Despite strong efforts by Kyle Busch in each of the first two races of this year’s NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, neither neither race turned out how he and his team had hoped.
In the Round of 16 opener at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway two weekends ago, Busch led a race high 155 laps and appeared headed for victory when an engine issue derailed his bid just 21 laps from the finish. Last weekend at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Busch again had a strong outing, having worked his way into the top-five before a pit-road penalty relegated him to the back of the field. From there, he spun through the infield grass and damaged his car enough to keep him out of contention.
The event has long been a staple on the Cup Series schedule and certainly a favorite of drivers and fans alike. Many even argue that the 500-lap race is slowly and steadily evolving into a crown jewel on the schedule.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has at least nine reasons why he’s been looking forward to Bristol and its significance in the 2022 Cup Series playoffs. His eight wins on its high-banked, half-mile concrete surface are the most among active drivers. If anyone thought adding dirt to the surface would slow Busch down at Bristol, they’d need to think again. Busch brought home a victory there in April’s Food City Dirt Race, giving him nine total wins within the confines of the track coined “The Last Great Colosseum.”
A ninth Cup Series victory on the concrete surface and 10th overall 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 concrete 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 playoffs’ Round of 12. Heading into Saturday night’s race, Busch sits just two points below the top-12 cutline to advance. The Round of 12 begins Sept. 25 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
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 concrete surface wins, Busch has 14 top-fives and 19 top-10s in 32 career starts on the concrete surface at Northeast Tennessee’s “Thunder Valley.”
So, as Busch and the M&M’S team head to Bristol this weekend, it will no doubt be a sight for sore eyes. A ninth victory on the concrete surface 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.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M'S Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your thoughts heading to Bristol Saturday?
“I would like to get back to victory lane at Bristol, no doubt. We’ve had some decent runs there the last several years and hope we can do the same there this year. We were obviously there earlier this year but that was a completely different kind of race on the dirt surface, but never hurts to get a win there no matter what the surface looks like. There are a lot of unknowns going into this race since there hasn’t been a race with the NextGen car on the concrete surface, so a lot of unknowns, for sure. It’s always a great racetrack to circle on the calendar and know it’s a time when we can shine. We also have M&M’S on board again this weekend, so hoping we can have a solid finish and get us through to the next round.”
What makes Bristol Motor Speedway so unique?
“Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the best racetracks on the circuit. All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins and the close-quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile racetrack with us 40 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time, and sometimes a frustrating time when things don’t always go your way.”
What is the toughest part about 500 laps at a place like Bristol?
“Races at Bristol are very demanding, both mentally and physically. I think physically just because of the nature of the non-stop driving. You are always on the go and always doing something, down the straightaway, in the corners, because it’s so long and what it takes from the corner entry throughout the corner you just don’t have any time to relax at all on the straightaway. And then the mental demands of that place, too, because it’s concrete and the vibration and the challenge it puts on your body is pretty high there. Bristol is the one the more fun racetracks for me, especially being so successful there, and I pride myself on being able to handle that and not falling out of the seat.”
What is your first memory of Bristol and what is your best story of success?
“I remember my first time. It was in an Xfinity Series car at a test session for Hendrick Motorsports. I remember I needed about 27 laps before I thought I was going to knock the wall down, with all the optimism and pumped-up feelings I had about going there. But after that, it’s been pretty fun. We’ve had some challenging times there, but I’ve also had some good times there. Looking to continue that on Saturday night with our M&M’S Camry. What’s the highlight? You can’t dismiss the sweeps there. I would say that the first one was really, really awesome and really, really special, and the second one was special, as well.”