Kyle Busch narrowly won the Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway, beating rookie Kyle Larson by half a car length.
The win adds to Busch’s win count as the most winningest driver in the Nationwide Series and sees Busch’s win counter move up to 107, with 53 Nationwide wins, 24 Sprint Cup wins and 30 Camping World Truck Series wins.
“It was a handful out there, for sure.” said Busch. “The last 28 laps were gut wrenching, you’re up on the wheel trying to drive as hard as you can. You’re right on the verge of that concrete and if you slip just a little bit it can be a huge mess. We just kept trying to push the outside a little bit each lap.”
The win was the second closest in Bristol history, with Busch also involved in the cloest win along with Sprint Cup driver Joey Logano.
“I did everything I could to try to protect the momentum,” Busch said of the last lap charge from Larson. “A young kid like that, he’s got a lot of talent. He played it smart today, that was good on his end. A lot of people have been looking at him to see if he’ll be a wrecker or a checker and today, even though he didn’t get the checkers, that’s how you get them.”
“I wasn’t sure what to do when I caught up to them.” said Larson, still chasing his first Nationwide Series win. “We got an OK restart and just rode around [behind Busch] for a few laps. I was pretty happy he went low at end as it gave me one more shot at taking the win. We’ve had a heck of a two days. We didn’t practice well but the team made a lot of changes and it showed today.”
The early stages of the race were dominated by Justin Allgaier, who lead every single lap until the first round of pitstops under caution on lap 61, where pit strategy allowed Trevor Bayne to take the lead ahead of Brian Scott, both opting for just two tyres in pit lane. Bayne held the lead until lap 77 before a backmarker allowed Kyle Busch to glide past the #6.
Lap 68 saw championship contender Elliot Sadler develop technical problems with the car, radioing in to his team that his fuel pressure was dropping rapidly. After NASCAR issued a warning to Sadler telling him to pick up the pace, the #11 pulled into the pits and was promptly taken behind the wall.
“Something internal in the engine let go.” Sadler explained. “It’s a tough deal, we were good on the long runs. We really wanted to run the whole race here. It puts us in a bit of a hole [in the championship], but we have a lot of racing to do this season and we’ll hope to get back in California. It’s a shame to leave early here, but we’ve got a lot of racing left and we’ll move on.”
The field came under caution for the third time on lap 105 when the #55 of Jamie Dick was turned around by Brian Vickers in the #20 car. Dick’s car came to a halt between turns 1 & 2, leaving Nelson Piquet Jr nowhere to go but into the side of the #55.
Following a round of pitstops under caution, Kyle Busch led the field back to racing alongside reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, both choosing to stay off of pit lane during the yellow flag period. There was hardly time to get back up to speed before debris from a cut tyre on the #51 of Jeremy Clements brought out the fourth caution on lap 125. Green flag racing resumed on lap 129.
Caution flags flew again on lap 160 after a big crash involving the #44 of Hal Martin, the #79 of Jeffrey Earnhardt and the #40 of Josh Wise. Judging by Martin’s reaction to Brad Teague, who was eight laps down, as he came round behind the pace car, Martin believed that Teague was to blame for the shunt. Austin Dillon in the #3 car was also involved, but avoided any major damage.
All of the leaders decided to pit under caution, with Keselowski getting the jump over Busch, after the #54’s mechanics had a slight issue with the left rear tyre, losing a second to Keselowski on pit road. Back under racing conditions, Keselowski’s lead was under serious threat from the #7 of Regan Smith, but a caution for debris on lap 178 meant that Smith had to back out of the move.
As green flag racing resumed with 115 laps to go, so did the battle between Keselowski and Smith, with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch close behind. The two leaders were running side by side when a backmarker caused contact between the two. It looked like Keselowski had gotten away with it until his left front tyre blew, handing the lead to Harvick as the field were put under caution once again. Keselowski ended up a lap down and in 22nd place while the field went green with 100 laps left.
The battle for the lead started hotting up between Harvick and Busch as they began to hit traffic, with Busch trying to make the low line work while Harvick held the favoured middle lane. When the two approached a big group of backmarkers, it was clear that Busch was in the driving seat as they went three-wide with lapped cars, eventually pulling clear of Harvick’s #33.
Following another caution period, the field went racing again with 27 laps to go with Busch leading the #32 of rookie Kyle Larson, with Vickers and Sam Hornish, Jr on the second row. Harvick had dropped down the field after fitting fresh tyres under the caution period and found himself in a battle for 5th with Hornish.
With five laps to go, Larson had closed right in on Busch, but couldn’t get alongside the #54 enough to put on a serious challenge for the lead. All hopes for Larson seemed to hang on lapped cars holding Busch up, but, unfortunately for Larson, they only caught them in the final corner of the race. The rookie was alongside at the flag, banging doors with Busch, but lost out by half a car length.
Sam Hornish leaves Bristol with the lead in the championship, 22 points clear of Justin Allgaier.