Kyle Busch was in prime Bristol Motor Speedway form Saturday night, leading 159 of 500 laps in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race. But an aggravating second-place finish had him in prime post-race zinger form as his season-long winless streak in the NASCAR Cup Series continued.
Busch was the runner-up for the fourth time this season after dicing through lapped traffic and swapping the lead in a late-race duel with eventual winner Kevin Harvick. Busch hung the tail of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota out as he chased Harvick through the final corner but came home .310 seconds short at the checkered flag.
“Just didn’t have enough at the end,” Busch told NBC Sports after bidding for his series-leading ninth Bristol win. “The guys did a great job and gave me a really great piece tonight to contend and at least be up there and be close. Unfortunately, just didn’t have enough. Lapped cars were definitely a problem. It’s part of racing. You have to try to get around them where you can, and there was just no room for me to do what I needed to do with a couple of those opportunities to get past them.”
Busch dropped to the rear of the field during pace laps after his No. 18 car failed pre-race inspection twice, but he quickly regained the lost ground, rising to second place after the 125-lap first stage. He remained a fixture in the top five, and his main challenge emerged from Harvick as the race entered the late going.
Lap-down traffic posed an issue for both drivers, but the two were held up in particular by the No. 22 Ford of Joey Logano, who eventually finished two laps back in 11th. His post-race criticisms for his longtime foil that weren’t aired for a live television audience were slightly more harsh.
“He’s nobody’s friend for a reason, so there you have it,” Busch said.
The lead changed hands twice between Harvick and Busch in the last 100 laps. When asked if he would have been more aggressive while battling Harvick in the late going, Busch said traffic played too big a role — managing to sneak in a dig at two drivers who slowed him at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in last year’s postseason opener.
“It actually never crossed my mind. You always try to win races clean,” Busch said of his duel with Harvick. “You always try to race hard and race clean and get the job done right. Yeah, I mean, if that lapped car wasn’t there, I would have blown it in on the outside or the inside and maybe we would have banged each other’s doors or whatever and had a greater finish to the checkered, but some of them dips — kids don’t know what the hell they’re doing or where they’re at and can’t stay out of the way. Nothing like a (Joey) Gase and a (Garrett) Smithley.”
Despite his losing skid hitting 29 consecutive races, Busch advanced out of the playoffs’ first round on the basis of his place in the points standings. He enters the Round of 12 tied for 10th in the re-seeded standings, and his outlook for the Las Vegas round opener wasn’t full of optimism when pressed.
“We’ll be eliminated in the next round,” Busch said, “so don’t care.”