BRISTOL, Tenn. – Everyone knows Kyle Busch as “Rowdy,” but you could also call him “The Postman,” given that neither rain, snow, sleet nor hail could keep him from completing his appointed rounds at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Executing a textbook bump-and-run against runner-up Kyle Larson on Lap 495 of 500, Kyle Busch pulled away to win Monday’s weather-delayed Food City 500, claiming his second straight victory of 2018 and his seventh win at Thunder Valley, most among active drivers.
In a race delayed by rain after 204 laps on Sunday—then prefaced by sleet on Monday—Busch, the pole winner, claimed the 45th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of his career, breaking a tie with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott for 16th on the all-time win list.
Larson, who led a race-high 200 laps, held the top spot after a restart on Lap 479, following the 13th caution of the race for Brad Keselowski’s contact with the outside wall off Turn 2. Busch charged past eventual fourth-place finisher Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Lap 485 and took off in pursuit of Larson.
As the drivers worked traffic, Busch got to Larson’s bumper and nudged the No. 42 Chevrolet in Turns 1 and 2. The coup de grace came in Turns 3 and 4, where Busch’s No. 18 Toyota pushed Larson’s Chevy up the track, with Busch diving underneath for the lead.
The final caution was a godsend for Busch, who thought he had a tire going flat and was preparing to pit.
“We weren’t quite as good as the 42 (Larson) on that long run before that last caution came out,” said Busch, who led 117 laps in the two-day affair. “I actually thought I had a tire going down, but we were able to get some tires on it and go give it everything we had.
“We had a 20-lap shootout, and that was everything it was about right there, just chasing down that 42 and being able to get there.”
The final pit stop proved critical, because Busch had the superior car after the final restart.
“It was the best right at the end,” said Busch, who won his second straight Cup race at Bristol. “I know Larson was a little bit loose right there. It seemed like he was over-driving and trying to hold the bottom, but he was slipping out of the bottom, and I got a huge run on him and got to him and it was just on.
“I knew I might as well just take the opportunity that I got right now. I knew it was a little early ‘cause you tend to try to want to think about saving that bump-and-run deal for the last lap, but I just took my chance with it, and if he got back to my rear bumper, then so be it. I think that’s fair game, being able to race that way. Fortunately, I was able to run away from him and he couldn’t get back to me.”
Finishing second to Busch at Bristol has become an annoying habit for Larson, who crossed the finish line .628 seconds behind the No. 18 on Monday. On three previous occasions in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, 2013 through 2015, Larson ran second to Busch at Thunder Valley.
“I’ve been beat by Kyle about every time I race here, too, so that gets frustrating after a while,” Larson said. “As soon as we restarted there, I was extremely loose. The No. 17 (Stenhouse) got to my inside. I just really didn’t have any grip.
“I thought it would tighten up for me and I could get going, but it never really did, and I was just really loose. I hate that I didn’t win. It’s another one at Bristol. I feel like every time I race here I almost get a win.”
Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson ran third, posting his first top five of the season after starting from the rear because of a tire change after qualifying. Alex Bowman, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, finished a career-best fifth.
Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman completed the top 10.
Busch expanded his series lead to 59 points over second-place Logano. Monday marked the first time a series leader had won at Bristol since Dale Earnhardt accomplished the feat in 1987, when he swept both Bristol races as the points leader.