BRISTOL, Tenn. – Four red flags, 18 lead changes and 13 cautions were Kyle Busch’s road blocks to winning Monday’s weather-delayed Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
All occurring over a 24-hour-plus span that fought rain, snow and blisteringly cold temperatures in the mountains of Tennessee — that also played host to one of the year’s more exciting races of the year.
“I was breathing hard there those last 20 laps, whatever it was,” Busch said after a back-and-forth battle with Kyle Larson for the win. “That was a heck of a run right there with the 42 – 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.”
“This place almost always puts on an incredible race,” winning No. 18 crew chief Adam Stevens said. “There’s so much that the driver can do behind the wheel adjusting his line and little adjustments that he has inside the car. Chasing the rubber as it moves around the race track and as the groove changes and it always puts on a good show.”
The weather led to a stop-start motion on Sunday and more delays on Monday that caused a skip in the regular rhythm for drivers and teams, even for race winner Busch.
“It’s just the long, long delays and things that happen that kind of get you in and out of your game,” Busch said. ”Tell you what, you just got to stay focused for the entirety of it and try to keep going.”
For some, the breaks in racing were welcome.
“It kind of helped me a little bit to rest more and kind of like breaks for myself,” said Daniel Suarez, who sustained a left thumb fracture at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend. “On that side, it was kind of nice, but right here over the 300 laps straight, I’m a little sore right now …
“The thumb is fine, the rest of the hand is actually sore. I feel like it was just working extra hard. But it’s fine.
He smiled. “I knew if I could go to Bristol, I’m going to be fine for the rest of the year. This is a tough place.”
He wasn’t the only driver feeling the effects of Bristol. The weekend was a lengthy one for the entire NASCAR fleet; Stevens said he felt like they had been at the track for “two weeks” and Clint Bowyer called the weekend “long” and “weird.”
But teams stuck it out and for fans and spectators, it was appreciated. Bristol always puts on a show and the Sunday/Monday event was no exception. The weather led to a sense of urgency among drivers to get to the front, entailing aggressive maneuvers and battles for the lead that were thrilling from a spectator’s eye.
Darrell Wallace Jr. was one of the drivers who came out aggressively when the race resumed Monday, taking the field three-wide at one point for position and passing veterans Busch and Brad Keselowski to lead his first laps in a Monster Energy Series car.
Bristol is where drivers can flex their muscle – and that he did.
“The track was really fast there in the beginning and it was one of those deals where we fired off pretty good. I was excited about that. We had a great race and at the end we just fell off.” Wallace told NASCAR.com “… We got a lot of respect today, passing the 18 on the outside, passing the 2 for the lead.
“So, badass day.”
One thing’s certain: fans got their “It’s Bristol, Baby” type of show on Sunday and Monday between all the elements Mother Nature threw NASCAR’s way.
Who knows; maybe she just wanted the show to last a little longer.