Race Winner: Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Stage 1 Winner: Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing (Chevrolet)
Stage 2 Winner: Kurt Busch of Chip Ganassi Racing (Chevrolet)
Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-125):
● Kyle Busch started 31st and finished 26th.
● The M&M’S team had their work cut out for them, starting deep in the field in 31st place. Busch was in 24th on lap 25 when he reported that the car lacked grip all around the track.
● While Busch was able to pick up a handful of spots, track position proved too much to overcome. He was in 20th place on lap 78 when the race leaders caught him to place the M&M’S Toyota a lap down.
● The first caution was displayed one lap later, and Busch noted that the car felt like it was “on marbles.” During a visit to pit road, the team made an air pressure adjustment, changed four tires and added fuel.
● The adjustments did little to help the handling issues. Busch hung on to finish Stage 1 in one piece and in 26th place. During the break the team made more aggressive adjustments to wedge and the track bar, changed four tires and added fuel.
Stage 2 Recap (Laps 126-250):
● Busch started 23rd and finished fourth, earning seven bonus points.
● The 2015 NASCAR Cup Series champion quietly logged laps to start Stage 2. Caution was displayed on lap 189 with the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota still in the lap-down category in 21st place. Busch reported that the car’s handling had not improved much with the adjustments made during the stage break. The team made another air pressure adjustment, changed four tires and added fuel.
● Busch was in 20th for the restart on lap 196. He spent the next several laps battling the No. 21 of Paul Menard to be the first car one lap down. Busch assumed that position on lap 205.
● Eight laps later, caution was displayed for a single-car accident. With the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota scored as the first car one lap down, Busch earned the wave-around to rejoin the lead lap.
● The team used the caution to make major adjustments to the car, pulling a spring rubber, adjusting the air pressure, changing four tires and adding fuel. Busch returned to the track in 19th position.
● Green-flag racing resumed on lap 219, and Busch set to work. He was in 18th place when caution was displayed for a single-car accident on lap 244. With less than 25 laps on their tires, the team elected to stay out, and this placed Busch in sixth for the restart.
● Busch picked up two positions to finish Stage 2 in fourth place.
● In an effort to save tires and maintain better track position, the team elected to stay out during the stage break. Busch was in first place to start Stage 3.
Stage 3 Recap (Laps 251-500):
● Busch started first and finished fourth.
● He restarted from the top spot and maintained first place until lap 265, when he was passed by driver Brad Keselowski.
● Several laps were completed with Busch in the runner-up position, but just after the lap-300 mark, he reported the rear of the car was starting to lose grip.
● The Las Vegas native was able to keep within striking distance of the race leader, and he started battling for the top spot on lap 352. Two laps later he took the lead and maintained it through to the caution on lap 362.
● During the break Busch reported that he needed help with the entry and exit of the turns. He managed to maintain the lead through what turned out to be the final round of pit stops. Green-flag racing resumed on lap 371.
● Busch held onto the top spot for only a couple more laps, relinquishing the lead on lap 373. He had fallen to the fifth position by lap 380.
● It was fairly quiet on the M&M’S team radio during the next several laps. Busch was able to catch the fourth-place car of Chase Elliott and pass him with less than 20 laps to go. He came within striking distance of the third-place driver with five to go but, unable to make a pass, finished the race in fourth.
● Busch led five times for a total of 30 laps.
● Busch’s fourth-place finish is his 12th top-five finish of the season and his 12th top-five finish in 29 starts at Bristol.
● Busch remains the championship leader after Bristol with a 39-point advantage over second-place Joey Logano.
● Denny Hamlin won the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Raceto score his 35th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, his fourth of the season and his second at Bristol. His margin of victory over second-place Matt DiBenedetto was .502 of a second.
● There were eight caution periods for a total of 61 laps.
● Only seven of the 39 drivers in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Racefinished on the lead lap.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
“It (the race) ended a lot better than it started. It’s certainly better than some other situations for sure. This M&M’S team just never gave up and kept working on it. Obviously Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys do a really good job of being able to work on the car and constantly improve it and constantly make it better. We’re just flat out getting killed by our teammates right now, so we’ve got to get better.”
Next Up: The next event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Sunday, Sept. 1 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The race starts at 6 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.