The annual night race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway has long been a staple on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. In fact, many argue that the annual 500-lap race is slowly and steadily evolving into a crown jewel race on the calendar.
Kyle Busch, for one, had this race circled on the calendar even before the season. The driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has at least eight reasons why he’s been looking forward to Bristol and its role in the 2021 Cup Series playoffs. His eight wins at the “Last Great Colosseum” are the most among active drivers, and only his older brother Kurt is close to that Bristol victory tally with six.
A ninth Cup Series victory at Bristol would send the younger Busch brother into a tie with some all-time greats of the sport. Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and Rusty Wallace all ended their careers at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” with nine victories. If Busch was to achieve nine Bristol wins, the next milestone would be Darrell Waltrip’s all-time record of 12 wins at the Tennessee short track.
A win Saturday night for the M&M’S driver would not only add to his career total at Bristol, but also vault him directly into the Round of 12 of this year’s Cup Series playoffs. Heading into this weekend’s race at the .533-mile concrete oval, Busch sits just eight points above the cutline to advance to the Round of 12, set to start next weekend at Busch’s hometown Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Busch, the two-time Cup Series champion, holds the distinction of being the only driver in NASCAR history to win all three national series races in a single weekend, which he’s done twice at the Bristol bullring. He captured the “Bristol Triple” in 2010 and 2017, when he swept NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, Xfinity Series, and Cup Series races. In addition to his eight career Cup Series wins, Busch has 14 top-fives and 19 top-10s in 31 career starts at Northeast Tennessee’s “Thunder Valley.”
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 has been impressive, to say the least. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol Cup Series win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that race and, from 2008 to 2011, nobody was better at Bristol 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 seemed to recapture the magic from his four years of dominance there as Bristol’s new racing grooves have better suited his driving style the past several seasons, leading to three wins, a runner-up finish and just one finish outside the top-five since the 2017 night race.
So, as Busch and the M&M’S team head to Bristol this weekend, a ninth victory there would not only put him alongside NASCAR Hall of Famers Earnhardt, Yarborough, and Wallace, but also send him to the next round of the playoffs so he can take another step toward a third Cup Series championship.