It came down to a call not to pit that gave Kyle Busch the win on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Busch was running in the third position behind teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski when the final caution flag came out with 22 laps to go due to Kyle Larson hitting the wall.
Logano and Keselowski’s crew chiefs made the call to bring their drivers to pit road for fresh rubber, while Kyle Busch and his brother Kurt Busch both stayed out on older tries.
Kyle charged to the lead on the restart, and held off a challenge halfway through the final run from brother Kurt to score his third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season.
“It’s pretty awesome to be able to snooker those guys, get our win today here at Bristol,” Kyle Busch said. “Love this place. It was fun to battle out the brother there at the end. I know we didn’t quite get side by side racing it out. I saw him working the top. I’m like, I better go. I got up there, was able to make some ground. Man, just awesome to be here in front of this crowd, here at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Skittles Camry wasn’t the best today, but we made the most of not having the best and got everything we needed here at the end.”
He did that with a damaged No. 18 Toyota after being punted on the race’s opening lap by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., sending him spinning down the backstretch before being hit by Ryan Preece. That left Busch’s car with damage to the back bumper.
Despite that, Busch used the pit strategy to score his 54th career series victory, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty for tenth on the all time MENCS win list. It’s also high eight at Bristol.
“It ain’t 12, that’s for sure. So I got more to go,” he said in reference to NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip’s 12 wins at the Tennessee speedway.. “We’re getting there and it’s fun. It’s the most (among) active driver(s), I guess. I think I heard that. But, you know, there’s a lot more years left hopefully.”
Kurt Busch did all he could to challenge his brother for the victory, but in the end, had to settle for a second place result.
“I really wanted to beat him. I was going to wreck him,” Kurt Busch said, laughing. “I was wanting to stay close enough so that when we took the white, I was just going to drive straight into (turns) 3 and 4. I mean he’s already won. I figured he could give a little love to his brother, but no. I wanted that one bad. I feel like him right now. I’m like ugh, I’m mad because I didn’t win.”
Logano rebounded to finish in third after having put himself in a position to score the win with what appeared to be the strongest car in the closing segment of the race.
“The last thing you want is a caution with 15 to 20 to go at Bristol and you’re the leader because you know everyone is gonna make their decision off of what you do,” he said. “If you stay out, you’ve got to expect half the field is gonna pit, maybe more. If you come in, five or six stayed, so it’s just part of the game.”
Ryan Blaney, who led 3 times for 158 laps – the most on the day – finished in fourth, while Denny Hamlin rebounded from his third pit road speeding penalty of the season to come home in fifth.
Keselowski came off pit road first of those who stopped under the final caution, but was black flagged for failing to follow a NASCAR directive prior to the final restart. He would finish in 18th place.
“Nobody could figure out the lineup,” Keselowski said. “There wasn’t enough communication and it was just a tough deal.”
It was also a tough day for several of the other pre-race favorites.
Dawsonville, Georgia’s Chase Elliott started the day on the pole, but would see his day go sour on lap 42 when he spun while trying to avoid another car that had spun.
Elliott would spend much of the day fighting a power steering issue, but had worked his way back into the top ten when a cut tire from contact with Ryan Newman sent him into the outside wall on lap 431.
He would go on to finish 11th.
“Definitely not what we started out hoping for,” Elliott said. “We got turned late in the race, that was about it. We fell behind from there. Had a great car, even without the power steering.”
For two-time Bristol winner Kevin Harvick, problems began before the race even got started.
Harvick’s No. 4 Ford failed to clear pre-race tech three times, leading to his team engineer being ejected from the speedway. It also sent Harvick to the rear of the field, and sent him to pit road for a pass through penalty on the start of the race. To his advantage, the lap one caution for Kyle Busch’s spin meant Harvick lost only one lap.
However, a trip to pit road later in the event under green flag conditions for a loose wheel left him four laps down. Late in the going, a cut tire would also lead to contact with the outside wall.
Harvick fought his way back, and would finish on the lead lap in 13th at the end of the day.
Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top ten finishers.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, TN
Food City 500 – April 7, 2019
1. (17) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 500.
2. (27) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 500.
3. (7) Joey Logano, Ford, 500.
4. (3) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 500.
5. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500.
6. (9) Paul Menard, Ford, 500.
7. (8) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 500.
8. (20) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 500.
9. (11) Ryan Newman, Ford, 500.
10. (10) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 500.
11. (1) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 500.
12. (21) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 500.
13. (13) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 500.
14. (15) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 500.
15. (24) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 500.
16. (2) William Byron, Chevrolet, 500.
17. (23) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota, 499.
18. (12) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 499.
19. (16) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 499.
20. (28) Darrell Wallace, Jr., Chevrolet, 499.
21. (22) David Ragan, Ford, 498.
22. (25) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 498.
23. (14) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 497.
24. (4) Erik Jones, Toyota, 497.
25. (30) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 496.
26. (31) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 495.
27. (29) Matt Tifft #, Ford, 494.
28. (18) Michael McDowell, Ford, 493.
29. (37) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 491.
30. (26) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 490.
31. (34) Bayley Currey #, Chevrolet, 488.
32. (36) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 476.
33. (19) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ford, 395.
34. (32) Corey LaJoie, Ford, Accident, 308.
35. (35) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Suspension, 239.
36. (33) Gray Gaulding(i), Ford, Engine, 142.
37. (6) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 3.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 90.527 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 56 Mins, 38 Secs. Margin of Victory: .722 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 11 for 77 laps.
Lead Changes: 21 among 9 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Elliott 1-38;C. Bowyer 39-40;R. Blaney 41;D. Hamlin 42-48;E. Jones 49-58;R. Blaney 59-117;C. Bowyer 118-123;T. Dillon 124-129;B. Keselowski 130-144;J. Logano 145-255;R. Blaney 256-353;J. Logano 354-374;C. Bowyer 375-377;J. Logano 378;C. Bowyer 379-383;K. Busch 384-408;C. Bowyer 409-416;J. Logano 417;K. Busch 418-444;B. Keselowski 445-469;J. Logano 470-481;K. Busch 482-500.
Leaders Summary: (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led) Ryan Blaney 3 times for 158 laps; Joey Logano 5 times for 146 laps; Kyle Busch 3 times for 71 laps; Brad Keselowski 2 times for 40 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 38 laps; Clint Bowyer 5 times for 24 laps; Erik Jones 1 time for 10 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 7 laps; Ty Dillon 1 time for 6 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 13,14,2,22,48,18,12,21,19,9
Stage #2 Top Ten: 22,12,6,2,18,1,37,14,3,41
Top 10 in Points: 1. Kyle Busch – 361 (3 Wins); 2. Denny Hamlin – 334 (2 Wins); 3. Joey Logano – 326 (1 Win); 4. Kevin Harvick – 301; 5. Brad Keselowski – 271 (2 Wins); 6. Ryan Blaney – 265; 7. Martin Truex, Jr. – 254; 8. Kurt Busch – 253; 9. Aric Almirola – 246; 10. Chase Elliott – 245.