He came, he saw, he conquered, he swept.
Kyle Busch won everything in sight this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, capping off his tripleheader weekend sweep with a victory in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. The win was not only his second of the season and sixth of his career at “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile,” but also a statement. Busch and the No. 18 team are on a mission: championship or bust.
BREAK OUT THE BROOMS
Busch won Wednesday evening’s Camping World Truck Series race, even with a pit road speeding penalty attempting to derail his evening. Not a surprise in the slightest.
He won Friday evening’s XFINITY Series race, even with another pit road speeding penalty attempting to derail his evening and quest for a weekend triple. Not a surprise in the slightest.
And on Saturday evening, Busch accomplished a feat only done once ever in NASCAR history—seven years ago by himself—win all three races in all three series in one weekend. They both happened to come at “The Last Great Colosseum” in Bristol Motor Speedway, too.
“Coming in here tonight, we knew we had the pressure on,” Busch said of accomplishing the weekend triple in the media center post-race. “It was kept on all day long […] this is fun. This is cool. It’s neat to accomplish this once again. It’s crazy to do it at the same track over again for as many times as maybe I had the opportunity to do a sweep all over again. But nonetheless, this is Bristol Sweep 2.0. This time around (son) Brexton is here. So it’s a pretty good deal.”
Busch took the lead from Toyota teammate Erik Jones on the final restart of the 500-lap event on lap 422 and never looked back. All in all, after starting in 18th-place, Rowdy led 156 laps on the evening en route to grabbing the 40th checkered flag of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, and it ended with him sweeping away the confetti from his No. 18 Toyota Camry.
“Car might not have been perfect, but I’m never perfect,” Busch told NBC in Victory Lane. “I never feel like we’re perfect, but this Caramel Camry was fast. So proud of these guys, so proud of my team, so proud of Joe Gibbs Racing. So proud of Rowdy Nation, this one’s for you!”
HATERS ARE HIS MOTIVATORS
Upon hopping out of his No. 18 Camry after burning the rear tires off the car, Busch pumped his fist, grabbed the checkered flag and took his ceremonial bow. And then, he took his helmet off and listened to the crowd shower him with boos (and some cheers), cupped his ears wanting to hear more and flashed three fingers to signify the feat he had just accomplished.
Yeah, I think it’s safe to say he’s embracing his role as the villain of NASCAR once and for all. He runs the lower series and wins week after week. He’s a “sore loser” when things don’t go his way. Those are the two biggest things fans, media and fellow drivers alike see on and off the racetrack that have led to Busch being “the bad guy.” But he’s thriving off the negativity.
“Don’t matter what I do, what I say, how much I try to change,” Busch explained in the media center post-race. “You don’t change perception. People have whatever perception it is on you. To me, I don’t know that it’s necessarily whether or not you have the most fans or the most followers. To me it’s just about being able to go out there and put on a show for those that are buying tickets and being a part of it. I know Rowdy Nation is pretty strong.”
Busch also went on to tell a story about a fan at a sponsor appearance earlier Saturday morning where the fan was flipping him off, so he stared at him. The fan then gave him the double bird.
“Yeah, I know I’m No. 1,” Busch explained of the story. “I’ve been No. 1 the past two nights. He gave me two. You know what, you’re already solidifying what I already know. It’s pretty awesome to be able to get out there. I’m sure (the haters are) still booing, whining and crying all the way home tonight. They’re driving home mad, so people be careful.”
We get lost in the fast-paced world of today—and I’m about as guilty of it as anyone else. And I say that we need to appreciate Jimmie Johnson’s greatness now, because we’ll miss it when he’s gone. Sports fans say the same thing about LeBron James, Tom Brady, etc.
It’s time to add Kyle Busch to that list on the motorsports side, because what the Las Vegas native is doing is simply incredible. He’s 32 years old, has tied Hall of Famer Mark Martin for 14th-place on the all-time wins list in the Cup Series and is approaching 200 wins across all three national series. He’s entering the conversation as one of the best stock car drivers in the history of NASCAR—and why shouldn’t he be? He’s that good, y’all.
The NASCAR world praised Busch on social media following his triumph at Bristol, including one of the biggest young stars, Kyle Larson, using a goat emoji while talking about him. After all, he is the only driver to complete a weekend triple in NASCAR history. And he’s done it twice now. Plus, leading a whopping 45 percent of all laps run this weekend isn’t too shabby.
Sure, hate on him all you want for stinking up the show in the NCWTS and NXS. I know I have ever since he started doing so. But I must admit that watching him slice and dice his way through the field from the back to the front in all three races was entertainment at its finest.
Following Busch across the finish line was a plethora of Toyota drivers, including Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Erik Jones in second, with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth third and fourth, respectively. Kurt Busch came home in fifth-place, leading the way for Stewart-Haas Racing while competing in the 600th MENCS race of his career.
Ryan Newman, Trevor Bayne (second consecutive top 10), Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top 10, with Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suarez capping off the top 15.
Some other notables included Chase Elliott in 18th (late-race spin), Clint Bowyer in 19th, Martin Truex Jr. in 21st (loose wheel and pit road penalty), Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 23rd and Brad Keselowski (flat tire on lap five) in 29th.
JONESING FOR MORE
For a while on Saturday night, it looked like rookie Erik Jones was going to be the one to unseat Kyle Busch from his Bristol throne. But alas, second place was the best the driver of the No. 77 5-Hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota could do when 500 grueling laps came to a close.
“You don’t want to sound like you’re whining or being a sore loser by saying it sucks to run second, but it’s a bummer,” Jones said in the media center post-race after starting on the pole and leading a race-high 260 laps around the 0.533-mile bullring. “It hurts. You know, you want to win every race you’re in. This was the first shot that I really had to come really close to it in the Cup Series. Bristol is a really good racetrack for myself. Thought we had a shot at it all night, led a ton of laps. It’s Kyle Busch. He won all three races here this weekend. So I feel like I’m close to him here—just trying to find that last little bit.”
Jones has finished in the top 10 in each of his last four starts (eighth, 10th, third and second), but still sits below the cutline for the playoffs. And with two races remaining until the playoffs begin, a win is the only thing that will get Jones in. But hey, he’s been closer than most.
I didn’t have a witty title for this section, but plain and simple: Toyota has found their speed.
The 1-2-3-4 sweep for Toyota at Bristol marks the second time in three weeks that the Japanese manufacturer has done so. And after all the talk from Brad Keselowski of possible “sandbagging” and a slow start to the season for JGR, they’re the ones laughing in Victory Lane.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final start at Bristol Motor Speedway, a track where he won in 2004 and has a handful of top 10 finishes, didn’t go as planned for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team.
Junebug started 31st and ran around 20th all evening long, eventually finishing 23rd, three laps down. Nothing has really gone right for the No. 88 bunch this season, so naturally, JR Nation wants to fire crew chief Greg Ives. Earnhardt came to Ives’ defense on Twitter following the 266.5-mile affair.
He is a talent and when he gets things figured out with Alex in 2018 everyone will have forgotten the struggles of 2017. https://t.co/RoWIbucLE4
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) August 20, 2017
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has a rare off weekend next week before heading to Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles Southern 500, the annual throwback weekend from the track aptly nicknamed “Too Tough to Tame” and “The Lady In Black.” The XFINITY Series will be in action from Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. on Sunday afternoon on NBCSN.
Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray currently occupy the final three playoff spots. McMurray, sitting 16th, holds a 58-point advantage over Clint Bowyer. Joey Logano is 117 points back. Elliott and Kenseth are 69 and 61 points clear of the cut line, respectively.