Driver Kyle Busch does a spinout after winning Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. (Jonathan McCoy photo)
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Sequels rarely measure up to the original.
Such was the case when Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson found themselves dueling for a Nationwide Series win at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon.
After beating Larson to the finish line by a mere 2 feet last spring, there was plenty of daylight between Larson's No. 42 Chevrolet and Busch's No. 54 Toyota when the checkered flag fell at the end of the Drive to Stop Diabetes 300. For Busch, it was his third consecutive Nationwide Series win at BMS and his 16th victory overall at the track across NASCAR's top three touring series.
Busch said he learned a lot about Lawson last year and tried to take away his line in order to hold him off this time around.
"I just tried to run hard and I know he was running the top. He loves the top," Busch said. "I knew he was going to be up there so I tried to perfect that a little bit earlier in the race."
Larson won the pole, but had to recover from a pit road speeding penalty early in the race. On the final restart, which came on lap 291, Larson found himself in fourth place, which nearly turned out to be the right place at the right time.
"It seemed like anybody who was behind me on the restart would be able to jump the two guys that were on the bottom," Busch said. "It just seems like the bottom here is really at a disadvantage."
Sure enough, Larson started behind Busch on the outside row when the green flag flew with nine laps to go. Larson was able to get past Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth on the low side and set his sights on the back bumper of Busch's Toyota.
"I was thinking about how I wasn't going to be as nice as I was last year," Larson said afterward.
But Larson's hopes of winning were dashed when he drifted just a little bit too high between turns 1 and 2, picking up some marbles on his right-side tires in the process. From there, all Larson could do was hold off Harvick to preserve the second-place finish.
"Right when I got too high in 1 and 2 and Kevin got to my inside, I knew that was it for the race," Larson said. "That's probably the point I knew I had to hold on for second."
The third-place finish Harvick ended up with was hardly much of a surprise after he held down that position for the entire second half of the race. But it was a bit of a shock that Kenseth faded to fifth after leading 178 laps, 58 more than Busch.
Kenseth lost the lead when he got hung up in slower traffic on lap 209, and he got stuck restarting on the bottom of the track on the four restarts that came in the final 100 laps.
"We had a good car the whole race and just kind of got picked off in lapped traffic," Kenseth said. "Kyle got by me in lapped traffic and that was kind of the difference, honestly. After that we had like four or five restarts or something, and we were on the bottom in every one.
"These guys gave me a car to win today and I didn't get it done, but it was a good run for us."
Harvick certainly felt Kenseth's pain when it came time to make something happen in the inside lane. And Harvick said he didn't pick up any knowledge about restarting on the inside to help him in today's Sprint Cup race.
"Nothing we haven't learned over the past however many years it's been since they screwed this place up by repaving it," Harvick said. "The bottom is just not good. Once (the track) rubbers up, it just becomes a parade."
After capturing his seventh career Nationwide race at BMS, Busch noted that the top groove materializing the way it did threw his team a curveball. In practice, the cars stuck to the bottom groove as rubber marbles collected on the top of the track. But when Saturday's race started, it didn't take cars long to move up the banking and make the top line work.
"It was entirely different — not even close," Busch said. "We really had to change our car a lot today."
Ryan Blaney finished in fourth after picking up a Lucky Dog early in the race to get back on the lead lap.
"We started out really loose and we didn't think (the track) would go that way," Blaney said. "(Crew chief) Jeremy Bullins and everyone on this 22 team did an awesome job of getting this thing where it needed to be and I think if a couple cautions fell at the right time we might have been able to make a run for second.
"I don't know if we had anything for the 54, though."comments powered by Disqus