Kyle Busch celebrates in Victory Lane following his win in the Food City 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. (Times-News photo by Jonathan McCoy)
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Forty cars took the green flag at the beginning of the Food City 250, but it was over almost before it started for 39 of them.
Kyle Busch climbed behind the wheel of his No. 54 Toyota Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway and transformed all but nine cars in the NASCAR Nationwide Series field into lapped traffic en route to a dominant victory. The win was Busch’s 15th at BMS across NASCAR’s top three touring series, and it put him in position to complete the sweep of this week’s races at tonight’s IRWIN Tools Night Race.
Busch easily outpaced runner-up Brad Keselowski during a long green-flag run that started on lap 178 after the fourth and final caution of the night and extended to the end of the race. After collecting the checkered flag, Busch did his trademark bow to a mixed response from the crowd.
“The fans, whether you’re cheering or booing, it don’t matter,” said Busch, who led 228 laps. “We’re here to win races and take trophies home.
“You can be booing some more tomorrow night if you want to when I’m taking home another trophy.”
The only things realistically standing between Busch and victory Friday was either a parts failure or gross negligence on the part of the driver. By the time the first caution flag of the night waved on lap 66, Busch already held a commanding six-second lead over the second-place car of Justin Allgaier.
Busch trailed for a 22-lap stretch after making a pit stop under the second caution of the race on lap 105. Kyle Larson stayed out to become the race leader and Busch restarted fourth, but the No. 54 Toyota was out front again after Busch got by Larson with relative ease on lap 129.
After that, Keselowski soon found himself in second place, but all the reigning Sprint Cup champ could do was stare at the taillight decals on the No. 54 machine as the laps wound down.
“We just didn’t have enough. We were close, just not quite good enough,” Keselowski said. “We just didn’t have enough speed to get past Kyle. We got close to him, just not close enough.”
Busch clearly had the preeminent car, but a few drivers in the field were left wondering if the race would have unfolded differently if the top groove weren’t so dominant. Ever since track alterations were made last year, the top line along the outside wall has become the preferred line, making passing much tougher than it was prior to the top groove being ground down.
“It’s part of the deal with the grinding,” Keselowski said. “Whenever I don’t really have a lot of positive things to say about something, I shouldn’t say anything at all.”
Busch and Keselowski haven’t always seen eye to eye, but they both agree the racing isn’t as good as it used to be. Busch said little can be done at this point to reverse the alteration that made the top groove along the wall the fastest way to get around BMS.
“The only thing they could do to make all grooves the same is just to grind the whole racetrack,” Busch said. “But it’s not the drivers that are able to make the calls around here. It’s the race fans, and they got what they wanted. I think it’s going to be a one-line race and we’ll see how it pans out.”
Austin Dillon overcame a mistake on pit road early in the race to finish third. Allgaier finished fourth and Larson held on to score a fifth-place result.
“I wish we’d knock him out of Victory Lane somehow,” Dillon said of Busch. “Kyle’s a great driver here, Brad, too. I just feel great finishing behind a couple great drivers here.”
Aside from Dillon, it was a tough night for the drivers competing for the Nationwide Series points title.
Sam Hornish Jr., who nevertheless escaped Bristol with a six-point lead over Dillon, struggled to a 12th-place finish, two laps off Busch’s torrid pace.
“It turned out it was a sparkplug wire,” Hornish said of the issue that plagued his car. “I definitely believe it was a top-five race car if we had all eight cylinders.”
Elliott Sadler finished 10th Friday and moved to third in the points standings. Regan Smith and Brian Vickers both struggled mightily. Smith finished 21st and fell one spot to fourth in the standings while Vickers wrecked en route to a 34th-place finish that dropped him to sixth in points behind Allgaier.