, 335.
34. (15) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Steering, 236.
35. (5) Ryan Blaney, Ford, Accident, 117.
36. (22) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, Accident, 116.
37. (37) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, Accident, 115.
38. (9) Michael McDowell, Ford, Accident, 9.
39. (27) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 3.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 77.465 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 26 Mins, 25 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.628 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 13 for 114 laps.
Lead Changes: 18 among 8 drivers.
Lap Leaders: Kyle Busch 1-16; R. Blaney 17-55; J. Logano 56; R. Blaney 57-117; B. Keselowski 118-130; K. Larson 131-243; B. Keselowski 244-261; D. Hamlin 262-265; B. Keselowski 266-292; K. Larson 293-324; Kyle Busch 325-360; D. Suarez 361-365; B. Keselowski 366-374; D. Wallace Jr. # 375-380; Kyle Busch 381-438; K. Larson 439-472; Kyle Busch 473; K. Larson 474-494; Kyle Busch 495-500.
Leaders Summary: (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led) K. Larson 4 times for 200 laps; Kyle Busch 5 times for 117 laps; R. Blaney 2 times for 100 laps; B. Keselowski 4 times for 67 laps; D. Wallace Jr. # 1 time for 6 laps; D. Suarez 1 time for 5 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 4 laps; J. Logano 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 2,31,14,47,42,20,48,10,41,17
Stage #2 Top Ten: 2,18,48,11,42,17,88,4,3,43
Top 10 in Points: 1. Kyle Busch – 365 (2 Wins); 2. Joey Logano – 306; 3. Kevin Harvick – 290 (3 Wins); 4. Clint Bowyer – 286 (1 Win); 5. Brad Keselowski – 271; 6. Ryan Blaney – 267; 7. Martin Truex, Jr. – 257 (1 Win); 8. Denny Hamlin – 252; 9. Kyle Larson – 249; 10. Kurt Busch – 241.