Camry driver Kyle Busch (first) captured the checkered flag in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The victory was Busch’s fifth NNS win at Bristol, tying him for the most NNS triumphs in track history.
Busch beat Kyle Larson by a fender for the win in the second closest finish in NNS history at Bristol (.023 seconds).
Busch led a race-high 156 laps (of 300) over two segments on the Tennessee short track en route to his 53rd career NNS victory — a series record.
Toyota drivers Brian Vickers (third) and Parker Kligerman (ninth) also finished in the top-10 on the half-mile track in Tennessee.
Other Camry drivers in Saturday’s race included Mike Bliss (13th), Alex Bowman (14th), John Wes Townley (17th), Eric McClure (21st), Joe Nemechek (24th), Blake Koch (25th), Brad Teague (29th), Jason White (30th), Hal Martin (31st), Elliot Sadler (36th), Jeff Green (37th) and Michael McDowell (40th).
Three Toyota drivers are in the top-10 of the unofficial NNS point standings — Vickers (fifth), Bowman (eighth) and Sadler (10th).
KYLE BUSCH, No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing position: 1st
How did you win this race? “I don’t know. I just did everything that I could to try to protect the momentum and I knew the 70 car (Brad Teague) there was going to be slow off the top and so I figured, ‘Well, maybe I can have enough off the bottom to keep the 32 (Kyle Larson) at least to my quarter panel,’ which I guess it all worked out. I don’t know how close it was, but maybe it was too close. All in all though, can’t say enough about this whole team — everybody on this Monster Energy Toyota Camry. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) engines were awesome. It’s cool to come out here and race in the Nationwide Insurance Series. We love being able to do it and we appreciate their support. It was a good, comfortable day out there in my Butler seat, but most importantly just battling with Kyle Larson. It was — a young kid like that, he’s got a lot of talent and he’s going to make a name — obviously, he already has made a name for himself, but I think that he’s got a lot going for him. It was fun racing with him, but wish it was a little easier on my end.”
Do you feel like the next generation is coming? “Yeah, I know, right? I’m getting old. I’m 27 and I’m getting old. Got a birthday here in about another month or so — but I think the first closest finish (in the NNS at Bristol) was me and (Joey) Logano here two years ago in the fall. I don’t like making them close, but it’s more exciting for the fans so that’s cool.”
How have you been able to win five Nationwide races at Bristol? “It’s pretty cool. It’s certainly a good track for me. I love running here and myself and the 33 (Kevin Harvick) were putting on a great race there and then Kyle Larson came out of nowhere and he was the guy that everybody was going to have to beat there towards the end. He just didn’t have the track position he needed.”
Did you intentionally block Kyle Larson on the bottom on the final lap? “That was kind of the thought. There were two thoughts — one was you don’t want to give anyone the bottom for a cheap shot. My dad always said Irwindale was the cheap shot capital of the world — it’s a horrible race track to race at with that sort of atmosphere going on. That was one, but two I ran the top in (turns) one and two and I gained so much ground on the 70 (Brad Teague) that I thought, ‘I’m going to run into the back of it coming off turn four.’ If they go into turn four and they slow down any little bit and it hurts my run at all coming down the banking then (Kyle) Larson may have enough speed on the bottom to beat me back. I just wanted to take the chance of going down to the bottom and knowing that the start-finish line was only halfway down the straightaway and I just needed to lunge off the corner and make it to the start-finish.”
Do you expect this season to be better than last year? “You hope so, but this was a hard fought race today. I wasn’t sure that we were going to get it there for a little while racing the 33 (Kevin Harvick) — he drove away from me. Just kept digging in and put my head to it and just kept trying to run the best line that I could and try to save the right front tire the best I could because I knew it was going to be a long run on tires. We didn’t plan on stopping again. As far as last year goes, there was plenty of opportunities to win that just didn’t come. For whatever reason, it was just a terrible year whether its luck related or whatever. This year driving JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars on Saturday and on Sunday, I think that’s a benefit. Of course having JGR engines with Mark Cronquist (JGR engine builder) in the Nationwide Series is great and having Adam (Stevens) to work with as a crew chief — he’s really good. He’s learned from a lot of good peers at Joe Gibbs Racing and under some good tutelage — I think it pays dividends into his hands and where he can go in the future too.”
Did you expect Kyle Larson to race you clean? “Well, you certainly want to try to win races the right way. That’s how I tried to do it the best I could growing up — I don’t remember getting myself in a lot of hay when I was running races in the Nationwide Series or the Cup Series. I didn’t win a lot, but the ones that I did, I didn’t do it dirty. I think there’s a way about going about things. I think there’s the way that I did it and there’s the way that (Brad) Keselowski did it. He (Keselowski) ruffled a whole lot of feathers. All I can say is watch how things turned out from the past and if that’s how you want it then go for it, but he (Kyle Larson) played it smart today and that was good on his end. I think that a lot of people have been looking at him to try to see if he’s going to be a wrecker or a checker and today, even though he didn’t get the checkers, that’s how you get them. That will come back. You drive in the corner and drive in the back of me or something like that — I’m going to be here for awhile and if he keeps coming up through the ranks then he’s not going to have fun dealing with me every week. Right now, I’m going to race him as hard as he raced me, but just as clean as he raced me because he didn’t put a fender on me all day.”
ADAM STEVENS, crew chief, No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How did the car transition from practice through the race? “The weekend started off well — we unloaded strong. It’s the same car that we raced here last year. It’s got a number of wins on it. Felt like it was kind of going our way there for awhile and started P2 strong and it just started getting away from us. We were a little bit disappointed with how we ended. The speed wasn’t terrible, but the balance — we weren’t really happy with it. We made some changes coming into the race and just had a terrible qualifying effort. That left us a little unsure going into the race. I think we all kept level heads and knew that the race was kind of a clean slate as far as track conditions. The race started off well. He (Kyle Busch) was able to make some hay there early and get up through the field. Felt like we were the car to beat the first half of the race and I think the second stop, my adjustment didn’t help it. Then it was up to Kyle. I felt like he had not as good of a car as what he was racing out there and it was up to him to make up the difference and he was able to do that.”
BRIAN VICKERS, No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing Position: 3rd
Do you feel like you’re getting close to a win? “Yeah, we really are. The Dollar General guys did a good job. I really wanted to go for the win, but it was going to be tough to pass on the bottom of the 32 (Kyle Larson) and the 54 (Kyle Busch). The good news is we didn’t get a win, but we got 10 percent off at DollarGeneral.com customers on Monday.”
How important is it to string together solid finishes? “We got off to a slow start, but the last two weeks have been good, solid points days for us and that’s what we’re doing. I’d love to have got up there and started banging doors with those guys for a win, but we just needed another good, solid day. One thing I want to say before we get off is thanks to Dollar General, Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing), Jimmie Johnson Foundation for supporting ClotConnect.org. It’s clot awareness month. If you don’t know much about clots, go to ClotConnect.org and check it out.”
Were you close to any incidents during the race and what is it like on the inside line versus the outside? “I was pretty close to a couple — one in particular coming out of turn four. A lapped car came down on us and he ended up spinning. It’s tough on the inside, but it makes for some good racing. The last two races here — the fall race since they ground the top and this race, obviously the top has an advantage, but it makes you work for it. That’s not a bad thing. It’s kind of like the bottom was at the old track. It was a good race today. Hard to say that the fans didn’t get a good showing –Kyle (Busch) and Kyle (Larson) put on a great race at the finish. I thought we had a car for them and once they kind of got away from us in some lapped traffic then I knew that I was going to have to push the car too hard so I was just kind of hoping they would wreck each other — I’m just kidding.”
How much are you looking forward to tomorrow’s race? “Very much. I think that last year at this track, it really did a lot for me personally — my confidence, but also for the team and just in general. It was great to run up front. It was great to lead laps and contend for a win. Today was a good, solid points day for us and tomorrow is all about going for a win.”
PARKER KLIGERMAN, No. 77 Bandit Chippers Toyota Camry, Kyle Busch Motorsports Finishing Position: 9th
Does it feel good to get a top-10 after the issue last week? “Yeah, we’ve had top-10, top-five speed every week and this Bandit Chippers Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs engines is just – it’s been a rocket lately. We haven’t quite figured out some of the kinks as a new team gelling together. We’ll figure those things out. We definitely passed the most cars today. That’s for sure. But as you said, redemption from last week breaking that track bar mount. I want to say that we showed the speed to be there, but now it’s about clicking them off and I really think we’re going to surprise some people coming halfway through the season. Eric Phillips (crew chief) and this whole team has really got some good things going on. We just haven’t been able to show it exactly, so I’m excited for the rest of the season and clicking off top-10s like this is what will bring us to Homestead (Miami Speedway) top-five in points and hopefully fighting for a championship.”
ELLIOTT SADLER, No. 11 OneMain Financial Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finishing position: 36th
What happened to your engine? “Something internal in the engine let go and I think our rocker or something like that broke and just a tough deal. We ran the race track a little bit and we were going to make adjustments and be okay. We were good on long run — just really wanted to run the whole race here. So this puts us in a hole, but we have a lot of racing left to do this season and we’ll try to get some of it back in California.”
How frustrating was the engine failure? “Yeah, it’s a tough day. It’s my favorite race track — love racing here — and it’s a shame to leave this place early, but we can’t hang our heads. We’ve got a lot of racing left and this will make us stronger as a team and we’ll move on from it.”