Can Kyle Busch win at Bristol?
It seems like an absurd question going into Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night considering the defending NASCAR champion’s track record at Bristol Motor Speedway.
After all, he leads all active drivers with eight Cup Series wins and a record 21 overall on the high-banked short track. However, Busch hasn’t won in 28 races this year, and his season has been up and down en route to 15 top-10 finishes.
The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota addressed some of the team’s issues during a videoconference ahead of the race at Richmond Raceway, where he finished sixth.
“I think we struggle in traffic, that’s our biggest problem,” he said. “I can’t get through traffic very well. We kind of saw it in Darlington. Wherever I single-filed out in a race is kind of where I run. There wasn’t much of me going forward or going backwards for that matter.”
Busch was able to get to the front during the Food City presents Supermarket Heroes 500 back in May at Bristol. Despite leading 100 laps, he finished fourth and wasn’t up with leaders Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and his teammate Denny Hamlin at the end of the race.
Overall, his Toyota has lagged behind those of teammates Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.
“Obviously our teammates have been starting up front, they’ve been running up front and they’ve been doing a good job of keeping themselves in the mix,” Busch said. “If we can continue to evolve and get ourselves up a little bit higher, then hopefully that will bode well for us, too, down the stretch here.”
With his nine victories this season, Kevin Harvick has surpassed Busch on NASCAR’s all-time wins list. Busch, a two-time champion with 56 career wins, now ranks 10th among the sport’s all-time greats.
This year, though, there have been struggles because of lack of practice and qualifying before races.
Still, Busch is confident in his relationship with crew chief Adam Stevens. Busch pointed to Jason Ratcliff, his former crew chief, working with a rookie driver as an example of that relationship’s importance.
“Jason Ratcliff and Christopher Bell, they’re kind of going through a hit or miss, a little bit of a rough patch just not having the experience and not having the communication together, especially with these Cup cars,” Busch said. “Learning a new car and sometimes learning new tracks has been challenging.
“Having that notebook and having that experience that’s been developed over time with myself certainly helps and gives us a good basis to go off of.”
Still, it is a changing sport. What worked for Busch during those eight Bristol wins doesn’t necessarily parlay into a dominant car for Saturday’s race.
“The setups and everything else is ever-evolving and always changing,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that we always have to take into consideration going into race weekends. What to do or what to change and what to improve on from the last time.”