As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race, Kyle Busch is facing some knowns and plenty of unknowns in the racing mecca known as “Thunder Valley.”
The obvious known is that the driver of the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has a stellar record at the .533-mile high-banked bullring with five Sprint Cup wins to his credit there. In fact, there will only be two other drivers in the 40-car field Saturday night who have the same number of Bristol wins – his brother Kurt Busch, and four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon.
In addition to his five wins, Busch has notched eight top-fives and 13 top-10s in 22 career starts at Northeast Tennessee’s “Thunder Valley.” Amazingly enough, three of Busch’s wins there came over a four-race span at the .533-mile short track in 2009 and 2010.
While Busch’s Bristol dominance has been well documented in recent years, there are plenty of unknowns that lie ahead Saturday night. For starters, since the March race weekend, the track has undergone another small change. The bottom groove of the racing surface has been “polished” in hopes of rubber being able to stay on the bottom groove. It is yet another change to the progressive banking that was incorporated during the most recent track resurfacing project in 2007. How drastic will the changes be? That’s an unknown until practice commences Friday.
While he is a factor any time he travels to Bristol, it’s interesting to note Busch didn’t immediately take to the place. During his rookie year in 2005, he posted finishes of 28th and 33rd. But his record since then at the half-mile bullring has been impressive, to say the least. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol Sprint Cup win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that race and, from 2008 to 2011, nobody has been better at the concrete short track than Busch. He scored four wins and six top-10s from 2008 until another change to the track surface prior to the August 2012 race weekend. Busch is looking to recapture the magic from his four years of dominance there on the current surface.
So despite the knowns and unknowns on tap for Busch this weekend, it’s a safe bet that Busch and the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary team will be right in the thick of things on Saturday night, looking to add to the four Sprint Cup wins they’ve already scored in 2016.