Neither rain nor sleet nor snow, nor even a spin could keep Kyle Larson from winning at Bristol Monday.
Kyle Busch however could.
Busch used a bump and run on Larson with 6 laps to go to take the lead and hold off Larson to win by .628 of a second in the weather delayed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series at Bristol Motor Speedway.
It took a day but after starting from the pole, Busch survived the battle with the weather and the rest of the field to win the 45th time in his career. It was also his 7th win at Bristol making him the leader among active drivers at Bristol.
“I was breathing hard there those last 20 laps, whatever it was. That was a heck of a run right there with the 42 (Kyle Larson) – chasing him down, being able to get to him, being able to get by him and then trying to hold him off with some lap traffic ahead of us,” Busch said. “Actually the 42 was better than us right there before that last caution came out, so I don’t know what happen to ours, but we just got really really bad tire vibrations and just wasn’t able to run as hard as we wanted, but we got it. Came in, got them four tires put on it and man we were fast there at the end. We chased those guys back down.”
Larson was obviously disappointed after leading a race high 200 laps.
“I knew it would be hard to get back to him,” Larson said. “I knew I would need a lapper to kind of hold him up on exit and kill his momentum to allow me to maybe get back to his bumper, but there just weren’t a whole lot of cars left out there.”
While Larson was disappointed, others had their best finished of the season. Chief among them was Jimmie Johnson who finished third, his vest finish since a third at Dover last October.
“It really is a great boost,” said Johnson who had started in the rear of the field Sunday. “I’ve said for weeks now that we’re getting better and it’s great to finally have a result to back that up. We’ve had decent Fridays and really good Saturdays and then some bad luck in the races. Although we had plenty of bad luck over the course of the four or five days that we’ve been here, we were able to pull through and get a great third place finish.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also had his best finish of the season coming home fourth, while Alex Bowman scored a career high fifth.
“To run fifth, it’s not a great day,” Bowman said. “But it’s better than what we started the year doing. We are making progress, making steps in the right direction and just got to keep doing that.”
Rain delayed Sunday’s start and when the race finally did get underway, several big crashes and more weather led to three red flags.
The carnage started on lap 4 when Michael McDowell got loose exiting turn 4 and slid along the frontstretch; Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger, and Martin Truex Jr. were swept up. Aric Almirola also suffered damage; all were able to continue though Elliott and Truex sustained enough damage to lose several laps and were never in contention for the win.
Ryan Blaney would take the lead shortly after and looked to be the car to beat but on lap 117 in front of him Trevor Bayne got into Chris Buescher exiting turn 2; Blaney couldn’t avoid it and hit Harrison Rhodes; Blaney’s day was over as was Rhodes and Buescher.
After two more weather delays, Brad Keselowski won the first stage. NASCAR tried to get to the end of the second stage to make the race official, but the rain picked back up and on lap 203 the field was again parked. The race was called for the evening at 5:00 p.m. and rescheduled for 1:00 p.m. Monday.
That start was delayed by just over a half an hour due to light rain which had sleet and snowflakes mixed in. When the green did fall on lap 211, Larson was in the lead with Ryan Newman in second; both had elected to stay out with the rest of the leaders pitted.
It didn’t take long before those who had pitted led by Keselowski to run to the front; Keselowski was leading and won the second stage as more weather threatened.
Hamlin would have the lead by lap 266, when he reported a loose wheel and was forced to pit under green. Johnson would inherit the lead, but Busch was back at the front of the field; Larson had fought his way back to the top five. On lap 323 Larson came down on the car of Newman who had been lapped and the two made contact; Larson spun but kept his car off the wall and was able to continue; after stops, Larson only lost two spots and came out second to leader Kyle Busch.
Keselowski who had fallen to 19th two laps down reported something in his suspension was broken on lap 466; he would lose a left front tire on lap 469.
That final caution set up a 22-lap dash to the finish. Busch would take the led with 6 to go and go on for his second win of the season and for the fifth time in his career his consecutive wins.
Almirola was sixth, Kevin Harvick seventh, Clint Bowyer eighth with Joey Logano and Newman rounding out the top 10.
Keselowski finished 23rd, five laps down. Bubba Wallace who made a bold move to take the lead late in the going couldn’t sustain it and finished 16th one lap down.
For Busch the win marked the first time in 31 years that the series points leader coming into the race has won the Bristol spring event. The last to accomplish that feat was Dale Earnhardt Sr. Busch will also head to Richmond looking to win three Cup races in a row, something he has only done once in his career.
“We haven’t quite been as strong as we wanted to be at Richmond the last few times,” Busch said. “I don’t know what we’re kind of missing there. I don’t think it’s one of Adam’s best racetracks. I think it’s one of mine. But we’ll continue to try to get better and figure out what we need to get around there well.”
The series now has a short week as they head to Richmond for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400. Live coverage will be on Fox starting at 7:00 p.m.