The broom came out at Bristol once again as Kyle Busch held off Erik Jones for his second triple sweep, his first since 2010. Matt Kenseth finished fourth, bumping Jamie McMurray down to the 16th and final playoff spot with two regular season races remaining.
On a bright night of Aug. 21, 2010, Kyle Busch made history at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, becoming the first driver in NASCAR history to sweep all three national touring series (Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series) races in a single weekend. Seven years later, Busch accomplished the same feat in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race after leading 156 of 500 laps (451 of 1003 total laps led this weekend).
Busch held off his protégé Erik Jones for his 40th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win. It’s Busch’s sixth Cup win at Bristol, his second of the season and his 180th national series win.
Busch’s teammates Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and his brother Kurt rounded out the top 5.
Ryan Newman, Trevor Bayne, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney finished in the top 10.
After bowing down towards a jeering crowd, Busch said his second Bristol sweep was harder than the first.
“That one was a lot harder. Man, Erik put up a whale of a fight and that is all I had. I was running with my tongue hanging out. My arms are jello and my throat hurts but man, that’s awesome,” Busch said. “I can’t say enough about everybody on my Joe Gibbs Racing team. (Crew chief) Adam Stevens and the guys are phenomenal. Car might not have been perfect. I’m never perfect, I never feel like we’re perfect but this M&M’s Caramel Camry was fast. So proud of these guys, my team, Joe Gibbs Racing and so proud of Rowdy Nation, this one’s for you.”
Busch then responded to the boos saying, “I don’t care. Make the noise, who cares.”
In his victory lane interview, Busch expanded his thanks to his group of fans who put up with the hatred from his detractors.
“Rowdy Nation is what fuels us to get around and get along. All the noise is good noise, that’s how I feel about it,” Busch said. “I can’t fight as much I want to fight on social media. There’s a lot of trolls out there so my guys do it for me so I appreciate them and being able to do that.”
“It’s just awesome to have a legion of fans, no matter if they’re’ the biggest ones or the 50 percent ones or whatever,” Busch said. “It’s just a matter of being able to win people’s hearts whether it’s by outracing, outdriving or outperforming people on the racetrack or sometimes their antics. Some people like it, some people don’t. A lot of people liked a lot of other drivers that were popular and some didn’t either so I don’t care. I am who I am.”
Busch’s win moved him ahead of Kyle Larson for second in the regular season standings, trailing Jones’ teammate Martin Truex, Jr. by 101 points.
After leading a race-high 260 laps after starting from the pole, Jones said the congratulatory from his No. 77 Furniture Row Racing team lessened the sting of finishing second.
“It is what it is. We raced hard all night and led a lot of laps. We did almost everything that we needed to do. We qualified on the pole and ran second. I wish we would’ve had a little bit more. It’s a bummer but a great weekend for us and you can’t take that away,” Jones said. “The 5 Hour Energy Camry was fantastic but you still wish you could’ve had that little bit more to grab the win. That win would’ve meant a lot to us but we’ll just have to keep after it. That’s two good weeks for us and we’re going to keep fighting and keep going after these wins.”
Nobody amounted a charge on Jones in the opening 50 laps of stage one, leading all but two laps (both laps led by Chase Elliott). Larson had other plans and took the lead from Jones on lap 51. Jones later fell back to fourth.
Busch didn’t come into the picture until the end of stage one, bringing his competitive edge with a three-wide pass over Larson on lap 115, splitting the lapped car of Brad Keselowski.
The two continued to battle back and forth as Larson regained the lead from Busch two laps later after Michael McDowell got in Busch’s way.
Busch fought back and use every inch of the track to pass Larson but wasn’t successful until the last lap of stage one. Busch bumped Larson out of the way in turn one and snatched his 10th stage victory. Jones came back and finish second over Larson.
Busch’s celebration was shorted lived after losing five spots during pit stops. Busch was sandwiched between Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth and backed out to avoid pit problems.
Despite winning the Camping World Truck Series (Wednesday) and Xfinity Series (Friday) races at Bristol, Busch was handcuffed with pit road penalties in both races and his crew were conservative to avoid another pit penalty.
Busch’s misfortune became Jones’ gain, exiting the pits in first and led the field at the start of stage two. It didn’t take long for Busch to make his move towards the front and moved up to second at lap 140.
Busch powered his way back in first on the outside lane of turn two on lap 167. Jones ran Busch down and used the bottom lane to take the lead 12 laps later.
The two continued their battle throughout stage two with Busch returning on top of the leaderboard on lap 198.
On lap 232, Austin Dillon’s car spun and collected Jefferey Earnhardt in turn three. Both drivers retired from the race and finished 39th and 40th respectively. It’s Earnhardt’s fifth last-place finish of the season, leading all drivers. Austin was the only playoff contender who failed to finish Saturday’s race.
Both Busch and Jones pitted under caution but six drivers (Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) stayed out for track position.
Kenseth cleared Johnson on the restart and captured his third stage win of the season. Jones crossed the line in 5th, three spots ahead of Busch.
Kenseth pitted but was penalized for being too fast exiting pit road after battling Johnson to be the first driver out of pit road.
On lap 257, Jones started the final stage as the race leader and rather than battling Busch, he slowly stretched his lead up to a second on lap 310. Jones extended his race lead by two seconds over Busch 10 laps later. Busch was passed by Larson on lap 350 for second.
Jones lead evaporated on lap 352 after Ty Dillon slapped the wall, bringing out the sixth caution.
After another round of pit stops, Jones exited out in first. Busch resumed his battle with Jones and regained the lead on lap 360 after restarting in fourth.
Elliott spun into the inside wall on lap 397 after making contact with Harvick. His No. 24 NAPA sustained minor left front damage and lost a lap.
Elliott regained his lap back on lap 417 after Landon Cassill was tapped by Matt DiBenedetto in turn two, sending Cassill into the inside wall before hitting the outside wall hard.
Elliott finished 18th and sits as the highest driver in points without a win in 14th, ahead of Kenseth and Jamie McMurray.
The race resumed on lap 422 with Jones as the race leader.
As the race was winding down, the top three was separated by one second as Kenseth and Busch inched closer to Jones’ lead with 62 laps remaining.
Then on lap 444, Busch once again regained the lead after Jones got loose entering turn four, giving him the open room he needed. Jones lost second to Kenseth a lap later.
Jones and Kenseth were beating and banging for second with Jones getting the upper hand with 35 laps to go but was over a second behind Busch and had to deal with lapped traffic.
Jones kept fighting to reduce Busch’s lead and clearing lapped traffic but came up just short of beating his mentor for his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win that would’ve locked him into the playoffs.
“I felt like Bristol was one of our best shots to win and it showed. We led a ton of laps and didn’t have quite enough when it mattered,” Jones said. “I wish we would’ve freed it up a little bit more. We got up on the top there and it seemed like whoever was in front was going to win. I just didn’t have quite enough.”
Busch praised Jones’ driving after battling for the lead throughout the night.
“I can’t say enough about that young man. He’s a great kid, I have a lot of fun with him and have a lot of respect for him,” Busch said. “He raced me awesome out there like a great teammate. Gave me the room when necessary and raced me hard when necessary. It’s great to have a guy like that.”
Jones sits 20th in the playoff standings, 126 points behind McMurray.
Kenseth’s fourth place finish was his fourth top 5 in the last six races, moving up to 15th in the playoff standings after entering Saturday holding the 16th and final playoff spot.
McMurray is 58 points ahead of 17th place Clint Bowyer with two regular season races remaining.
Despite retaining his playoff spot for another week, Kenseth wasn’t satisfied finishing fourth and holds himself accountable for his speeding penalty.
“I really probably wanted this one worse than any of them I’ve had in a long time. The speeding on pit road, me and Jimmie were having a heck of race off pit road and I was on my mark but he was just holding me so tight. I got too close on the inside wall so it’s my fault for not compensating enough,” Kenseth said. “We had a good car in the short run. Anything more than 50 laps we were in trouble. First 50 laps we were really good I think if we would’ve got in the front. I just get tight after 50 laps and couldn’t do anything with it.”
Kenseth said he was focusing on capturing his first win of the season instead of holding off McMurray and other drivers who battling for the final playoff spots.
“I wasn’t thinking about playoffs, I was trying to think about winning the race and really didn’t think about anything else,” Kenseth said. “These guys had great pit stops and really fought hard. I just couldn’t get it done so I’m just disappointed with that.”
Fresh off a season-best fifth-place finish at Michigan last Sunday, Trevor Bayne overcame a burnt bead on his right front tire on lap 355 and finished seventh for his second straight top 10 finish.
Bayne said he’s proud of Roush Fenway Racing’s execution the past month that has resulted his recent strong finishes.
“The last month We’ve had strategy and things go our way somewhat and gotten results from it Here at Bristol, Roush always gives us great cars and we had really great runs the last four or five races. Our Ford was fast at the end when it mattered,” Bayne said. “At one point, we blew a right front and hit the fence. I thought we were going to be lucky to get back on the lead lap. Got on the lead lap, got a caution, got some new tires on it and we were passing cars. Jimmie and I had a pretty epic battle for a minute and we were able to get seventh. Pretty happy with that and we’re going to keep working on it.”
Bayne added his team needs to win to make the playoffs as they’re mathematically eliminated from making it via points.
“Obviously we need to win. That’s what our goal is. A seventh was great but we’re like ‘oh man, we got to get there,’” Bayne said. “I’m really proud of these guys and the gains that we’re making. It’s been a rough time through the summer but we’re coming back now.”
The Cup drivers will take its final off week before taking a trip down memory lane and have a date with the “Lady in Black” known as Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina for the annual Bojangles’ Southern 500 Sept. 3. Truex, Jr. is the defending winner.